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State of the Birds Report

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Overview

The State of Our Nation’s Birds

Overview_Iiwi.jpg

The `I`iwi is a bird unique to the Hawaiian
Islands. More bird species are vulnerable
to extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else
in the United States.
Photo by Jack Jeffrey

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are federally listed as endangered or threatened. An additional 184 are species of conservation concern because of their small distribution, high threats, or declining populations.

Successful conservation requires information about the population status of every species to ensure the survival of endangered birds and to manage common species so they never become threatened. This report presents a new synthesis of major bird-monitoring databases, including data from thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists. We used data from three continentwide monitoring programs to create bird population indicators for major U.S. habitats, reflecting the health of these habitats and the environmental services they provide. These habitat indicators are based on the population changes of obligate species—those that are restricted to a single habitat and are most sensitive to environmental changes. We supplemented this information with data from many other surveys that focus on species that are rare, endangered, or difficult to monitor, such as ocean birds. (See Methods section)

The results reflect the influence of human activities and global change on our nation’s birds. Every U.S. habitat harbors birds in need of conservation. Hawaiian birds and ocean birds appear most at risk, with populations in danger of collapse if immediate conservation measures are not implemented. Bird populations in grassland and aridland habitats show the most rapid declines over the past 40 years. Birds that depend on forests are also declining.

In contrast, wetland species, wintering coastal birds, and hunted waterfowl show increasing populations during the past 40 years, reflecting a strong focus during this period on wetlands conservation and management.

Species of Conservation Concern

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(Above) Percentage of bird species that are threatened, endangered, and of conservation concern in each habitat. 

Hawaiian Birds in Crisis

More than one-third of all U.S. listed bird species occur in Hawaii and 71 bird species have gone extinct since humans colonized the islands in about 300 AD. At least 10 more birds have not been seen in as long as 40 years and may be extinct. Proven conservation measures are urgently needed to avert this global tragedy, including increasing investment in protecting remaining forests, eliminating exotic predators, and captive breeding.

Declining Seabirds Signal Stressed Oceans

At least 39% of the U.S. birds restricted to ocean habitats are declining. These birds face threats from pollution, over-fishing, and warming sea temperatures caused by climate change, as well as threats at island and coastal nesting sites. Declining seabirds may be our most visible indication of an ocean ecosystem under stress.

 

High Concern for Coastal Shorebirds

Although some coastal birds are increasing, shorebirds that rely on coastal habitats for breeding and refueling on migration are besieged by human disturbance and dwindling food supplies. Sea level rise caused by accelerating climate change will inundate shoreline habitats. Half of all coastally migrating shorebirds have declined; for example, Red Knots have declined by an alarming 82%. Because of their relatively small and highly threatened global populations, shorebirds are of high conservation concern.

 

Wetland Birds Show Amazing Resilience

The upward trend for wetland birds in the U.S. is a testament to the amazing resilience of bird populations where the health of their habitat is sustained or restored. The overwhelming success of waterfowl management, coordinated continentally among Canada, the United States, and Mexico, can serve as a model for conservation in other habitats.

  

Bird Population Indicators

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(Above) Bird population indicators based on trends for obligate species in four major habitats.

 

Grasslands and Aridlands, Degraded and Neglected

Dramatic declines in grassland and aridland birds signal alarming degradation of these often neglected habitats. Incentives for wildlife-compatible agricultural practices in grasslands and increased protection of fragile desert, sagebrush, and chaparral ecosystems are urgently needed to reverse these declines.

 

Forest Birds Face an Uncertain Future

Although forest birds have fared better overall than birds in other habitats, many species have suffered steep declines and remain threatened by unplanned and sprawling urban development, unsustainable logging, increased severity of wildfires, and a barrage of exotic forest pests and disease, which will likely be exacerbated by climate change.

 

Conservation Successes for Endangered and Common Birds

The will of our nation to prevent extinction and reverse environmental degradation is exemplified by the remarkable recovery of the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and other bird populations after the banning of harmful pesticides such as DDT. Although targeted conservation programs for listed species remain necessary, proactive measures involving voluntary partnerships between local, state, tribal, and federal government, nongovernmental organizations, and private citizens are needed to maintain the integrity of U.S. habitats and to keep our common birds common.

 

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Black Oystercatchers by Gerrit Vyn

 

Over the last two decades, unprecedented private-public partnerships, called Joint Ventures, have been highly effective at leveraging scarce funds to conserve millions of acres of wetlands and other wildlife habitat. Also, bird conservation initiatives such as Partners in Flight, the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, and the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan have raised awareness and inspired conservation action at continental and regional scales. These vital activities, along with the implementation of Wildlife Action Plans in all 50 states, are coordinated under the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (http://www.nabci-us.org/).

 

More Information

 

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