UN Report Finds Many Migratory Species in Existential Peril

A majority of the migratory wildlife species at risk in first report of its kind are birds.
Red Knot. Photo: Jean Hall/Audubon Photography Awards

Earlier this year, the United Nations published the first ever State of the World’s Migratory Species report.  The report was prepared for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).  The CMS provides a global venue for developing internationally coordinated conservation and the sustainable harvesting of migratory animals.  Although the United States has not signed on as a party of the CMS, it has signed on to some of the agreements and memoranda of understanding (MOUs).

The findings are sobering, detailing that nearly half of the world’s migratory species are in decline, and more than 20 percent are threatened with extinction. Of the 1,189 species listed as migratory under the CMS, the vast majority (962 species) of these are birds.  

At Audubon, the perils facing migratory birds are all too familiar. Recent science showed that North America alone lost 3 billion birds since 1970, the vast majority of them were migratory. Audubon climate science also predicts that two thirds of the bird species in North America are vulnerable to extinction due to climate change. To address these declines, the National Audubon Society is investing in programs that are designed to reverse declines of migratory birds. 

“Bird migration is one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring natural phenomena on the planet,” said Dr. Jill Deppe, senior director of Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative. “Unfortunately, not all migratory birds are lucky enough to survive these incredible journeys, too often due to human-caused conservation challenges. It’s up to us to do what we can to protect them along the way.” 

Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative has the mission of securing the future of migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere by reducing direct threats and protecting key places across the Americas as informed by the best-available science, conservation and policy partners. Their work has included the launch of the Bird Migration Explorer. With this revolutionary new tool, anyone can follow hundreds of species on their epic journeys and discover challenges they face along the way. 

Internationally, Audubon’s new strategies in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada are designed to protect birds and the places they need over their entire life cycles. This hemispheric approach recognizes that many of the vulnerable bird species found in the U.S. spend most of their lives in outside its borders. 

To secure the future of migratory animals, the U.N. report emphasizes the pressing need to address climate change, habitat loss and degradation, pollution, and overexploitation. At Audubon, our hemispheric approach to conservation has been intentionally designed to provide an international structure that can help us address all of these issues. Support for public policies like the U.S. Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is critical to protect migratory birds and the habitats they depend on across the Americas.