American Bird Populations Flying Low

17Do you enjoy seeing majestic blue herons at the pond, or hearing the calls of meadowlarks in the morning? Well enjoy it while you can. According to several recent studies, there is an “alarming decline of many of our most common and beloved birds”.

A report by the National Audubon Society, for example, finds that “the average population of common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68%” since 1967, while some species declined by as much as 80%. Similarly, a study by Partners in Flight reveals that approximately 17% of North American land bird species (148 of 882 species) face rapid declines. Affected species include the field sparrow, boreal chickadee, rufous hummingbird, eastern meadowlark, little blue heron, and cerulean warbler.

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Accounting for this decline are several factors, led by habitat loss. In some places, such as California, up to 99% of streamside habitat and 95% of wetlands have disappeared, a trend which is expected to continue given development and climate change. Cat predation is another major cause of bird mortality, responsible for over a billion bird deaths per year. A further six million+ birds die annually from collisions with skyscrapers, homes, or communications towers. And a minority of birds, estimated at 440,000 per year, die from the blades of wind turbines.

To counter these causes, bird conservation groups are calling for the development of a “network of protected areas” for bird populations, as well as “sustainable agriculture, forestry, and urban planning practices”. They are lobbying for regulations to prevent wind turbine construction in migration routes and wildlife areas; and to replace solid red lights (which attract birds) with flashing strobe lights on towers. Finally, they are mounting a campaign to encourage cat owners to leave their pets indoors.

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Interested in learning more about the fate of American birds? Check out National Geographic Daily News…