These US bird species face a ‘tipping point’ as populations decline sharply, new report finds


(NEXSTAR) – Amid a nationwide outbreak of avian flu, birds have had a hard year. But according to a report released Wednesday, many bird species have had a hard half-century, with the future not looking much brighter.

More than half of the bird species in the U.S. are declining, according to the State of Birds report, which was put together by more than 30 government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives led by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

This follows a worldwide trend identified by BirdLife International earlier this year, which wrote in its State of the World’s Birds report that nearly half of the bird species on Earth are in decline. Humans are overwhelmingly to blame, the report said.

In the U.S., researchers have identified 90 species that have lost half of their population since 1970. This includes red-headed woodpeckers, snowy owls and four different warblers.

Researchers noted 70 of those 90 species are now at a “tipping point,” meaning they are on track to lose another 50% of their population over the next 50 years if current conditions continue. Some of the hardest hit species include grassland birds, shorebirds and sea ducks:

Allen’s Hummingbird Black Scoter Greater Sage-Grouse Lesser Prairie-Chicken Scripps’s Murrelet
American Golden-Plover Bobolink Guadalupe Murrelet Lesser Yellowlegs Seaside Sparrow
Ashy Storm-Petrel Bristle-thighed Curlew Harris’s Sparrow Mottled Duck Semipalmated Sandpiper
Audubon’s Shearwater Brown-capped Rosy-Finch Heermann’s Gull Mountain Plover Short-billed Dowitcher
Bachman’s Sparrow Buff-breasted Sandpiper Henslow’s Sparrow Murphy’s Petrel Sprague’s Pipit
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel Cassia Crossbill Hudsonian Godwit Parkinson’s Petrel Stilt Sandpiper
Bendire’s Thrasher Chestnut-collared Longspur Ivory Gull Pectoral Sandpiper Townsend’s Storm-Petrel
Bicknell’s Thrush Chimney Swift King Eider Pinyon Jay Tricolored Blackbird
Black-capped Petrel Craveri’s Murrelet King Rail Prairie Warbler Wandering Tattler
Black-chinned Sparrow Elegant Tern Kittlitz’s Murrelet Red-faced Cormorant Whimbrel
Black-footed Albatross Evening Grosbeak Laysan Albatross Red-legged Kittiwake Whiskered Auklet
Black-vented Shearwater Fea’s Petrel Least Tern Ruddy Turnstone Yellow-billed Loon
Black Rail Golden-winged Warbler LeConte’s Sparrow Rufous Hummingbird Yellow-billed Magpie
Black Rosy-Finch Great Black-backed Gull LeConte’s Thrasher Saltmarsh Sparrow Yellow Rail

While not listed as threatened or endangered by federal authorities, all of the above birds have been added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Birds of Conservation Concern List and/or state lists of species in need of conservation.

“The rapid declines in birds signal the intensifying stresses that wildlife and people alike are experiencing around the world because of habitat loss, environmental degradation and extreme climate events,” said Dr. Amanda Rodewald, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Avian Population Studies, in a press relesae. “Taking action to bring birds back delivers a cascade of benefits that improve climate resilience and quality of life for people.”

Though many species are on the decline, there is one group that is on the rise: wetland birds. This includes waterbirds, dabbling and diving ducks, and, overwhelmingly, geese and swans, which have seen a 1,076% increase in their population since 1970.

The success of these waterbirds offer insight on how people can help other species reverse course. Dr. Karen Waldrop, chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited, explained that collaboration between different groups of people — “hunters, landowners, state and federal agencies, and corporations” — has helped to keep these birds around.

Conservation of shorebirds and grassland birds needs to improve, the report explains. Researchers suggest using methods that proved effective in saving waterbirds, like investing in public-private partnerships, using technology to identify what is causing population declines, and working with international partners.

The report notes that birds “are highly responsive to conservation efforts” and crucial to protecting other species, like butterflies, bats, and many plants.

Helping bird populations isn’t limited to national efforts, either. There are actions you can take at home to prevent bird deaths as well.

Speaking with a Massachusetts public radio station, Ken Rosenberg, an author on the recent study and retired scientist from Cornell University, pointed to two main causes of bird deaths: glass windows and outdoor cats.

Keeping cats indoors and installing small features to your windows can combat those deaths, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology explains. They offer five other ways you can help birds in and around your home.

“Everyone can make a difference to help turn declines around,” said Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy. 

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