Within the last two weeks, two important new studies on the status of birds and their habitats have been published, one from the journal Science and one from the National Audubon Society.
The journal Science has published an exhaustive study of the bird population dynamic in the United States and Canada over the past 50 years. This retrospective study used data gathered from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Surveys and eBird data. Researchers also were able to employ high-resolution weather radar to estimate bird populations. Data showed an overall decline of 2.9 billion birds since 1970. In addition to recognized known endangered species, this study tracked declines in several species of everyday backyard birds. Across-the-board declines in warbler species alone totaled 617 million birds. Blackbird species plummeted by 440 million birds. Even the lowly Starling, known to be a prolific breeder, declined by 49 percent.
While the authors of this study did not identify specific causes of this massive decline, others have mentioned the usual threats, such as the disappearance and fragmentation of bird habitats and increased use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. In a very recent study, neonicotinoids were shown to disrupt bird behavior and interfere with the timing of bird migration.
Positive takeaways from this study show continuing increases in the number of Bald Eagles and Falcons. Falcon populations increased by 33 percent. The small warbler-like group of birds, Vireos, enjoyed a jump of 89 million, about 53 percent. Study authors could not understand why a species similar to warblers would have a large increase while warblers themselves would fall so precipitously. Improvements in the management of wetlands yielded the only habitat-based increase in bird species.
The National Audubon Society is recommending increased protection of bird-rich habitats — specifically the Great Lakes area and the Colorado River Basin. Other recommendations include keeping cats indoors to prevent them from preying on birds. The National Audubon Society has recommended addressing bird window strike problems with window strike decals and interior building lighting.
In addition to this important new study from the journal Science, the National Audubon Society released an update to its 2014 Climate Change Report on October 10. I was able to attend a webinar briefing on the update, and I can tell you there is a great deal of insightful, important information that you will want to see. I strongly urge you to participate in our November General Members’ Meeting on the UNO campus, where Kristal Stoner, State Executive Director for the Audubon Society, will talk about the update in greater detail.