Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue Jays, White-throated Sparrows among highest losses – why have they disappeared?
- We have lost enormous numbers of familiar birds
- Suspected contributors: climate change, habitat loss, pressure from invasive species and pesticide use
- To make a difference: Make windows safer – prevent window strikes, landscape with native plants, keep cats indoors, avoid pesticide use, reduce plastic use, learn more about citizen science initiatives
A recently published study in the journal Science has revealed shocking declines in bird populations across North America. Since 1970, we have lost 2.9 billion birds. That number translates to nearly 1 in 3 birds that have been lost. This number was staggering to even the scientists behind the paper, who have dedicated their careers to the study of ornithology and are very familiar with the challenges facing our birds.
Surprisingly, some of the species that have experienced the greatest declines are some of the most common. Over the last 50 years, we have lost enormous numbers of familiar birds like Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue Jays, and White-throated Sparrows. “Keeping common birds common” has been a rallying cry for conservationists, and it seems that this is even more important than we previously thought.
The loss of these wonderful animals is devastating in and of itself, but it is also a sign of much larger problems. Birds are excellent indicator species – they are sensitive to changes in their environments and we have abundant data on birds from both professional researchers and citizen scientists.
When we know birds are in trouble, we can infer that the ecosystems to which they are intricately linked are also in trouble. Many of the factors that we know are causing bird population declines – climate change, habitat loss, pressure from invasive species and pesticide use – also affect countless other species of plants and animals.
The findings of the study aren’t all bad news – in fact, some groups of birds have increased population sizes due to directed conservation efforts. Woodpeckers, birds of prey and waterfowl have all seen their populations grow as we have protected their habitats and food sources from degradation and loss. The other good news – there are concrete actions you can take to help bird populations.
There are 7 simple steps you can easily take to make a difference, many of which already will be familiar to our readers. Preventing window strikes, landscaping with native plants, keeping cats indoors, avoiding pesticide use, drinking bird-friendly coffee, reducing plastic use and participating in citizen science initiatives are all actions you can take to protect bird species today.
Another important step? Make sure that you are a voice for birds. Share this news with friends and family on social media or by word of mouth!
This information and story has been republished from KITE TALES, Issue 36, OCT 2016 – The monthly newsletter of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail.