Friday, April 03, 2009

The threats to birds

Nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats, says a new report on bird populations.

"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," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in releasing The U.S. State of the Birds, the most comprehensive study of its kind.

"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."

The report also said habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines in many species of waterfowl, such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey (pictured above), and ducks.

"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."

The report combines data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists. It indicates a 40% decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30% decline in birds of aridlands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Also, 39% species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.

Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy's vice president for conservation programs, said, "In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of bird watching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life."

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds like the Northern Bobwhite and Marbled Murrelet are declining significantly, and may become extinct.

"Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them," said National Audubon Society's Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. "Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores."

The report is available at

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