Posted by: Dan | June 15, 2007

Shocking Declines in US Bird Populations

A new Audubon story is no surprise to anyone who has been following the hobby known as birdwatching over the past few decades – I’m reminded occaisionally by my dad, who’s been birdwatching for nearly 40 years, on how many bird species, especially neotropical migrants, were very abundant. Now, one must cover significant ground and have a great ear for bird calls to identify a decent number in a morning’s stroll. Evening Grosbeaks, Cerulean Warblers, Golden-winged Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers, Canada Warblers, and Olive-sided Flycatchers being at the top of the list.

So this new story from Audubon, on common birds in decline is merely confirmation of what we already know.

Audubon’s unprecedented analysis of forty years of citizen-science bird population data from our own Christmas Bird Count plus the Breeding Bird Survey reveals the alarming decline of many of our most common and beloved birds.

Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.

Why? Rapid change:

The wide variety of birds affected is reason for concern. Populations of meadowlarks and other farmland birds are diving because of suburban sprawl, industrial development, and the intensification of farming over the past 50 years.

Greater Scaup and other tundra-breeding birds are succumbing to dramatic changes to their breeding habitat as the permafrost melts earlier and more temperate predators move north in a likely response to global warming. Boreal forest birds like the Boreal Chickadee face deforestation from increased insect outbreaks and fire, as well as excessive logging, drilling, and mining.

Rapid change – that’s economic progress, right? Yep – unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, extraordinary population and economic growth, and an attitude of manifest destiny, where we feel privileged to use the Earth’s bounty without regard to mismanagement consequences. It’s a megalithic problem, that appears hopeless to address, so we do nothing, and this is one symptom. It takes the threatening of something that we love – birds and nature – to wake up to that fact, sadly.

Thankfully, concerned citizens and scientists are trying to do something to address these population declines. Others are working on other causes of population decline, such as climate change.



  1. The NY Times has more:

    We look around us, expecting the rest of the world’s occupants to adapt to the changes that we have caused, when, in fact, we have the right to expect adaptation only from ourselves.

  2. […] on an issue that I’m extraordinarily concerned with: the Deafening Silence relating to common birds in sharp decline noted recently. The review, of Bridget Stutchbury’s Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are […]

  3. […] Neither of them, nor any other proposed response, has a response to the main drivers of the massive population declines, such […]


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