Disappearing common birds
send environmental wake-up call
—NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY
Birdsongs that filled the childhoods of countless
baby-boomers are rarely heard wafting on today’s spring breezes.
Once-familiar avian spectacles now elude young birdwatchers. It’s
not your imagination.
A new analysis by the National Audubon Society
reveals that populations of some of America’s most familiar
and beloved birds have taken a nosedive over the past forty years,
with some down as much as 80 percent. The dramatic declines are
attributed to the loss of grasslands, healthy forests and wetlands,
and other critical habitats from multiple environmental threats
such as sprawl, energy development, and the spread of industrialized
agriculture. The study notes that these threats are now compounded
by new and broader problems including the escalating effects of
global warming. In concert, they paint a challenging picture for
the future of many common species and send a serious warning about
our increasing toll on local habitats and the environment itself.
“These are not rare or exotic birds we’re
talking about—these are the birds that visit our feeders and
congregate at nearby lakes and seashores and yet they are disappearing
day by day,” said Audubon Chairperson and former EPA Administrator,
Carol Browner. “Their decline tells us we have serious work
to do, from protecting local habitats to addressing the huge threats
from global warming.”
Species on Audubon’s list of “Twenty
Common Birds in Decline” have seen their populations plummet
at least 54 percent since 1967. The following are among those hardest
• Northern Bobwhite populations are down
82 percent and have largely vanished from northern parts of their
range in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and New England mainly due
to loss of suitable habitat to development, agricultural expansion
and plantation-style forestry practices.
• Evening Grosbeaks that range from mountains
of the west to northern portions of the east coast show population
declines of nearly 78 percent amid increasing habitat damage and
loss from logging, mining, drilling and development.
• Northern Pintail populations in the
continental U.S. are down nearly 78 percent due to expanding agricultural
activity in their prairie pothole breeding grounds.
• Greater Scaup populations that breed
in Alaska, but winter in the Great Lakes and along Atlantic to Pacific
Coasts are being hard hit by global warming induced melting of permafrost
and invasion of formerly-southern species; populations are down
approximately 75 percent.
• Eastern Meadowlarks, down 71 percent,
are declining as grasslands are lost to industrialized agricultural
practices. Increased demand for biofuel crops threatens increased
agricultural use of lands that are currently protected, making both
Eastern and Western Meadowlarks even more vulnerable.
• Common Terns, which nest on islands
and forage for fish near ocean coasts, lakes and rivers, are vulnerable
to development, pollution and sea level rise from global warming.
Populations in unmanaged colonies have dropped as much as 70 percent,
making the species’ outlook increasingly dependent on targeted
• Snow Buntings, which breed in Alaska
and northern Canada, are suffering from the loss of fragile tundra
habitat as global warming alters and disrupts the Arctic’s
delicate ecological balance; populations are down 64 percent.
• Rufous Hummingbird populations have
declined 58 percent as a result of the loss of forest habitat to
logging and development, in both their breeding range in the Pacific
Northwest and their wintering sites in Mexico.
• Whip-poor-wills, down 57 percent, are
vulnerable to fragmentation and alteration of their forest habitat
from development and poor forest management practices.
• Little Blue Herons now number 150,000
in the U.S. and 110,000 in Mexico, down 54 percent in the U.S. Their
decline is driven by wetland loss from development and degradation
of water quality, which limits their food supply.
Overall, agricultural and development pressures
have driven grassland birds to some of the worst declines, followed
closely by shrub, wetland and forest-dependent species. “Direct
habitat loss continues to be a leading cause for concern,”
said Audubon Bird Conservation Director and analysis author, Greg
Butcher, PhD. “But now we’re seeing the added impact
of large-scale environmental problems and policies.” Butcher
notes that global warming is damaging some key habitats and speeding
the spread of invasive species that spur further declines. Mounting
demand for corn-based fuels is expected to result in increased use
of marginal farmland that currently serves as important habitat.
The fate of species such as Eastern Meadowlarks and Loggerhead Shrikes
could hinge on efforts to conserve these areas. “People who
care about the birds and about human quality of life need to get
involved in habitat protection at home, in pushing for better state
and national protections and in making changes in their daily routines,”
Public response will shape the long-term outlook
for the listed species. Unlike WatchList birds, these Common Birds
in Decline are not in immediate danger of extinction, despite global
populations as low as 500,000 for some species - the threshold for
a “common bird” designation. But even birds with significantly
higher overall populations are experiencing sharp declines, and
with their populations down sharply, their ecological roles are
going unfilled and their ultimate fate is uncertain. Audubon leaders
hope the multiple threats to the birds people know will prompt individuals
to take multiple actions, both locally and directed toward state
and national policies.
Audubon's Common Birds in Decline list stems
from the first-ever analysis combining annual sighting data from
Audubon's century-old Christmas Bird Count program with results
of the annual Breeding Bird Survey conducted by the U.S. Geological
Survey. "This is a powerful example of how tens of thousands
of volunteer birders, pooling their observations, can make an enormous
difference for the creatures they care the most about," said
noted natural history writer Scott Weidensaul. "Thanks to their
efforts, we have the information. Now all of us—from birders
to policy makers—need to take action to keep these species
from declining even further."
