The 2023 Eugene Christmas Bird Count (ECBC) is on Sunday, December 31, 2023. Yes, this…
A coalition of 33 organizations and government agencies have reviewed the data and released the 2022 U.S. State of the Birds report. As expected, much of it is alarming. Over half of bird species are in decline, with three billion birds lost from the United States and Canada in the past 50 years.
Bird populations are decreasing in almost every type of habitat, with grasslands showing the steepest decline. Forest, desert, and ocean birds are not far behind. This year, the report identified 70 “tipping point” species, among them Pinyon Jays, Evening Grosbeaks, and Rufous Hummingbirds, with losses of at least 50% of their populations in the past 50 years. They are projected to lose another half in the next 50 years if no actions are taken to conserve them.
It’s not all bad news though, as illustrated by an encouraging trend. Birds such as ducks and geese who live in wetland habitats are doing well. Why the contrast? Wetland birds have consistently received support and financial assistance from hunters, state and federal agencies, landowners, and corporations. We have in this example proof of a concept: conservation efforts work when we invest in them.
Why invest in birds?
Helping birds helps everyone. Drew Lanham, recently named a MacArthur “genius” fellow, had this to say: “We share the same air, same water, same soil, and ultimately the same fate.” By improving habitat for birds, we improve living conditions for ourselves. For example, restored riparian habitat will help provide flood protection, filter drinking water, and improve river flow for crop irrigation. Forest restoration will help sequester carbon, reduce fire intensity, clean the air, and filter water. One report suggested that the U.S. could achieve about a quarter of its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions just by protecting priority bird habitat.
Green space in urban areas is important for birds as refuges and migratory stopovers. An added benefit is that it provides healthy recreational opportunities for city dwellers. Further, urban green spaces help to alleviate the heat islands that occur from concrete and pavement in cities. Heat exhaustion exacerbates cardiac and respiratory problems suffered by many city dwellers. Planting and maintaining green space for birds provides shade and cover, enjoyable by bipedal humans as well as birds.
What do birds and their habitats do for us?
A partial list includes: pest control, pollination, seed dispersal (important for food, medicine, and materials), sanitation services such as scavenging, guano as fertilizer, nutrient cycling, and balanced ecosystems. They provide healthy recreation opportunities and economic benefits by boosting tourism and creating jobs. Importantly, investing in bird habitat creates habitat for other species such as plants, butterflies, bees, and bats. And these in turn, provide services like pollination, which we rely on for healthy foods. I’m sold on these convincing reasons for collaboration, investment, and legislation that benefits birds. FMI See: State of the Birds 2022
For ways individuals can help see our Handouts page.