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Climate Change is Shrinking Animals, Especially Bird-Brained Birds


Song Sparrow perches in wildflowers ( left ), and a Swainson’s Thrush perches in a beech tree. Credit: William Leaman/Alamy Stock Photo ( left); William Leaman/Alamy Stock Photo ( right ) As the world warms, many animals are getting smaller. For birds, new research shows what they have upstairs may just make a different in how much smaller they get.

Shahla Farzan: This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Shahla Farzan.

Climate change is affecting animals in a lot of different ways. But scientists have noticed a common trend across a variety of species: they’re getting smaller. As in—physically smaller in size. But why, and what could this mean?

Scientists have observed this phenomenon in very different animal species from wild sheep to woodrats. But it’s especially well-documented in North American songbirds.

In 2019, researchers at the University of Michigan published a dataset of more than 70,000 birds that died after hitting windows in Chicago. The data showed the body sizes for dozens of species had actually shrunk over the past 40 years.

But when Justin Baldwin , a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, took a closer look at the data … something stood out. [Justin W. Baldwin et al., […]

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