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Kailey, I Should Have Warned You!

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Back in April, when I was visiting my family on Long Island, I offered to walk with my seven-year old granddaughter to her bus stop one morning. Just as we stepped outside, I heard a Red-bellied Woodpecker calling from a Maple tree in the next door neighbor’s lot.  “Kailey,” I said, “There’s a woodpecker in that tree.” She stopped, looked at the tree and immediately spots it. “I see it. Its head is sticking out of a hole in the tree.”  We watch it for a minute or two before continuing to the bus stop.

But 50 years earlier this would have been an extremely rare sight in New York. I recall being elated when I saw this bird on Long Island in the 1970s. Little did I know, at that time, these sightings were a harbinger of climate change. Over the decades since then, I saw more of these woodpeckers each year. By the time I retired in 2010, this bird was common on Long Island and it expanded its range well into New England from southeastern U.S.

Although my proof of global warming is anecdotal, there is evidence that birds are shifting their ranges northward.  Audubon scientists analyzed years of data collected during Christmas Bird Counts conducted by local Audubon Chapters. During these counts, members document the presence and numbers of each species of bird each winter. Scientists discovered that over 60% of U.S. bird species shifted their ranges northward. That is not so surprising when the average January temperatures rose 5 degrees in the last 40 years.

Spotting a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers here in Florida today, I think about how I missed an opportunity to introduce the concept of climate change to my granddaughter last month. Having been born at a time when these woodpeckers are abundant in New York, Kailey will not realize that she is growing up during an era when global warming is threatening the world we live in. She will just accept that these birds were always a common occurrence on Long Island.

Next time I visit her, I will take her to Islip’s Brookwood Hall Lake and tell her how her Grandma and Grandpa use to ice skate on the ponds in the winter. I will bring her to Connetquot River’s historic buildings and discuss how people harvested ice from the local lakes each winter and stored it in an Ice House there. And I will find a Red-bellied Woodpecker and introduce her to the theory of climate change. So the next time a politician says there is no such thing as global warming she will have the knowledge to challenge the naysayers. Perhaps someday she will support policies that take actions to reduce the human component to global warming and help wildlife threatened by it. Kailey, I promise you this!

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