Moving Northward

Male Eastern Towhee (pale-eyed) encouraging us to “Drink Your Tea!!”

We have Eastern Towhees living and nesting in our yard – strikingly marked large sparrows that call on us to “Drink Your Tea!!”. This is not unusual for our part of Georgia. They are considered to be numerous, even though their population numbers declined 49% between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey ( And, they are attracted to the shrubbery and thickets in our (intentionally) non-manicured yard 🙂

Female Eastern Towhee (paled-eyed)

What is unusual is that one pair that has taken up in the yard for the last three years is the paled-eyed subspecies. This subspecies’ range is primarily south of the Fall Line in Georgia (also know as the Gnat Line) and into Florida. We are about 90 mile north of the Fall Line.

I have not personally conducted a rigorous research study, but, based on secondary research, this 90 miles of northern movement lines up closely with conclusions regarding changes in the northern leading edge of ranges due to climate change reported in reputable studies such as:

It might seem that this is good news. Bird species expanding their breeding range – larger areas in which to breed – would seem to be an upside to climate change. However, this is not necessarily the case across all species. This study discusses the impact of potential breeding range expansion on resident and temperature-migrant species as well as neo-tropical migratory species:

Neo-tropical migrants are not expanding their breeding ranges. As the paper discusses, climate change is not the main culprit, but is a ‘threat multiplier’. Threats being all the other culprits that have lead to a loss of 3 Billion birds since 1970 (

“While climate change is not the main culprit, however, the new findings suggest that it might act as a “threat multiplier,” says Clark Rushing, an assistant professor of ecology at Utah State University in Logan and coauthor of the new study. “These species that are already facing habitat loss and [other] types of threats are going to have a harder time adapting to changing conditions in the future if they have trouble shifting where they can breed,” he says.” (Full disclosure, Clark is my son).

One of my take-aways is while climate change is indeed a threat multiplier and needs to be dealt with as a global problem, ‘we’ – the collective ‘we’ of everyday folks – need to help address climate change and work on the everyday culprits in our own nearby habitats in order to reduce how much they can be multiplied:

  1. Make Windows Safer, Day and Night: Simple adjustments to your windows can save birds’ lives.
  2. Keep Cats Indoors: Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. Outdoor cats kill more birds than any other non-native threat.
  3. Reduce Lawn by Planting Native Species: The U.S. has 63 million acres of lawn. There’s a huge potential to support wildlife by planting native plants that attract birds and other wildlife.
  4. Avoid Pesticides: Look for organic food choices and cut out some of the 1 billion pounds of pesticides used in the U.S. each year.
  5. Drink Coffee That’s Good for Birds: Shade-grown coffees are delicious, economically beneficial to farmers, and help more than 42 species of North American songbirds.
  6. Protect Our Planet From Plastics: 91% of plastics are not recycled, and they take 400 years to degrade.
  7. Watch Birds, Share What You See: Bird watchers are one of science’s most vital sources of data on how the ecological world is faring.
As a comparison here is a female red-eyed

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