As we adapt to the warming temperatures and rising seas caused by climate change, we have the opportunity to either help or hurt wildlife. For example …

Karpanty: “When we build structures or build jetties or build sea walls – that leads to very serious decline to piping plovers.”

Piping plover

That’s Sarah Karpanty of Virginia Tech. These sparrow-size birds live along the shorelines of the Atlantic, Gulf Coast and Great Lakes. Karpanty says piping plovers feed in mud flats created when a storm surge washes over a low-lying coastal area.

Efforts to prevent coastal erosion have altered piping plover habitat so much that the birds are now threatened. But rethinking how we adjust to rising seas could help turn the tide for these little birds.

Karpanty: “As we go forward, we need to think strategically about how sea level rise and climate will affect our coast, and think about ‘where are going to be the best areas for people’ and then ‘where are we going to have areas that we allow these natural coastal processes to occur’ and the wildlife to be able to adapt to that change?”

Yet even if we provide new habitats for these threatened birds, Karpanty says no one yet knows how piping plovers will respond to warming temperatures.

This segment of Climate Connections is produced in partnership with iSee Change.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media and iSeeChange/Eli Chen (WDDE).
Piping plover sound effect credit: Tony Phillips (songs and calls of some New York State birds).
Photo: Piping plover (copyright protected).

More Resources
All About Piping Plovers
Piping Plover Return Signals Closure of Cape Henlopen Shoreline
North American Birds Declining as Threats Mount