The first-ever comprehensive assessment of net population changes in the U.S. and Canada reveals across-the-board declines that scientists call “staggering.” All told, the North American bird population is down by 2.9 billion breeding adults, with devastating losses among birds in every biome. Common birds - the species that many people see every day - have suffered the greatest losses, according to the study. More than 90% of the losses (more than 2.5 billion birds) come from just 12 families including the sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, and finches. The losses include favorite species seen at bird feeders, such as Dark-eyed Juncos (or “snowbirds,” down by 168 million) and sweet-singing White-throated Sparrows (down by 93 million). Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are down by a combined 139 million individuals. Even the beloved Red-winged Blackbird - a common sight in virtually every marsh and wet roadside across the continent - has declined by 92 million birds. The study also documents a few promising rebounds resulting from galvanized human conservation efforts. The hawk and eagle family has increased by 78 percent. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) have increased by 56 percent. Our beloved backyard woodpeckers have gained by 14 million. So, what actions can one take to help reverse the negative trends and keep the positive rolling? The following are seven steps that can be taken by each person starting right away to make a positive impact personally and locally.
1. Make Windows Safer, Day and Night • The challenge: Up to 1 billion birds are estimated to die each year after hitting windows in the United States and Canada. • The cause: By day, birds perceive reflections in glass as habitat they can fly into. By night, migratory birds drawn in by city lights are at high risk of colliding with buildings. • Simple steps save birds: On the outside of the window, install screens or break up reflections—using film, paint, or string spaced no more than two inches high or four inches wide. https://order.wbu.com/gardiner/poles-baffles-hobby-products/poles-baffles-hobby-products/window-alerts-(set-of-4-decals)
2. Keep Cats Indoors • The challenge: Cats are estimated to kill more than 2.6 billion birds annually in the U.S. and Canada. This is the #1 human-caused reason for the loss of birds, aside from habitat loss. • The cause: Cats can make great pets, but more than 110 million feral and pet cats now roam in the United States and Canada. These nonnative predators instinctively hunt and kill birds even when well fed. • A solution that’s good for cats and birds: Save birds and keep cats healthy by keeping cats indoors or creating an outdoor “catio.” You can also train your cat to walk on a leash. Learn more at www.wbu.com/detercritters/cats-danger-birds
3. Reduce Lawn, Plant Natives • The challenge: Birds have fewer places to safely rest during migration and to raise their young: More than 10 million acres of land in the United States were converted to developed land from 1982 to 1997. • The cause: Lawns and pavement don’t offer enough food or shelter for many birds and other wildlife. With more than 63 million acres of lawn in the U.S. alone, there’s huge potential to support wildlife by replacing lawns with native plantings. • A simple action to help birds: Add native plants to your yard. Native plants add interest and beauty to your yard and neighborhood, and provide shelter and nesting areas for birds. The nectar, seeds, berries, and insects will sustain birds and diverse wildlife. • Get started today: Find out which native plants are best for birds in your area: www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds, www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder
4. Avoid Pesticides • The challenge: More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied in the United States each year. The continent’s most widely used insecticides, called neonicotinoids or “neonics,” are lethal to birds and to the insects that birds consume. Common weed killers used around homes, such as 2, 4-D and glyphosate (used in Roundup), can be toxic to wildlife, and glyphosate has been declared a probable human carcinogen. • The cause: Pesticides that are toxic to birds can harm them directly through contact, or if they eat contaminated seeds or prey. Pesticides can also harm birds indirectly by reducing the number of available insects, which birds need to survive. • A healthy choice for you, your family, and birds: Reduce pesticides around your home and garden.Consider purchasing organic food. Nearly 70% of produce sold in the U.S. contains pesticides.
5. Drink Coffee That is Good for Birds • The challenge: Three-quarters of the world’s coffee farms grow their plants in the sun, destroying forests that birds and other wildlife need for food and shelter. Sun-grown coffee also often requires using environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers. On the other hand, shade-grown coffee preserves a forest canopy that helps migratory birds survive the winter. • The cause: Too few consumers are aware of the problems of sun coffee. Those who are aware may be reluctant to pay more for environmentally sustainable coffee. • Enjoy shade-grown coffee: It’s a win-win-win: it’s delicious, economically beneficial to coffee farmers, and helps more than 42 species of North American migratory songbirds that winter in coffee plantations, including orioles, warblers, and thrushes. Look for Bird-Friendly coffee, a certification from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center that also includes organic and fair trade standards. Educate coffee shops and grocery stores about shade-grown coffees. • Find out where to buy Bird-Friendly coffee in the U.S. and Canada: nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/wherebuy-bird-friendly-coffee
6. Protect Our Planet from Plastic • The challenge: It’s estimated that 4,900 million metric tons of plastic have accumulated in landfills and in our environment worldwide, polluting our oceans and harming wildlife such as seabirds, whales, and turtles that mistakenly eat plastic, or become entangled in it. • The cause: Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, and 91% of plastics created are not recycled. Studies show that at least 80 seabird species ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, and other trash have been found in the stomachs of dead albatrosses. • Reduce your plastics: Avoid single-use plastics including bags, bottles, wraps, and disposable utensils. It’s far better to choose reusable items, but if you do have disposable plastic, be sure to recycle it. Learn how and where to recycle products at earth911.com
7. Watch Birds, Share What You See • The challenge: The world’s most abundant bird, the Passenger Pigeon, went extinct, and people didn’t realize how quickly it was vanishing until it was too late. Monitoring birds is essential to help protect them, but tracking the health of the world’s 10,000 bird species is an immense challenge. • The cause: To understand how birds are faring, scientists need hundreds of thousands of people to report what they’re seeing in backyards, neighborhoods, and wild places around the world. Without this information, scientists will not have enough timely data to show where and when birds are declining around the world. • Enjoy birds while helping science and conservation: Join a project such as eBird, Project FeederWatch, a Christmas Bird Count, or a Breeding Bird Survey to record your bird observations. Your contributions will provide valuable information to show where birds are thriving - and where they need our help. Information Source Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology