This is the first in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.
Let us travel to the West Alabama Black Belt and consider our state bird.
We like to call it the yellowhammer. It is part of the “Rammer Jammer” song that University of Alabama fans sing after a Tide victory.
This bird’s more formal name is the Northern Flicker, and like all woodpeckers we see here, it is a striking combination of colors. The male is brown, with a bunch of dots on its underbelly, a black “whisker” extending from the base of its bill, a black bib just below its neck, a white rump, yellow shafts on its tail and flight feathers, and a red streak looping around the back of its neck.
These days, you can spot the yellowhammer year ‘round in The Heart of Dixie. But not long from now, it could be too hot for the official state bird to live here in the summertime, especially in areas such as the Black Belt, known for the intensity of the heat in July, August and September.
That’s one of the findings reported in Survival By Degrees, a recently released Aububon Society study on the impact of warming global temperatures on various species of birds.
“It’s hard to imagine our state bird being just a winter bird,” said Alabama Audubon Executive Director Ansel Payne. Read more.
More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Tuesday: Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings
Wednesday: Cattle, Catfish, and Cover Crops. Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change
As the sun rises on a workday in downtown Birmingham, the human population in the city’s center typically includes a small group: first responders, cooks, cleaners, security guards, the homeless and those seeking to get some quiet time in the office before their colleagues arrive.
During the past two years, that early morning population also frequently has included a woman walking slowly and looking closely at the sidewalks, plazas and lawns outside glass-fronted buildings. Sometimes — as much as 20 times on the morning of Oct. 13 — she would pause, kneel, remove a small brown paper sack from her shoulder bag and carefully place inside it the carcass of a dead bird, usually one that had been migrating through town.
Her name is Jessie Griswold. She is the lead animal care professional at the Birmingham Zoo’s Animal Health Center. She also is an unabashed “bird nerd.” She recently concluded work on a research grant — the only type of its kind recently done in the state — to bring to local light a problem that has afflicted Birmingham and other metropolitan areas around the country.
The problem? Bird deaths from window collisions. Read more.
On a recent sunny Saturday, Dwight Cooley and some friends spent four hours at north Alabama’s Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area looking for different kinds of what an online dictionary defines as “a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, and a beak and (typically) by being able to fly.”
In other words, they were birding.
Cooley, the former manager of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur, has been bird-watching and doing bird counts since the 1970s, and what he and the others saw on that recent Saturday was not encouraging. In their four hours in the field, they saw dozens of birds, including 16 representing five species of warblers. Four decades ago, under similar conditions, Cooley said, the group not only would have seen more warblers, but also more species of them.
“You just don’t see the number of birds that we used to see, and you don’t see the diversity of birds out there,” Cooley said. Read more.