Big birds are gaining more than attention on Sesame Street.
Birds in central California have been growing larger for several decades. Researchers think climate change may be bulking up the birds, while other studies suggest some animals and plants are shrinking in a warming world.
Researchers from San Francisco State University and other institutions noticed the feathered-friend trend while analyzing data from thousands of birds caught and released over the years at two sites near San Francisco Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore.
The birds increased in mass and their wings grew longer over the past 27 to 40 years.
"The fingerprint of climate change is showing up in many of our ecosystems," said Nat Seavy, of Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science, another organization involved in the research, in a press release.
"The challenge is to use the long-term data we've been collecting to understand how, where and why these changes are occurring."
The researchers believe climate change may be driving these changes in bird size in a variety of ways, they noted in a paper published in Global Change Biology. The birds may be storing more fat to ride out intense winter storms which (as anyone on the Northeast U.S. will testify) may become more common as the planet warms, they said.
Changes in plant growth could also be affecting bird size, speculated the scientists.
Discovery News recently reported on evidence that some animals and plants may be shrinking at the climate warms.
"Although it is encouraging that species are changing in response to climate change," said Seavy, "it is also troubling that environmental stressors are pushing and pulling on species in diverse ways…”
“What will happen to our ecosystems as some species get larger and others get smaller? We need long-term monitoring to help us understand the impact of these changes," said Seavy.
An osprey near San Francisco Bay (Wikimedia Commons)
Big Bird's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Wikimedia Commons)