August 26, 2007
Bird Species In America In Sharp Decline

The National Audobon Society of the United States says bird species are in decline.

Audubon's unprecedented analysis of forty years of citizen-science bird population data from our own Christmas Bird Count plus the Breeding Bird Survey reveals the alarming decline of many of our most common and beloved birds.

Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.

The findings point to serious problems with both local habitats and national environmental trends. Only citizen action can make a difference for the birds and the state of our future.

What citizen action could work? I see a problem here which will prevent action on a scale needed to preserve large habitats: The human instinct to reproduce combined with our ability to generate more technology. We now out-compete a growing portion of all the species on the planet and our ability to harness a growing and very substantial portion of the world's land and biomass to our own purposes. If more environmentally minded people have fewer babies it won't matter because those with stronger genetic instincts to reproduce will make up a larger fraction of the next generation and fertility will eventually recover.

On your computer you can see or hear the 20 top decliners. So these birds will live on in cyberspace. Here is the full report.

Nathaniel T. Wheelwright says it feels as if the lights are dimming.

In his later years, my grandfather used to grumble that birds were becoming scarcer and scarcer. It was tempting to write off his gloom as the natural tendency of the elderly to romanticize the past, or maybe just an old man's deteriorating hearing and eyesight. But it was true that the whippoorwill that had kept me awake nights when I visited him as a boy had gone quiet, and the woods and fields of the Northeast felt emptier to me.

Earlier this summer, the National Audubon Society released a definitive study of population trends of North American birds, a monumental effort based on decades of Christmas bird counts and breeding bird surveys. The study confirms what my grandfather feared and what most of us now know. Birds that I used to see routinely growing up in New England evening grosbeaks, eastern meadowlarks, northern bobwhites are in free fall. The losses are mind-boggling. Since my grandfather introduced me to birds just half a lifetime ago, once-common species have declined by as much as 80 percent due to the usual suspects: habitat loss, pesticides, introduced species, and climate change. The songs of tens of millions of birds have been silenced. It feels as if the lights are dimming.

When some people read about cellulosic technology they think "environmentally friendly green energy". By contrast I think "yet another way to convert land from habitat for other species into biofactories to power cars and SUVs". The birdies are going bye bye because of human population expansion and economic growth. We need policies that decrease the human footprint. Or we have to accept the decline of most other species. My guess is we will continue to opt for the latter.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 26 09:00 AM  Trends Habitat Loss

aa2 said at August 26, 2007 1:58 PM:

Thats exactly how I think about more wild nature being turned into farmland too.

glock said at August 26, 2007 2:15 PM:

Here in rural NJ as boy growing up I used to see lots of Ruffled Grouse and Woodcock. I haven't seen either in many years. But I never saw Wild Turkey back then and I see them ALL the time now.
It seems Flickers are on the rebound as well now and luckily I see many more Hummingbirds. Also, I see about the same amount of Pileated Woodpeckers as I did then, which is not a lot, but they're still around thank goodness ..

FWIW in my area I see a trend whereby people allow their cats to range freely outside instead of having the roll as a "housecat".
They kill LOTS of small animals- chipmunks,frogs, toads, snakes, young rabbits, birds and the like. Our properties have been "sterilized" of this wildlife as the cats hunt all around the houses. I don't think our community has a "cat catcher".....

Mthson said at August 26, 2007 6:47 PM:

My community encourages residents to put "cat bibs" on their cats.. bibs that hang from their neck and prevent them from catching animals. A little bell on their collar would probably work well also.

nordic said at August 28, 2007 1:47 PM:

Once again you get it completely bass-ackwards on the ecological effects of biomass harvests for cellulosic (sp?) ethanol.

Since the end of the 19th century the eastern United States has seen a dramatic growth in forest cover as marginal farmland was abandoned or planted to timber. Many species have benefited from these changes. In Vermont, where I grew up species such as the black bear, pine marten, fisher cat, and moose have dramatically increased in population as fields converted to mature forest (other factors, including effective regulation of hunters also played a role). At the same time, species that did well in an environment characterized by a mix of forests, cultivated fields, and brushy, weedy abandoned fields with young trees emerging have suffered (the eastern cottontail, ruffed grouse & the whitetail deer are three Vermont examples).

"Here in rural NJ as boy growing up I used to see lots of Ruffled Grouse and Woodcock" These Eastern species along with the bobwhite, eastern meadowlark and field sparrow (and possibly some others - I don't know my birds THAT well)mentioned in the article would benefit greatly from forest harvesting of the type that would follow a major increase in the use of forest biomass for fuel. Having a percentage - even a large of the forest in early successional stages would hardly be an environmental catastrophe and would benefit many species.

Nordic said at August 28, 2007 1:50 PM:

Oh - and I will second the comments on cats. Our neighbors have about a dozen cats ranging in and out of their house & they take a terrible toll on the birds in our neighborhood. I'd like to bell them all - with very large cowbells...and maybe drop them in the river as well.

glock said at August 28, 2007 8:27 PM:

Ya know, not being a "cat person" the bell idea never dawned on me- nor apparently on my neighbors. Very good solution.
Should that fail. I also like the idea of weaning them off hunting with cowbell swimming.
I should also mention that here too in NJ, even with the population density we have, I have seen Black Bears and Coyotes in recent years and NEVER saw them growing up - and I spent A LOT of time in the woods. Now granted they have been re-introduced I'm told but all seem to be thriving. Thriving is an understatement for the deer BTW . The words nuisance and epidemic come to mind.

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