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State of the Birds Report

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A Bird's-Eye View


Photo by Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation
Reducing the impact of climate change on birds

Maintaining healthy bird populations in the United States in the face of accelerated climate change is an unprecedented challenge. It will require managing natural resources in a way that responds rapidly and effectively to observed and anticipated changes in the condition and distribution of habitat, food supplies, competitors, and predators. Monitoring changes in bird populations and the resources upon which they depend is essential to provide the lead time necessary to put conservation actions in place. But, simply helping species adapt to a changing environment is unlikely to produce the intended results without concurrent adoption of mitigation strategies that slow climate change through reduction of greenhouse gases and sequestering of atmospheric carbon.


Conservation efforts will need to be integrated with social and economic initiatives to maximize the reduction of greenhouse gasses and to help ensure healthy  habitats for birds and for people.

Innovative Strategies

The scientific sophistication and effectiveness of bird conservation in the past two decades has greatly increased. The innovation that has helped carry bird populations into the 21st century must now be once again upgraded to ensure that these species survive the 21st century. Innovative solutions are needed on three fronts: large-scale planning and implementation; new technological and scientific advancements for protection, enhancement, and restoration of habitats; and identifying and abating the negative consequences associated with development of alternative sources of energy.

Conservation Without Borders

The ranges of many bird species may shift and change in adaptation to climate
change. Those changes will come about regardless of political boundaries. So, too, must our conservation strategies be designed with seamless boundaries. The new Department of Interior Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and the Regional Climate Change Impact Response Centers, for example, will serve as a base for innovative thinking and determining broad geographic priorities for wildlife in response to climate change. These climate change “think tanks” will advance biological planning and design of large-scale conservation efforts and link with the proven delivery models laid down by the Migratory Bird Joint Ventures and the actions outlined in the State Wildlife Action Plans, which provide a comprehensive
assessment of wildlife conservation needs in each state.

New and improving data management and habitat mapping capabilities, along with the ability to compile and disseminate large quantities of information, information management capacities, and expanding conservation networking and partnerships is needed to ensure that conservation is emphasized in those places and at those spatial scales most relevant to the health of shifting bird populations. These tools are necessary to help make better decisions that lessen the impacts of climate change within biomes, and thus, the birds that depend on them. Strategies must change from a tradition that considers historic landscape conditions as the framework for protecting intact landscapes and restoring damaged ones, to one which must address dynamic future environmental conditions. These strategies must also work within social and economic constraints and consider on-the-ground actions that can be used to increase the chances that bird populations persist in landscapes shaped by climate change.

New Technologies and Innovative Science

Migrating forests. Rising seas. Dry, sun-baked playa lakes. Outbreaks of avian
All of these may seem like scenes from a science fiction movie, but all are potential consequences of changes in climate. Helping birds and other wildlife adapt to these rapid environmental changes will demand the attention of the world’s best scientific minds. Initiatives have begun that are planting the seeds for innovative thinking and partnerships, setting priorities for wildlife response to climate change, and developing new technologies for assessing and compiling existing and newly acquired information. Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and the Regional Climate Change Impact Response Centers, in partnership with universities, technology-based institutions and businesses, and individual entrepreneurs, need to be charged with finding solutions to the perplexing challenge of keeping species from going extinct.

• Identify new, practical ways to manage dynamic ecosystems. For example,
to manage habitats that are resilient to the effects of climate change, we must manage for intact natural ecological processes including disturbance associated with fire and flooding.

• Transfer knowledge to those charged with the day-to-day preservation of species. For example, new and improved data management and habitat mapping capabilities along with the ability to compile and disseminate large quantities of information, will provide land stewards with the tools to make decisions to lessen the impacts of climate change.

