23 Sep 2019

Photo essay: speaking out for birds at the Global Climate Strike

Climate change is already beginning to profoundly impact bird populations across the world. Find out which birds we fought for at this week’s Global Climate Strike, and why it’s so important to speak out for nature and people.

Bird puns were the order of the day for BirdLife and the RSPB © Rachel Gartner
Bird puns were the order of the day for BirdLife and the RSPB © Rachel Gartner
By Jessica Law

This week, the Youth Strike for Climate movement, famously spearheaded by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, has reached a head as children and adults across the globe unite to demand action from global leaders. On Friday September 20, BirdLife and our worldwide Partners came out in force, standing up for nature and people in the face of the crisis of our time.

© Rachel Gartner

On King's Parade, campaigners set off smoke bombs to depict a phrase that has become common throughout the climate strikes: "our house is burning". Birds are the messengers that tell us about the health of the world’s wildlife as a whole, which has been deteriorating drastically thanks in part to climate change. Birds also play essential roles in food webs and the functioning of our ecosystems. If we lose birds, it won’t just be bad for nature – it will be disastrous for humankind. Staff from our Cambridge office in the UK chose to highlight the plight of four groups of birds particularly hard hit by climate change when we attended the strike alongside our UK Partner the RSPB.



© Rachel Gartner

RSPB staff spent three days sewing this beautiful tapestry of the Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica (Vulnerable): one of the main poster birds at Friday's demonstration. This iconic, well-loved species is one of the most high-profile victims of climate change in the media – and for good reason. Climate change has caused a plummet in the number of chicks successfully fledging every year. Changing temperatures cause mismatches between the timing of plankton blooms and fish abundance, and puffin breeding seasons. Increases in sea temperature are also causing crashes in sand eel populations – a major prey food for puffins. Consequently, chicks are starving in their nests.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

To make matters worse, extreme weather and storms are probably already becoming stronger and more frequent due to climate change. These extreme weather events cause large ‘wrecks’ of puffins, killing thousands of birds at sea or causing the deaths of thousands of chicks on land.



© Rachel Gartner


Steph Prince (Right), our Marine Project Manager, chose to highlight the plight of the albatross with her placard. Albatrosses are already one of the most threatened groups of seabirds, and Steph has observed their plight first-hand in her fieldwork. Hundreds of thousands of birds get tangled and drowned in industrial fishing gear every year. For the Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis and Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes (both Near Threatened), climate change adds an extra danger they can’t afford. These species breed on low-lying atolls and islands in the Pacific, and sea level rise due to climate change is likely to inundate these sites altogether.



© Rachel Gartner

Hannah Wheatley (centre) assesses the conservation status of birds for the IUCN Red List of threatened species. You may be appalled to discover that 10 of the world's 18 penguin species are threatened with extinction, and a shocking 88% of penguin species are already affected by climate change. For some penguin species, the reason is lack of food. The world’s rarest penguin, the Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus (Endangered), is dependent on the whims of the ocean currents for the fish it feeds on. Prolonged periods of warm sea temperatures lead to famines, which in the past have led to catastrophic population crashes which take years for the species to recover from.

For ice-dependent species like the above Emperor Penguin Aptenodytes forsteri (Near Threatened), climate change is destroying their very home. Climate change projections suggest this species will decline by 20-29% over the next three generations, as a decrease in sea ice thickness makes it more difficult for them to find suitable breeding areas.


Forest birds

© Rachel Gartner

It’s not just melting or flooding: changing temperatures can make whole ecosystems completely disappear. No wonder the Helmet Vanga Euryceros prevostii (Endangered) looks so furious on this placard: in 50 years’ time, its habitat may not exist at all. Teetering on the northeast edge of Madagascar, this beautiful member of the shrike family is confined to a few remaining patches of untouched lowland rainforest. Sadly, its habitat is being cleared rapidly for agriculture and timber – but these threats are overshadowed by a much greater concern. Scientists have modelled what would happen to Madagascar if current projections for climate change come true, and the results are startling: the ecological niche that this species occupies may simply disappear.


© Rachel Gartner

These stories may sound disheartening, but there is hope. The sheer scale of this week’s protests, with millions of people mobilising from Dhakar to Sydney, from New York to London, shows that the world is finally waking up to the crisis and demanding action. Global leaders can no longer ignore the voice of the people: now it’s time for them to listen and take action.


© Rachel Gartner


BirdLife Europe & Central Asia (Brussels)


BirdLife South Africa


BirdLife Australia


NCF (BirdLife in Nigeria)


SEO / BirdLife (Spain)