Three years ago, the world of bird conservation was forever changed with the publication of a groundbreaking study in Science confirming the losses of nearly three billion birds in North America between 1970 and 2019. Nearly two and a half billion of those birds represented migratory species, which makes efforts to protect them complicated given the need to address threats they face on breeding and wintering grounds and on their migratory journeys in between. If we want to secure a future for bird life, our conservation efforts must stretch across the entire hemisphere in a coordinated fashion informed by the best-available conservation science.
Luckily, this summer, scientists from the National Audubon Society published a study in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, presenting a framework that uses hemisphere-scaled processes, like migration, that are necessary for bird conservation, and translates them to targeted, on-the-ground conservation actions.
"To complete their life cycles, migratory birds often move across continents or even hemispheres. This requires conservation plans be designed to stop their population declines as we consider these broad distances covered,” said Bill DeLuca, PhD, senior manager of migration ecology for Audubon and lead author of the study.
“The tricky part is that conservation actions, like forest restoration or preservation, happen at very local scales. In this paper we layout a framework for translating conservation plans developed for migratory birds across the Western Hemisphere into localized conservation actions using two example landscapes, Colombia and coastal North and South Carolina.”
The framework’s basic idea is that it integrates tracking data, generously shared with Audubon by hundreds of scientists, band re-encounter data from the US Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab and Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird Status abundance data to identify broad landscapes across the hemisphere that are integral for protecting a connected network of habitat for migratory birds. Based on organizational capacity and interest, a subset of those regions can be selected for more detailed analysis that considers local conservation needs to select specific sites and the conservation actions to implement. In other words, we combine bird migration science at hemispheric and regional scales and on-the-ground practicality, for example, local partnerships and benefits to surrounding communities, to focus conservation efforts across the entire hemisphere, protecting the most important places where conserving birds is most possible and has the largest impact on slowing declining bird trends.
Ultimately, the most important ingredient to effective conservation is people. Regardless of what a scientific analysis may find, if people do not have the capacity or interest to implement the conservation action, its success is unlikely.
Gloria Lentijo, working lands strategy director for Audubon Americas, adds, “We have to work beyond the maps and analysis to make it real for birds. We need to get to those places and understand the local context. We need to consider what people need and what the necessary actions are to protect birds. Only then can we negotiate a workplan that is tailored for each site to achieve conservation together with local communities.”
This approach, sometimes referred to as translational ecology, is the key to successful conservation of migratory birds. Together, conservation scientists and on-the-ground conservation practitioners work hand-in-hand during the entire process to ensure that the science aligns with possible conservation actions.
As Audubon begins to roll out a new strategic plan called Flight Plan, it will be incorporating this new framework to ensure that the full annual cycles of migratory birds are included in this hemispheric effort with the goal of reversing declining trends in bird populations documented over the past 50 years. The stakes are significant. There are billions of birds that are depending on Audubon and our partners making sure we are using the best-available science to inform our conservation efforts.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @audubonsociety.