Nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats, according to the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released the report, which was developed by a partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
More than half of America’s migratory birds will face an emerging threat to their survival when they flock to Canada’s boreal forest to nest this spring. The vast northern forest — one of the planet’s largest bird nurseries — is being overrun in the West by oil companies seeking to extract petroleum from tar sands for export to the U.S.
NRDC Senior Attorney Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, who contributed to the report, sums up its findings: "The loss of millions of birds is a wholly unacceptable price to pay for America’s addiction to oil. There are better energy options available that do not foul our air, poison our waters or kill our backyard birds." http://www.nrdc.org/naturesvoice/feature1.asp
The report also highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines.
“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “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 now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”
The U.S. State of the Birds report synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.
In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the U.S. In addition, the report indicates a 40% decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30% decline in birds of arid lands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39% of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.
However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.
“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”
“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”
Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.
“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”
Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.
The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.
Read the report: