A new study published in Science magazine reveals a net loss of nearly three billion birds in North America since 1970, primarily as a result of human activity.
Authored by conservation biologists from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy, the United States Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the National Wildlife Research Centre, the report, Decline of the North American Avifauna, estimates avifauna levels in North America have declined 29 percent since 1970 and suggests that there has been a steep decline in the number of migrating birds over the most recent ten-year period. According to the report, causes of the decline include habitat loss from agricultural land conversions and urban development, bird collisions with buildings and windows, predation from domestic cats, and the widespread use of pesticides, which kills important food sources for birds as well as birds themselves.
In response to the report, the National Audubon Society has declared a "bird emergency" and called for urgent conservation action in five priority areas: restoring protections to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and protecting the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands region; passing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act, which would enhance coastal wetlands and improve natural infrastructure in the Great Lakes basin; implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, stepping up investments in water conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin (with a focus on riparian areas along the Colorado River) and improving wetland habitat in the Mississippi Delta; and defending and reinforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which applies to nearly a thousand North American bird species and is the most important bird conservation law in the United States.
In addition to mobilizing its 1.65 million members to urge lawmakers to take action, Audubon is calling on individuals to contribute to bird conservation by growing native plants, which helps provide food, shelter, and safe passage to many of the species in decline. More than a hundred years ago, the fledgling National Audubon Society helped prevent the extinction of several bird species as it battled to outlaw the hunting of the great egret, snowy egret, and roseate spoonbill, whose feathers were used in women's fashion. The organization's efforts eventually spurred passage of the MBTA.
"This is a full-blown crisis that requires political leadership as well as mass individual action," said National Audubon Society president and CEO David Yarnold. "We have to act now to protect the places we know birds rely on. Places like the Arctic Refuge, Great Lakes, Everglades, and Colorado River must be a priority. From the newest Audubon members to the most tenured senators, we all can act today to protect birds and the places they need."