Quantcast

Birds Populations Are Rapidly Declining in North America

Animals
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.


The researchers found that since 1970, North America bird populations have declined by 29 percent, a number that approaches 3 billions birds. The extensive and thorough study, which looked at 529 different bird species and and published in the journal Science, has produced staggering results that shocked researchers and conservationists, according to the New York Times.

"We saw this tremendous net loss across the entire bird community," said Ken Rosenberg, an applied conservation scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY, as NPR reported. "By our estimates, it's a 30 percent loss in the total number of breeding birds."

The researchers thought, at first, that perhaps the total population had just shifted to favor birds that are adapted to live around humans, like geese, pigeons and European starlings. What the scientists did not know is how large the net change in the bird population is, according to NPR, and the declines far outpaced the gains.

"We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species," said Rosenberg, in a press release. "But for the first time, the results also showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds."

To study avian populations, the bird researchers analyzed a combination of data that included long-term population surveys as well as weather radar data. The study found that grassland birds fared the worst — including well-known species of sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches. Those birds have seen their populations decline by 53 percent since 1970, as National Geographic reported.

"We should take it as staggering, devastating news," said study senior author Peter Marra, director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative at Georgetown University, to National Geographic.

Birds are essential to a well-balanced ecosystem. They play a vital role as pollinators and seed distributors. They also help keep insect populations in check and they dispose of rotting carcasses.

In total, the results showed that 90 percent of the population loss is attributed to just a dozen bird families. Some of the biggest losses are from common songbirds like meadowlarks, dark-eyed juncos, horned larks and red-winged blackbirds, said Rosenberg, as NPR reported.

"It's not just these highly threatened birds that we're afraid are going to go on the endangered species list," said Rosenberg, as the New York Times reported. "It's across the board."

Besides the tremendous decline of grassland birds, the population of shorebirds, which are already at dangerously low numbers, dropped by one-third.

"We're losing common species," said Marra, as Smithsonian reported. "We're not keeping common species common. We're failing at that."

When common birds disappear, it has the potential to change an entire ecosystem.

"Declines in your common sparrow or other little brown bird may not receive the same attention as historic losses of bald eagles or sandhill cranes, but they are going to have much more of an impact," said Hillary Young, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the new research, to the New York Times.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By George Citroner

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the World Health Organization currently recommend either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gardening, doing household chores) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming) every week.

But there's little research looking at the benefits, if any, of exercising less than the 75 minute minimum.

Read More Show Less
Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, poses for a photograph. Nick Otto / Washington Post / Getty Images

It seems the reality of the climate crisis is too much for the Federal Reserve to ignore anymore.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Passengers trying to reach Berlin's Tegel Airport on Sunday were hit with delays after police blocked roads and enacted tighter security controls in response to a climate protest.

Read More Show Less
A military police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, pets Rosco, a post-traumatic stress disorder companion animal certified to accompany him, on Jan. 11, 2014. North Carolina National Guard

For 21 years, Doug Distaso served his country in the United States Air Force.

He commanded joint aviation, maintenance, and support personnel globally and served as a primary legislative affairs lead for two U.S. Special Operations Command leaders.

But after an Air Force plane accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain, Distaso was placed on more than a dozen prescription medications by doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Read More Show Less
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Preliminary tests of the bubble barrier have shown it to be capable of ushering 80 percent of the canal's plastic waste to its banks. The Great Bubble Barrier / YouTube screenshot

The scourge of plastic waste that washes up on once-pristine beaches and finds its way into the middle of the ocean often starts on land, is dumped in rivers and canals, and gets carried out to sea. At the current rate, marine plastic is predicted to outweigh all the fish in the seas by 2050, according to Silicon Canals.

Read More Show Less
Man stands on stage at Fort Leonard Wood in the U.S. Brett Sayles / Pexels

Wilson "Woody" Powell served in the Air Force during the Korean war. But in the decades since, he's become staunchly anti-war.

Read More Show Less
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Nov. 8. Matt Johnson / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

Joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Friday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders held the largest rally of any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to date in Iowa, drawing more than 2,400 people to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

Read More Show Less