More on the state of American birds

Via Ellen Paul on Ornith-L comes news of the release of a new report (downloadable as pdf) and website on the State of the Birds in the US. And this comes right on the heels of the USFWS report on the Birds of Conservation Concern released a couple of days ago – two such reports in one week! Much to read… but where do I manufacture the time? Perhaps you have some more than me – if so, read the press release below the fold, visit the website for the full report, and tell me what you think, won’t you? Start with this video overview (with a somewhat hokey voiceover) from the good folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Secretary Salazar Releases Study Showing Widespread Declines in Bird Populations, Highlights Role of Partnerships in Conservation

Washington, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.

The report is available at (embargoed until 2:30 pm EDT)

At the same time, the report highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, offering hope that it is not too late to take action to save declining populations.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

The report, The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.

In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. In addition, the report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline in birds of aridlands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.

“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”

However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.

“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”

“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to healthy, thriving bird populations,” said Dave Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy.

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.

“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”

Birds are beautiful, as well as economically important and a priceless part of America’s natural heritage. Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The report is available at (embargoed until 2:30 pm EDT).


Hugh Vickery (DOI), (202) 501-4633

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Alicia King, 703-358-2522/571-214-3117,

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Vanessa Kauffman, 703-358-2138,

American Bird Conservancy: Steve Holmer, 202-234-7181,

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 607-254-2137,

National Audubon Society: Nancy Severance, 212-979-3124,

The Nature Conservancy: Blythe Thomas, 703-841-8782,

Klamath Bird Observatory: Ashley Dayer, 541-324-0281,


Statement by Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy, American Bird Conservancy, at the U.S. State of the Birds Release

National Press Club, 2:30 pm EDT, March 19, 2009

American Bird Conservancy appreciates Secretary Salazar’s leadership in addressing the nation about the important findings of the U.S. State of the Birds report, and the hard work of the Fish and Wildlife Service and all of the partners groups involved in making this report possible.

America is blessed with a spectacular abundance and diversity of birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting the mainland, Hawaii, and surrounding oceans. Birdwatching is one of the nation’s most popular pastimes, engaging millions of Americans; and it is big business, estimated to generate $45 billion dollars in economic activity each year. Birds are also a critical element of our farming industry as pollinators of crops and controllers of pests, as well as being key indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.

Unfortunately, State of the Birds tells us that hundreds of bird species are in decline, and some are threatened with extinction. America has a serious challenge to reverse this situation, but it is possible. If this report tells us anything, it is that when we apply ourselves by investing in conservation, we can save imperiled wildlife, protect habitats, and solve the multiple threats at the root of this problem.

State of the Birds documents that the birds of Hawai’i, the birthplace of President Obama, are in the greatest peril. Many Hawaiian bird species are on the brink of extinction, and ten species have not been seen in years. Action is urgently needed to conserve and restore habitat, and to address the multiple threats causing these declines, including the spread of diseases that have decimated many forest bird populations.

The Akekee is a rapidly declining Hawaiian forest bird proposed for listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Jim Denny. High resolution photos available.

Many bird habitats in Hawai’i have been permanently lost to development, and others degraded by the impacts of invasive plants and animals. What habitat remains must be protected, and we need to invest in jobs to remove and fence out invasive animals from conservation areas. There is also a need to invest in more science to study bird species we know too little about, and to develop new and innovative solutions to stem population declines.

Also in great peril are many species of oceanic birds. Overfishing is eliminating food sources; oil spills and other pollutants, as well as millions of tons of trash dumped in the ocean each year, are continuing to harm birds – much work remains to be done. Progress is being made to reduce the direct mortality caused when birds are hooked on fishing gear in American waters, and we congratulate all those who have acted to bring this change about, but globally seabird bycatch remains a serious problem. The United States can help resolve this issue by becoming a signatory to the international Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, and we believe this should be a high priority for U.S. lawmakers and the President this year.

Across America, birds face a gauntlet of threats to their survival including pesticides, collisions, domestic cats, and habitat loss.

While many of the most harmful pesticides to birds have been banned or restricted in the United States, a few remain on the market, and these must be better regulated or cancelled. Many pesticides that are banned here are still used in other countries, poisoning our migrant birds where they winter. The United States contributes to that continued poisoning by permitting banned pesticide residues on the produce that we import. These import tolerances for banned pesticides need to be revoked.

Hundreds of millions of birds die each year by colliding with towers and buildings. Better lighting systems, changes in how new buildings are designed, and new technologies that allow birds to see windows are urgently needed to halt this needless carnage.

Hundreds of millions of birds are killed by free-roaming and feral cats each year. Education is urgently needed to make the public more aware of the heavy toll on wildlife by domestic cats that are not kept indoors and by feral cat colonies where they are allowed to persist.

Unsustainable land use, such as the continued logging of old-growth forests needs to be quickly brought to an end, and new jobs created restoring forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

U.S. State of the Birds calls attention to the problems and the solutions. Now we need to act before it is too late, to ensure that future generations of Americans will enjoy a better quality of life, and the same magnificent diversity of birds that we enjoy today. Thank you.

Ellen Paul

Executive Director

The Ornithological Council

“Providing Scientific Information about Birds”

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