U.S. bird populations in decline, report says

Secretary of the Interior calls government agencies and the public to action

A review of bird populations in the United States was released March 19 by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Nearly a third of the United States’ 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline, the new report shows.

The Western meadowlark is a grassland bird native to the western two-thirds of the United States. Populations of the bird have declined over the last 40 years. Donald Metzner, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Bird populations are critical indicators of the health of our environment — “like the canary in the coal mine,” Salazar said at a press conference.

The report, called The U.S. State of the Birds, combines 40 years of studies from government agencies and data gathered by citizen scientists participating in bird censuses like the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

The majority of native Hawaiian bird species are in danger of extinction because of habitat destruction, invasive species and disease, the report notes. Populations of bird species native to grassland regions and coastal areas of the mainland United States have also declined.

But conservation projects have been successful in reversing declines in some bird populations. Populations of 39 different species of waterfowl have increased by more than 100 percent during the past 40 years, thanks to efforts to restore more than 30 million acres of wetlands, the report says.

“This report is a call to action — but the action is within our reach,” Salazar said. “We can move forward to restore the bird populations of this country and the world.”

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This chart shows population changes in birds in different habitats. Grassland, aridland and forest bird populations decreased, but wetland bird populations increased because of conservation work to restore wetland habitats.

Credit: Courtesy The State of the Birds

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This chart shows the percentage of bird species that are endangered, threatened or of conservation concern in each type of habitat. The percentage of bird species that are federally listed as threatened or endangered is shown in red, and the percentage of species of conservation concern is shown in tan.

Credit: Courtesy The State of the Birds

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