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Could Georgia’s state bird abandon the state?

The brown thrasher, whose vocal repertoire may rival that of the mockingbird, is Georgia’s official state bird. However, changing conditions predicted under climate change may ultimately force the bird to leave Georgia. DAN PANCAMO/CREATIVE COMMONS
The brown thrasher, whose vocal repertoire may rival that of the mockingbird, is Georgia’s official state bird. However, changing conditions predicted under climate change may ultimately force the bird to leave Georgia. DAN PANCAMO/CREATIVE COMMONS

Charles Seabrook’s “Wild Georgia” column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

The brown thrasher, a big, foxy red songbird with a repertoire of more than 1,000 song types, became Georgia’s state bird in 1935 by a proclamation of the governor. In 1970, at the request of the Garden Clubs of Georgia, the legislature recognized the thrasher as Georgia’s official state bird.

It is a well-deserved distinction. The brown thrasher is one of North America’s most impressive songbirds. Its remarkable vocal repertoire is considered equal to that of the mockingbird’s; some ornithologists even say it is richer, fuller and more melodious than the mocker’s.

During the nesting season, few birds show more concern over their eggs and young than the brown thrasher — attacking any intruder, even people, when it feels threatened.

However, the brown thrasher itself faces serious trouble: In the decades ahead, it could disappear from Georgia during the summer to escape increased heat and in response to other changes predicted under climate change, according to a new, groundbreaking study by the National Audubon Society.

Dozens of other Georgia songbird species may face similar fates. Citing the report, Adam Betuel of Atlanta Audubon noted: “In Georgia, 23 percent, or 58 of Georgia’s 254 bird species are vulnerable to climate change … Without substantial climate change mitigation, many common Georgia species like the brown thrasher, brown-headed nuthatch, Eastern towhee and many others could become uncommon or even extirpated in Georgia.”

In addition to climate change, loss of habitat, pollution, pesticides and other hazards pose serious dangers for birds. Another study published last month in the journal Science found that since 1970, North American birds have declined by nearly three billion, presumably because of the man-made threats.

IN THE SKY:

From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The Orionid meteor shower will peak at 20 meteors per hour Monday night in the east. Best viewing time is after midnight.

The moon will be last-quarter on Monday. Mercury is low and Venus is in the west just after dark. Venus sets shortly thereafter. Jupiter is low in the southwest around dusk and sets a few hours later. Saturn is low in the south just after dark and sets in the west around midnight.