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In 1916, at the urging of dedicated, concerned citizens, the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds was signed, and twenty years later it was expanded to protect birds throughout North America. This spring, in recognition of the convention’s 100th anniversary, numerous organizations across the continent collaborated to produce the annual State of the Birds report, which focuses on an assessment of all native bird species that live in Mexico, the continental United States, and Canada—birds which, of course, know no borders. Extensive data, some of it from e-bird submissions, were used to determine the conservation status of each species as well as to determine conservation standing of various habitat types. The analysis included trends in population growth and size, extent of breeding and wintering ranges, and an evaluation of the severity of the threats impacting the birds. Although the report is careful to highlight conservation successes, the overall trend is distressing. Of the 1,154 bird species analyzed, a whopping 37% of them are considered to be at high risk of extinction; 49% are species of concern with a moderate risk of extinction, while only 14% are classified as being of low concern.
As for habitat, the species in sharpest decline live in ocean, coastal, grassland, aridland, and tropical forest habitats. Seabirds are threatened by invasive predators at nesting sites and are killed as accidental bycatch in commercial fishing operations. They are further threatened by pollution, coastal development, decreased food availability due to over-fishing, and reductions in food supply related to climate change. In fact, climate change threatens the habitats, ranges, and available resources in most locales.Grassland birds have been decimated by development, while land-use conversion has led to the disappearance of large swaths of grassland that historically occupied the continent. Aridland birds of desert, chaparral, and sagebrush habitat are dealing with loss of habitat due to residential and energy development, unsustainable land use, and invasive species. Deforestation and fragmentation continue to reduce forest bird populations. Tropical forests are the most impacted, but a significant number of temperate and boreal forests are still suffering losses. Generalists who can utilize many different habitats are faring well. In the wetlands, waterfowl have benefited from intensive management (since they are game birds), so they are okay for now. But wetlands continue to disappear.
Immediate conservation action is vital for over one-third of our continent’s birds. Some efforts are underway. For instance, action is being taken to remove invasives from ocean and coastal bird habitats, especially island nesting grounds. Forage fish are being managed for the first time with an eye toward sustaining this food source. More people are calling for research and for utilizing methods that reduce bycatch or clean up plastic pollutants in the ocean.
How we can help:
Vote for and communicate with legislators who support the protection of birds.
Support corporations that use sustainable practices.
Make smart consumer choices such as buying wood and paper products from certified sustainable timber operations.
Buy certified sustainable seafood and shade-grown coffee.
Provide backyard habitat for birds.
Make an effort to reduce collisions with windows and encounters with cats.
Buy a Duck Stamp or support other organizations that raise money for conservation efforts.
Keep birding and contribute your sightings to e-bird to help grow this valuable database.
For more on what you can do visit stateofthebirds.org/2016/resources/change.
The 2016 report produced fascinating animated distribution maps of some migratory birds. Check them out at stateofthebirds.org/2016/resources/species-abundance-maps.
The 2016 State of the Birds report can be found at stateofthebirds.org/2016.