Fall 2023 Speaker: Scot Duncan

Meet the Speaker

Scot Duncan

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“Alabama’s Birdlife and the Climate Crisis: Changes, Challenges, and Choices.”

Ask any long-time birder in the southeastern US about changes to the region’s birdlife, and you will get an earful about how today is very different than it used to be. Most notably, there are fewer birds than there were just a handful of decades ago.  Much of this change is due to legacy threats from last century that are still a burden to bird populations, especially habitat loss, pollution, building collisions, and invasive species and diseases.  And now, nearly a quarter of the way through this new century, it is very apparent that birds are facing a new formidable threat—climate change.

The climate crisis is changing Alabama’s birdlife faster than at any time in the past few thousand years.  More heatwaves, stronger storms and floods, dangerous droughts and wildfires, and a disappearing coastline — the shifting climate is forcing changes to how birds are living in the Alabama landscape. If bird conservation organizations such as Alabama Ornithological Society and Alabama Audubon want to ensure that birds survive in this new era, we need to better understand how climate change is affecting birds.  Only then can we promote the conservation strategies our birds need to survive.

Ornithologists are learning how birds are being affected by climate change. As you might expect, populations of many species are imperiled—some more than others.  But it is encouraging that other species are showing signs of adapting to climate change.

Yes, you read that correctly – many species are adjusting how and where they live to cope with the new climate.  Think of the tropical and semi-tropical species or neotropical migrants that are expanding their ranges northward (e.g., Limpkin, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Northern Parula).  Some bird species are even evolving new body shapes to cope with the changing climate.

In this talk I will summarize what ornithologists are learning about how climate change is affecting birds and how birds are responding.  I will also highlight which Alabama bird species are most vulnerable to climate change.  I will share what Alabama Audubon is doing to help protect our birds and point out ways that everyone can contribute to ensuring that Alabama’s amazing birdlife can survive and thrive this century and far beyond.



Dr. R. Scot Duncan became the Executive Director of Alabama Audubon in August 2022.  He was raised on the shores of Pensacola Bay, Florida, by the celebrated birders and conservationists, Lucy and Bob Duncan.  Both Scot and his brother, Will, have dedicated their lives to science, conservation, and education. Scot holds a BS in Biology from Eckerd College, and a MS and PhD in Zoology from the University of Florida. His research and explorations have taken him to Antarctica, New Zealand, East Africa, Central and South America, the Pacific Northwest, and ecosystems across the southeastern US.  In graduate school, Scot studied tropical forest restoration in Uganda and Latin America, but for the past twenty years had focuses his efforts on endangered species and ecosystems of the Southeast. He is the author or coauthor of 16 peer-reviewed science journal articles and 7 technical reports.


Scot is the author of award-winning Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity, with foreword written by Dr. Edward O. Wilson. Written for the layperson, the book interweaves the disciplines of ecology, evolution, and geology into an explanation of why Alabama is home to more species than any other state east of the Mississippi River. The book won three awards, including the Phil Reed Environmental Writing Award for non-fiction from the Southern Environmental Law Center. Over 3100 copies have been sold.


Scot’s latest book is Southern Rivers: Restoring America’s Freshwater Biodiversity will be published in 2024. Scot is frequently interviewed by the press on issues of species and ecosystem conservation and climate change.  He’s delivered 120+ talks to the public since 2013.  He has a blog, entitled Confluence: The Head and Heart of Southeastern Ecology.


Scot is a professor emeritus at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), where he taught for twenty years, serving as chair of the Biology Department from 2014 to 2017).


Scot has served on the board of directors of the Cahaba River Society (2006-2012) and the Alabama Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (2021-2022).