In The News: 3 Billion Birds Lost

Last week, a group of conservation organizations led by Cornell Lab of

Red-winged Blackbird Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Ornithology released a stunning report of a detailed study which shows a loss of 3 billion birds in North America in 50 years.  It’s a staggering amount of birds – a net loss of 29% of the breeding population during those 50 years – more than 1 in every 4 birds. And despite scientists knowing there have been declines in bird populations, the actual numbers and the specific types of birds were unexpected. This report gives us a chance to think about how we value nature and the life around us.  And we hope, inspires all of us to take action quickly to make changes – many of them not difficult to do –  that will benefit birds and us. But first, what does the report tell us?

Taken directly from the authors summary, here is an overview of the major findings:
  • There are 2.9 billion fewer breeding birds in North America than there were in 1970.
  • Even common, beloved species have undergone staggering losses.
  • Landscapes are losing their ability to support bird populations.
  • Yet over this same period, landmark conservation efforts have helped bring some birds back.
And who sustained the greatest losses:
  • Forests alone have lost 1 billion birds since 1970
  • Grassland birds experienced a 53% reduction in population-more than 720 million birds.
  • Aerial insectivores-birds like swallows, nighthawks, and flycatchers-are down by 32%, or 160 million.
  • Coastal shorebirds, already at dangerously low numbers, lost more than one-third of their population.
  • The volume of spring migration, measured by radar in the night skies, has dropped by 14% in just the past decade.
What are the Biggest Causes of these losses?
  • Habitat loss is the largest issue with habitat degradation next in line.  Whether it’s conversion of grasslands to farmland, clearing for homes, resource extraction, or whatever other purpose, when the land is cleared or fragmented, or water is polluted, birds lose their homes, and food sources are compromised.  For a migratory bird, the loss of habitat, safe shelter and food at any of its stopovers, overwintering sites or breeding grounds, has a negative impact.
  • The study didn’t measure causes per se, but some, like the annual toll on birds from domestic cat predation ( 2.6 billion each year) and Window collisions (624 million each year) were reportable.  Others like pesticides could not be effectively measured in this report, but are known causes of loss of life and/or food sources.
Is There Any Good News?
Yes! And it’s very good news!
  • Due to ongoing protection and restoration of wetlands by billions of dollars in government funding and conservation investments by hunters, waterfowl have seen an increase in populations of about 56%
  • Due to the ban placed on the use of pesticide DDT, and a theenforcement of a strong Endangered Species Acthawks and eagles have increased their populations by 78%  – Ospreys in particular by 400%
All this indicates that strong conservation and protection lawscoupled with government and public support have a remarkable impact.
Please take a look at the author’s complete summary and you can also download the full report.