Africa’s migratory birds are threatened by changes in weather patterns in the center and east of the continent, which have exhausted natural water systems and caused devastating droughts.
Warm and dry conditions due to climate change have made it difficult for traveling species, which are losing their water sources and breeding grounds, many now endangered or completely changing their migration patterns by settling in colder northern regions. forced to change.
About 10% of Africa’s more than 2,000 bird species, including dozens of migratory birds, are threatened with 28 species – such as the Madagascar fish eagle, tata falcon and hooded vulture – classified as “critically endangered”. . An analysis by environmental group BirdLife International says that more than a third of them are particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather.
“Like any other species, birds are being affected by climate change,” said Ken Mawathe, BirdLife Policy Coordinator. “Migratory birds are more affected than other groups of birds because they must keep moving,” making it more likely that a site they relied on during their visit has deteriorated in some way.
The Afro-Eurasian Flyway, the flight corridor for birds that travel south for winter through the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert, closes more than 2,600 sites for migratory birds. A study by the United Nations Environment Agency and conservation group Wetlands International found that an estimated 87% of African sites are threatened by climate change, a higher proportion than in Europe or Asia.
Evans Mukolve, a retired meteorologist and science director at the World Meteorological Organization, said Africa is more vulnerable to climate change because it is less able to adapt.
“Poverty, declining biodiversity, extreme weather events, lack of capital and access to new technologies” make it more difficult for the continent to protect the habitats of wild species, Mukolwe said.
Warmer temperatures due to human-caused climate change and less rainfall shrink the major wetland areas and water sources that birds rely on during migratory trips.
“Lake Chad is an example,” Mawathe said. “Before the birds cross the Sahara, they stop near Lake Chad, and then move to the northern or southern hemisphere. But Lake Chad has been shrinking over the years,” which compromises its ability to support birds. , They said.
Paul Matikoo, executive director of Nature Kenya, said parched birds mean difficult journeys, which affect their fertility.
For example, flamingos, which typically breed in Lake Natron in Tanzania, “are unlikely to be able to survive” if the migration journey is too difficult, Matiku said.
He added that “having no water in those wetlands means breeding won’t happen” because flamingos need water to build mud nests that keep their eggs away from the intense heat of dry land.
Non-migratory birds are also struggling with the changing weather. Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, African fish eagles are now forced to travel farther in search of food. South African Cape rockjumpers and Protea canaries are in sharp decline in numbers.
Bird species living in the hottest and driest regions, such as those in the Kalahari Desert stretching across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, are approaching their “physical limits”, said the most recent assessment by a UN expert climate panel . It added that the birds are unable to find food and are losing body weight, leading to mass deaths of those living in extreme heat.
Matiku said, “Forest habitats become warmer with climate change and … dryland habitats dry up and savanna birds lack food because grasses never produce seeds, flowers never fruit, and insects.” Never leave when it rains.”
Other threats, such as illegal wildlife trade, agriculture, the growth of urban areas and pollution, are also reducing populations of birds like the African fish eagle and vultures, he said.
The United Nations Environment Agency said better land management projects that help restore degraded wetlands and forests and protect areas from infrastructure, poaching or logging will help preserve the most vulnerable species.
Amos Makarou, Africa’s regional director for the UN weather agency, said birds and other species would benefit from concerted efforts to improve water access and food security, especially as sea level rise and extreme weather events continue. to keep.
Scientists say curbing emissions of planet-warming gases, especially in high-emission countries, could also limit future weather-related catastrophes.