State of the Birds Report Reveals Widespread Losses

October 12, 2022 American Bird Conservancy

A newly released State of the Birds report for the United States reveals a tale of two trends, one hopeful, one dire. Long-term trends of waterfowl show strong increases where investments in wetland conservation have improved conditions for birds and people. But data show birds in the U.S. are declining overall in every other habitat — forests, grasslands, deserts, and oceans.  

Published by 33 leading science and conservation organizations and agencies, the 2022 U.S. State of the Birds report is the first comprehensive look at the nation’s birds since a landmark 2019 study showed the loss of nearly 3 billion birds in the U.S. and Canada in 50 years.   Findings included in the 2022 State of the Birds report: More than half of U.S. bird species are declining.  U.S. grassland birds are among the fastest declining with a 34 percent loss since 1970. Waterbirds and ducks in the U.S. have increased by 18 percent and 34 percent, respectively, during the same period.

Seventy newly identified Tipping Point species have each lost 50 percent or more of their populations in the past 50 years, and are on a track to lose another half in the next 50 years if nothing changes. These species, none of which are currently listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, include beloved gems such as the Rufous Hummingbird, songsters such as the Golden-winged Warbler, and oceanic travelers such as the Black-footed Albatross. Hawai‘i’s ten most endangered species are collectively represented by fewer than 5,500 individual birds.

The report advises that meeting declining birds’ tremendous needs will require a strategic combination of partnerships, incentives, science-based solutions, and the will to dramatically scale up conservation efforts. In a companion document, there are three key conservation policy priorities listed to help Tipping Point species recover.   “Everyone can make a difference to help turn declines around,” said Michael J. Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “Everyone with a window can use simple solutions to prevent collisions. Everyone can help green their neighborhood and avoid using pesticides that harm birds. Everyone who lives in a neighborhood can bring the issues and solutions to their community and use their voice to take action.”  

Decisive and collaborative action is particularly needed in the case of Critically Endangered Hawaiian forest birds, of which several are at risk of going extinct within the next few years. Their biggest threat is avian malaria, carried by invasive mosquitos brought to the islands by humans.    “Building upon successes in human health, there is hope and the opportunity to use naturally occurring bacteria to reduce mosquito populations, break the disease cycle, and allow the forest birds to thrive,” said Chris Farmer, Hawai‘i Program Director at ABC. “The Birds, Not Mosquitoes partnership is dedicated to developing and implementing this technique to save our remaining forest birds.”  

The State of the Birds report used five sources of data, including the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count, to track the health of breeding birds in habitats across the U.S.   “From grassland birds to seabirds to Hawaiian birds, we continue to see that nearly all groups of birds and types of bird habitat have declined significantly,” said Martha Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “The one group that is seeing an increase in population size is wetland-dependent birds, including waterfowl.”    

“While a majority of bird species are declining, many waterbird populations remain healthy, thanks to decades of collaborative investments from hunters, landowners, state and federal agencies, and corporations,” said Dr. Karen Waldrop, Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited. “This is good news not only for birds, but for the thousands of other species that rely on wetlands, and the communities that benefit from groundwater recharge, carbon sequestration, and flood protection.”  

The report suggests that applying that winning formula in more habitats will help birds and natural resources rebound.    “The North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Federal Duck Stamp Program, grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and regional Joint Ventures partnerships are all part of a framework that has a proven track record with restoring and protecting wetland-dependent species,” said Williams of the FWS. “Now we want to use that precedent to work with our partners to restore bird populations, conserve habitat, and build a foundation for how we respond to the loss of other bird groups.”    

Data show that the biggest population declines are among shorebirds, down by 33 percent since 1970, and grassland birds, down by 34 percent. Conservation must be stepped up to reverse these losses. Everyone can play a role in saving these species by making their voices heard in support of bird-saving legislation.    “Urgent action and funds are needed to halt biodiversity loss in the U.S.,” said Jennifer Cipolletti, Director of Conservation Advocacy at ABC. “Federal funding sources such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act can help fill the massive gap in funding for conservation programs managed by states, territories, and tribes. Migratory Bird Joint Ventures can play a vital role as the nexus among these organizations, bringing partners together to facilitate effective delivery of these funds for the greatest conservation success.”  

Recognizing the need to work at bigger, faster scales, 200 organizations from across seven sectors in Mexico, Canada, the U.S., and Indigenous Nations are also collaborating on a Central Grasslands Roadmap to conserve one of North America’s largest and most vital ecosystems — grasslands, which span hundreds of million acres.   “People have changed our grassland landscape and people are key to its future,” said Tammy VerCauteren, Executive Director of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and a representative of the Central Grasslands Roadmap partnership. “Collectively, we are working to make a movement to save our grasslands and the people and wildlife that depend upon them. Together we can ensure Tribal sovereignty, private property rights, food security, resilient landscapes, and thriving wildlife populations.” 

Given widespread declines in bird populations, the report emphasizes the need for proactive conservation across habitats and species.   “Despite best hopes and efforts, 70 Tipping Point bird species have a half life of just 50 years — meaning they will lose half their already dwindling populations in the next 50 years unless we take action,” said Dr. Peter Marra, Director of The Earth Commons — Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment & Sustainability. “What we’ve outlined in this State of the Birds is a recipe for how conservation biologists can work with communities and use surgical precision to solve environmental problems — blending new technology and data to pinpoint the cause of losses and to reverse declines while we still have the best chance — now, before more birds plummet to Endangered.”   The 2022 U.S. State of the Birds report was produced by a consortium of government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives led by NABCI (North American Bird Conservation Initiative). Read the report at    ###

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