A great deal of concern is shown by government and private organizations regarding the announcement by the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, that nearly one third of the 800 bird species found in the U.S. are “endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.”
While that is bad news indeed, there is also good news about many species of waterfowl that are rebounding, thanks to conservation practices and habitat restoration. Because of that, it is hoped that the declining bird populations can be helped.
“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”
In The U.S. State of the Birds, a lengthy report that details data from three bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists, particular attention is paid to an apparent bird crisis in Hawaii. More Hawaiian birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the U.S. The report also shows a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline of birds on arid lands, and there are worries for many coastal shorebirds.
The report says, “Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.” Dr. David Pashley, the American Bird Conservancy’s vice president for conservation programs, said, “Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species. In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many [man-made] threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings.”
On the good-news side, there is evidence that birds have the ability to respond quickly when — in the case of water-loving birds, for example — proper action is taken to preserve wetlands. Data has shown dramatic increases in wetland birds, such as ducks, herons, pelicans, egrets and ospreys. It’s a testament to the many cooperative conservation partnerships that have worked so well that more than 30 million wetland acres that once were threatened, now have been saved for the benefit of the birds. “These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”
“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to healthy, thriving bird populations,” said Dave Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy.
Various volunteer citizens programs, such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, along with the annual Breeding Bird Survey survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite quail and marbled murrelet are declining in great numbers. The Interior Department says the possibility of extinction remains a cold reality for many of the endangered birds.
The U.S. is home to more than 800 bird species that inhabit every type of environment, from coastal areas, to deserts and prairies, mountains, and small or large cities. Among them are 67 that are federally listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as birds of concern due to a small distribution, high threat levels or sinking populations. More information can be gleaned by going to www.stateofthebirds.org and www.abcbirds.org.