Photo courtesy USFWS

Minimizing the Impact of Renewable Energy Sources

Generating energy from renewable sources holds promise in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while still meeting the world’s energy demands. However, development of alternative sources of energy can represent new challenges to bird conservation:

• Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation from the development of new wind farms and associated transportation corridors and power lines can cause direct mortality and indirect impacts to birds. Development of new technologies for renewable energy must account for potential new stressors that will negatively impact bird populations.

• Production of biofuels, the use of plants or other biomass to make fuels, can reduce greenhouse gasses by reducing use of oil and its byproducts. Yet, widespread conversion of native grasslands and other habitats to row crops or monocultures of fast-growing grasses to make ethanol poses a risk to birds because of habitat loss, degradation, and loss of plant diversity that enefits wildlife.

Reducing and Sequestering Greenhouse Gases

As a parallel strategy to adaptive ecosystem management, society is working on measures to slow climate change by reducing production of greenhouse gases and sequestering atmospheric carbon.

• Many mitigation strategies address improved energy efficiency or the reduction of emissions; these strategies are most effective in concert the removal of existing carbon from the atmosphere or conserving already stored carbon.

• Forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other ecosystems can be managed for birds and other wildlife, as well as for storing carbon and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Conservation strategies to reduce atmospheric carbon include avoiding deforestation (especially in tropical zones and temperate mature and old-growth forests), promoting afforestation and reforestation, and managing vegetation for accumulation of biomass on site.

• Active restoration of native vegetation and wildlife habitats can serve to sequester carbon. Cooperative partnerships between industries and land management agencies can restore important habitats. In the Lower Mississippi Valley, for example, more than two dozen industries, conservation organizations, and National Wildlife Refuges have restored over 120,000 acres of habitat. These efforts have resulted in the planting of more than 22 million trees that will capture over 33 trillion tons of carbon during the next 90 years. Ducks Unlimited and its partners developed a carbon credit program for private landowners, who in turn manage grasslands for waterfowl and many other species.

• There are great opportunities for ecosystem restoration and carbon sequestration through new farming practices that promote habitat diversity and integrate ecosystem processes, including living soils. Incentives within the Farm Bill could be used to promote broad scale mitigation that will result in healthier ecosystems, healthier farms and farm products, and healthier bird populations.

Conservation efforts will need to be integrated with social and economic initiatives to maximize the reduction of greenhouse gasses and to help ensure healthy habitats for birds and for people. Each of the above strategies and conservation considerations are incorporated in the sections on key steps for each habitat in this report

Flying pelicans courtesy USFWS
Joint Ventures

A Joint Venture is a self-directed partnership of agencies, organizations, corporations, tribes, or individuals that has formally accepted the responsibility of implementing national or international bird conservation plans within a specific geographic area or for a specific taxonomic group, and has received general acceptance in the bird conservation community for such responsibility. Working both collectively and independently, Joint Venture partners conduct activities in support of bird conservation goals cooperatively developed by the partnership such as biological planning, conservation design and prioritization, project development and implementation, and monitoring, evaluation, and applied research activities.

Nationwide, there are 18 habitat-based Joint Ventures, each addressing the bird habitat conservation issues found within their geographic area. Additionally, three species-based Joint Ventures, all with an international scope, work to further the scientific understanding needed to effectively manage specific bird species or groups of species.

State Wildlife Action Plans

Developed by every state and territory, State Wildlife Action Plans are congressionally required plans that outline the conservation actions needed to conserve declining wildlife and their habitats before they become rarer and more costly to protect. State Wildlife Action Plans are historic in that they represent the first nationally comprehensive conservation strategy for wildlife and identify what is needed to prevent more wildlife from becoming endangered. Completed in 2005, the plans were collaboratively developed by state fish and wildlife agencies and their partners and identified more than 10,000 species in greatest conservation need, their priority habitats, threats and stresses, needed conservation actions and monitoring and research priorities. The plans are updated every 10 years, although many states are opting to update sooner to better address climate change and new emerging threats. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program is the principal source of funding to implement the plans. More information is available at


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