Climate change has long been a political football. On the extremes are those who completely deny the phenomenon and those who want humans to stop being humans so we don’t wake up tomorrow morning covered in Sargassum weed.

Fun times. Hand up – I don’t study the issue closely enough. I believe it is completely reasonable to conclude global temps are warming through manmade and/or natural factors. I also believe in balanced policy to protect economic interests while doing what we can to limit harmful greenhouse gases. Whatever those policies might be.

I do trust the animals, though. The political theater surrounding global warming is all fun and games until you’re hit in the crotch, and southern duck hunters have been screeching in high-pitched octaves as their local ducks holes haven’t been as productive as in years gone by.

As I wrote about a few months ago, there are plenty of reasons why a particular duck season may or may not be productive. Evidence is piling up, however, that the ducks just ain’t where they used to be.

I received this press release from the National Audubon Society the other day. A recent study shows a trend in certain waterfowl species hanging around traditionally colder climates longer into the winter.

From Audubon:

A study of 16 common duck species that winter in the Southeastern U.S. that was conducted by the National Audubon Society and Clemson University’s James C. Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation Center shows that populations have shifted northward over the past 50 years due to temperature changes attributed to climate warming.

The study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, is based on data collected during Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) from 1969-2019. The CBC includes both amateur birders and scientists reporting on local bird populations each December and January.

“We’ve suspected that warming temperatures are changing the types of waterfowl that we’re seeing in different regions, and these data confirm that,” said Dr. Tim Meehan, quantitative ecologist at the National Audubon Society and the lead author of the publication. “The weather has stopped becoming severe enough in the winter to prompt the birds to fly south. They’re staying farther north, and they’re telling us that something fundamental has changed in their environment.”

The data show that while there wasn’t a major change in populations overall, there were noticeable changes in abundances in locations that corresponded with warming temperatures. For example, the American Black Duck – a species similar to the Mallard with darker coloring and a distinctive flare of purple on its wing — showed a stable level of abundance overall, but a marked increase in presence in traditionally colder northern locations, and a reduction in traditionally warmer regions.

The findings have repercussions for both ducks and people.

“With increased numbers of dabbling and diving ducks wintering more northerly now, scientists and conservation partners should determine if winter food availability at more northern latitudes is adequate to support increased numbers of wintering ducks with climate warming” said Dr. Richard Kaminski, director of the Kennedy Center at Clemson University. “Local economies in traditional southern wintering areas for ducks may be impacted by decreased numbers of visiting hunters and birders, as these conservationists go elsewhere to hunt or birdwatch.”

The decrease of certain waterfowl and other waterbird species is a major issue for communities that depend on birdwatching and waterfowl hunting, activities that generate billions of dollars annually nationwide. Southern duck hunters have already observed notable changes in the numbers of certain birds that they see.

The usual urge is to attack climate change with anecdotal evidence or discredit the source. Surely, plenty of hunters in the southern heartland pummeled pintails and wigeon this year and might ascribe this as fake news. Remember, this describes a trend. Not every puddle duck is going to hang in the Dakotas. And, fun fact, the National Audubon Society is actually blacklisted by PETA as an organization that supports – or at least doesn’t hate as much as they do – hunting.

At any rate, just throwing this out there for peer review. I myself tend to be skeptical of certain global warming-based claims of changes in animal behavior, especially over the short-term. 50 years of data gathering makes for a strong conclusion, however.

For more information, please check it out here.