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Jeff Harris of Starkville, Mississippi, loves watching birds. In winter, he enjoys seeing ducks on ponds or flooded farm fields.

“And the reason I like ducks so much is ducks are just so beautiful and athletic. It’s funny, when we see a lot of birds in the wintertime, they’re not in their best duds,” he says. “They’re not in their breeding plumage. When we see ducks in the wintertime, they’re in their breeding plumage and they are sexy. So they’re very pretty.”

But Harris has noticed that fewer ducks seem to be spending the winter in his region.

“I know the habitat and where to find them. And I really have to look harder sometimes to find ducks,” he says. “So that’s sort of my general impression is it’s just harder to find them, and there are fewer of them when I do find them.”

His observations align with a larger trend.

Biologists from the National Audubon Society recently analyzed 50 years of data collected during the group’s annual Christmas Bird Count. They found that as the climate has warmed, many North American ducks are wintering farther north than in the past.

So some duck species are becoming less abundant near Harris’s Mississippi home.

“It’s just sort of heartbreaking to lose that value,” he says. “You have to see it to appreciate it, but it’s beautiful and it’s natural, and we just seem to be losing it from right before our very eyes.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media