Federal Report: More Than 30 Percent of U.S. Birds in Decline

   Western Meadowlark are experiencing rapid declines. Photo courtesy FWS
In the United States, more than 800 native bird species dwell in our terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats—and nearly one-third of those species have declined over the last four decades. Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Audubon, and several other top-notch environmental groups unveiled this finding in the State of the Birds report. The news isn’t all bad (the Whooping Crane and California condor have pulled back from the brink of extinction, for instance), but overall the report is a sobering look at the threats, including energy development, climate change, and over fishing, facing the nation’s birds.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Among the nation’s 800 native species, 67 are federally listed as endangered or threatened, and 184 more are considered species of conservation concern because of their small distribution, high threats, or declining populations.
  • Bird populations in grassland and arid land habitats show the most rapid declines. Eastern and Western meadowlarks, Bobolinks, Short-eared Owls, and Northern Bobwhites have declined by 38–77% since 1968.
  • Populations of wetland birds, wintering coastal species, and hunted waterfowl, meanwhile, have increased during the last 40 years, “reflecting a strong focus during this period on wetlands conservation and management.”
  • At least 39% of birds restricted to oceans are declining, due to over fishing, pollution, global warming driving up sea temperatures, and degraded nesting sites.
  • Nearly all native Hawaiian forest birds are declining. Predators, nonnative disease-carrying mosquitoes, feral cats and pigs, and habitat loss have all contributed to the dramatic decreases. The number of Palilas, for instance, has dropped from 6,600 birds in 2003 to 2,200 in 2008.

The Christian Science Monitor looks at how, “with many negative references to impacts of oil spills, oil-and-gas development, and climate change on birds, the report represents one of the sharpest breaks yet between the Obama and Bush administrations on environmental matters.”

And The New York Times focuses on the energy-bird conflicts highlighted. The report doesn’t, however, point fingers when it comes to whether one type of energy production causes more harm than another.

If this news leaves you feeling like you’d like to help out, consider participating in Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count later this year, or taking part in another citizen scientist project, like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird—a database that allows you to keep your life list online, aiding scientists in the process. Visit stateofthebirds.org for more ideas.

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