Report: Some Bad News for Birds Mixed with Conservation Victories

Quite a bit of homage has been paid this year to the passenger pigeon, a bird species which became extinct 100 years ago, as of August 29th. Now, on the heels of that anniversary comes a new report, The State of the Birds, 2014 (from the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative).

This is a report that repeatedly invokes the passenger pigeon’s memory with comparisons to current species that may suffer the same fate, and to others that are rebounding from declining population numbers. The press release announcing The State of the Birds 2014 concludes with one powerful idea:

“The strongest finding in The State of the Birds 2014 is simple: conservation works. Ducks fly once again in great numbers up the Mississippi River . . . Bald eagles, brown pelicans, peregrine falcons – all species once headed the way of the passenger pigeon – are now abundant . . .”


Peregrine falcon (Photo at Wikimedia Commons; by Aviceda)

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A brown pelican pair. (Photo at Flickr; taken by Greg McComsey, February 2011).

Still . . . don’t let such good news make you complacent. There’s plenty of data in The State of the Birds that the authors call “unsettling.”

Who are the producers of this report? Who are these folks that make up the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative? This is a 23-member partnership of organizations such as The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy, The American Bird Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The National Audubon Society, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian Institution – I think you get the picture. You can access specific names and responsible parties here (at the acknowledgements at the end of the report), and learn about the four previous reports issued in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013.

Here’s a little more about the 2014 report:

It analyzes population trends for bird species in seven different habitats. They are grasslands, forests, wetlands, arid lands, islands, coasts, and ocean habitats.

It includes a State of the Birds Watch List with 230 bird species that are considered “endangered” or “at risk” of becoming endangered.

Here’s a little more about the findings that the authors have labeled “troubling:”

More than half of all U.S. shorebird species are endangered or at risk.

Birds of the open ocean – for example, the Laysan albatross and the black-footed albatross – are threatened with increasing oil contamination, plastic pollution, and greatly reduced prey fish due to commercial fishing operations.

A Laysan albatross (Photo at WikiMedia Commons; taken by Dick Daniels; in Hawaii; Feb. 2012)

A Laysan albatross (Photo at Wikimedia Commons; taken by Dick Daniels; in Hawaii; Feb. 2012)

There’s much, much more in the report, of course, but here’s one more caution: don’t become overwhelmed by the bad news. Instead, go back to the good, “conservation works” news, and be inspired to learn about, and support, the many conservation projects and organizations that are fighting for a healthier future for birds – and for you too.

Here are two more examples of things improving because of conservation at work:

Although shorebirds are generally “squeezed into shrinking strips of habitat due to development,” there has been a steady, 28% rise, in the population numbers among 49 coastal species that have been tracked since 1968. How could this be? The establishment of 160 national coastal wildlife refuges, as well as nearly 600,000 acres of national seashore in 10 states, gets the credit.


A blue-winged teal (Photo at Wikimedia Commons; by Alan D. Wilson)

Declines in waterfowl populations – such as the mallard and the blue-winged teal – have been reversed – with thanks to the North American Wetland Conservation Act. It has helped protect and restore wetlands through public-private partnerships across the U.S; the result is a collective area of protected wetlands larger than the state of Tennessee.

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