“Fortunately, people’s actions can
still make a difference,” Audubon’s Greg Butcher adds.
“Average citizens can change the fate of these birds just
as average citizens helped us confirm the trouble they face.”
Concerned individuals can visit www.audubon.org
for important information on how to help keep common birds common
and our shared environment healthy—suggested actions are also
State-specific lists of the common birds in
serious decline are available in select areas. Journalists may visit
Audubon’s online press room at http://www.audubon.org/news/pressroom/CBID
for local contact information.
Now in its second century, Audubon is dedicated
to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports
them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and
chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf
of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions
of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation.
Keeping common birds common: what individuals
can do to help
• PROTECT LOCAL HABITAT—Join local
Audubon Chapters and other groups to protect and restore habitats
close to home. Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program offers
opportunities to save critical bird habitat, from small land parcels
to broad ecosystems. Learn more at www.audubon.org/bird/iba/index.html.
• PROMOTE SOUND AGRICULTURAL POLICY—This
has enormous impact on grassland birds and habitat, including Northern
Bobwhites and Eastern Meadowlarks. Promoting strong conservation
provisions in the federal Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program
can help to protect millions of acres of vital habitat.
• SUPPORT SUSTAINABLE FORESTS
The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada
is essential breeding territory for many species of birds, including
Evening Grosbeaks. Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable
forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate
logging, mining, and drilling.
• PROTECT WETLANDS—Support for local,
state and federal wetlands conservation programs is essential to
protect a wide array of species. Learn more at www.audubon.org/campaign/cleanWater2.html.
• FIGHT GLOBAL WARMING—The decline
of common birds is just one impact of global warming’s mounting
threat to people and wildlife around the world. Individual energy
conservation along with strong federal, state, and local legislation
to cap greenhouse emissions can help to curb its worst consequences.
Learn more at www.audubon.org/globalWarming/.
• COMBAT INVASIVE SPECIES
Invasive non-native species disrupt the delicate
ecological balance that sustains birds and other wildlife. Federal,
regional, state, and local regulations are needed to combat this
growing environmental threat. Learn more at www.audubon.org/campaign/invasives/index.shtm.
The Audubon At Home program offers tips for supporting birds with
native plants at www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/index.html.
New Petland hosts adoption
clinic and dog wash
The owners of the new Petland in Enchanted
Hills invite customers to imagine a pet store where you can actually
handle and play with the animals. From ferrets and hamsters, to
parrots and puppies, they love to show off. (Please don’t
try this with their great selection of tropical fish.) Petland takes
pride in its sanitary conditions and asks you to wash your hands
before handling the animals.
Petland also carries a complete line of pet
supplies, pet foods, and pet toys. Trained “Pet Counselors”
answer your questions and help you through the process of selecting
a pet, keeping in mind the lifetime responsibility of pet ownership.
Petland Rio Rancho takes pride in being a responsible
member of the local community. All puppies come with free spaying
or neutering, free microchipping and free chip registration for
life, free vet visits, and more. All pets come from reputable breeders.
General manager Peter Sturges says, “We
have great puppies for sale, but are also aware that there are many
homeless companion animals that deserve good homes, and we are proud
to help make that possible, too.” With that in mind, Petland
Rio Rancho will be sponsoring an adoption clinic for Watermelon
Mountain Ranch at our store on June 30 and July 1. “Pet Pictures”
and a dog wash will also be available.
For more information, call the store at 771-3760
or stop by at 4405 Jager, near Raley’s and the intersection
of NM 528 and US 550.
Cockfighting ban started
Attorney General Gary King says New Mexico’s
new law banning cockfighting took effect Friday, June 15, and his
office is prepared to prosecute violators.
“New Mexico becomes the forty-ninth state
to outlaw cockfighting,” says the Attorney General. “Part
of my job as Attorney General is enforce state laws, and with respect
to the new cockfighting law, that is what I intend to do.”
The Attorney General’s comments come one
day after he announced the formation of a new statewide Animal Cruelty
Taskforce (ACT). Attorney General King serves as the taskforce chairman.
[Ed. note: The only state in the United States
that still allows cockfighting is Louisiana.]
Crimes against critters
Attorney General Gary King is vowing to go after
cockfighting and dog fighting ban violators with the help of a new
statewide Animal Cruelty Taskforce (ACT). The Attorney General serves
as chairman of the taskforce, which is comprised of representatives
from government, law enforcement, animal care groups, and others
who are serious about protecting New Mexico animals.
New Mexico’s new cockfighting ban, sponsored
in the legislature by Senator Garcia, went into effect June 15.
ACT will focus on five major initiatives. It
1) Encourage cross-reporting and communications
among law enforcement departments, animal control officers and humane
societies within the state.
2) Hold a summit to provide training for law
enforcement, prosecuting attorneys, judges, and animal care and
3) Strengthen animal fighting laws and support
4) Educate the public about the cruelties and
activities inherent in animal fighting.
5) Create a network and protocol for animal
facilities and personnel to manage seized animals and support those
involved in the prosecution process.