Thousands of Migrating Birds Found Dead or Injured in Greece
Thousands of swallows and other migratory birds have died in Greece trying to cross from Africa to Europe this spring.
The birds were buffeted by unusually rough weather, wildlife groups and experts told reporters Thursday.
"It's a major disaster," Maria Ganoti of the wildlife protection group Anima told AFP, in a story published by The Guardian.
Ganoti said the birds had been found injured or dead in the last three days. They have been found on the streets and balconies of Athens, in the country's north, on islands in the Aegean and around a lake in the Peloponnese, AFP reported. The Hellenic Ornithological Society posted images of the carnage on social media.
Οι αντίξοες καιρικές συνθήκες και οι ισχυροί βορινοί άνεμοι έχουν αναγκάσει χιλιάδες μεταναστευτικά πουλιά να διακό… https://t.co/djVyoLm9MM— ornithologiki (@ornithologiki)1586326690.0
The group wrote that the night of April fifth to sixth was especially perilous for the birds. A combination of cold weather, strong winds and few insects exhausted birds that had already crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean. South-blowing winds pushed the birds to North Africa, where they then faced the north-blowing winds of the Aegean and flew towards eastern Greece for rest. The group described what happened next:
On April 6th, the morning light revealed a shocking sight: tens of thousands of birds, chilly and exhausted, were unable to move. Swallows and martins had to rest on the ground, on the blacktop, on balconies, on rooftops and any other surface available. Swifts –a purely airborne species that can not rest on the ground or on a wire– found a temporary shelter by grabbing a wall or by hiding in scuppers or air ducts. Flycatchers filled parks and gardens in Athens and other cities. All this happened throughout Eastern Greece, from southernmost Crete to northernmost Macedonia.
‼️ Δύσκολοι καιροί για τα μεταναστευτικά πουλιά! Τι μπορούμε να κάνουμε για να τα βοηθήσουμε; 👉Δείτε αναλυτικά εδώ:… https://t.co/nFhN4FyEBI— ornithologiki (@ornithologiki)1586349219.0
Greece is in the flight path of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, AFP reported, and storms are a major danger for all migrating birds, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Some deaths are sadly to be expected, and birds have evolved to weather harsh conditions to a certain degree, the Hellenic Ornithological Society explained.
"However, this specific weather combination was unprecedented and pushed entire populations to their limits," the group wrote. "If we take into account all the hardships that human activity brings about during their journey — habitat loss, desertification, illegal killing etc. — these losses could prove devastating."
They urged concerned bird lovers not to approach or feed the resting birds, to protect them from drivers and cats and to call a wildlife center if they encountered one who needed medical help.
Swallows, which were particularly impacted by the harsh weather, are Greece's most popular bird, according to Greek Reporter. Their arrival heralds spring. They also make an incredible journey.
"These birds fly up to 350 kilometers (217 miles) a day, with anticyclones favoring them on their journey as they lift them higher up in the sky," associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Environment at Thessaloniki University Dimitris Bakaloudis explained to Greek Reporter.. "They spent the winter months in southern Sahara and as far as South Africa and start migrating in waves from early March on a route of more than 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles)."
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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