declining bird populations

Bird Populations Plummet: Are Humans Next?

Report: Avian downturn is an environmental alarm bell, but conservation can work wonders.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Being in nature is actually good for our health, according to studies. Maybe that’s why 1 out of every 4 adults are drawn to bird watching. Bird-lover or not, the first-ever State of the Birds report should be catching everyone’s attention. It shows that bird populations around the country are plummeting—and the health of our birds reflects the integrity of the air, water, soil, and other natural resources we rely on.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of the land, water, and ecosystems,” says Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together not to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields, and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

THE DETAILS: Government wildlife agencies and some of the largest bird conservancy groups in the country, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and the American Bird Conservancy, came together to produce the comprehensive analysis of the state of our nation’s birds. Thousands of citizen-scientists tracked birds in their backyards to help give researchers the big picture of bird health across the country. Songbirds of Hawaii are on the brink of extinction, and the number of grasslands birds has dropped 40 percent in the last 40 years. Birds in arid places dropped 30 percent during the same time period, while birds relying on the ocean plummeted nearly 40 percent. The culprits include climate change (disrupts precipitation, melts winter breeding grounds, and changes the timing of plant seed production, making seeds birds eat less available when birds need them). Further contributing factors: unplanned development and urban sprawl, pesticides, oil and energy exploration, unsustainable logging, and the conversion of grasslands to chemical-farming fields.

“This report makes clear the need for urgent individual, collective, and governmental action, and leaves little doubt that taking action can make a difference,” says John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society. “Together, we can safeguard not only our birds, but the environment that sustains us all.”

WHAT IT MEANS: It may not seem like it, but plenty of the everyday decisions we make—what we plant in or spray onto our yards, what we eat, how much we drive—impact the 800 species of birds that make the U.S. their home for part or all of their lives. Birds are important to our economy, too. Wildlife-watching generates $122 billion in economic output annually. The good news is that conservation really works. Many wetland bird species are rebounding in impressive numbers, thanks to conservation efforts in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.


Published on: March 27, 2009

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