North American bird update finds a little good news

Preserving habitat has encouraged wetland species, but many others need protection

Cerulean warbler

BIRD BLUES  Cerulean warblers and other birds that breed in Eastern forests continue to struggle, with populations dwindling by 32 percent on average since 1968, according the 2014 State of the Birds Report.

Mdf/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

WASHINGTON — A few signs of progress brightened the 2014 State of the Birds Report for the United States and Canada, released September 9.  Three of six groups of birds — those breeding in freshwater wetlands, along coasts and in grasslands — grew in numbers or held steady since the last report in 2009.

The populations of wetlands specialists, 87 species such as mallards, on average have grown by more than 40 percent since 1968. Numbers of grassland-specialist birds have stabilized since the 2009 report that found worryingly low levels, said Peter Marra, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C. He summarized the report on behalf of 23 federal and nongovernmental groups that issued this fifth compilation since 1989 of bird trends.

Hopeful news for certain bird groups demonstrates that conservation techniques such as protecting wetlands really do work, Marra said. But the report mostly documents the urgent need for more efforts.  Birds breeding in deserts or other arid lands have dwindled to 54 percent of their 1968 numbers. And 230 out of about 800 species qualify for a “watch list” of birds in serious trouble. 

Climate change will intensify the perils, said another report, released Monday by the National Audubon Society. Of 588 North American bird species, 188 may lose more than half of their current range by 2050 and another 126 species could do so by 2080.

graph of bird populations by habitat
GOOD DAY FOR DUCKS On average, numbers are rising among birds that breed in North American wetlands (dark blue line), according to the 2014 State of the Birds analysis. Birds tied to other habitats are still declining. State of the Birds Report

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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