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State of the Birds Report

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Residential & Commercial Development

Suburban sprawl and other causes
of habitat loss are the biggest
threats to birds.
Photo by Eric Epstein

The accelerated pace of urban, suburban, and commercial development in the United States threatens the integrity of every major habitat, from continued draining of wetlands and destruction of coastal marshes, to loss and fragmentation of forests, aridlands, and grasslands because of suburban sprawl. Unlike timber production and livestock grazing, urbanization and sprawl cause permanent loss of natural habitats. Increased development in rural areas, such as second-home development, has equal or greater ecological consequences than growth of urban centers.

Steep declines in many bird populations are a direct result of unplanned and sprawling urbanization. Birds that are particularly hard hit include farmland species such as meadowlarks and Bobolink; eastern birds dependent on shrubby habitats, such as American Woodcock and Brown Thrasher; and birds of western deserts and chaparral, such as Bendire’s and California thrashers. Fragmentation of forests by development can increase risk of predation for forest-interior birds, such as Wood Thrush, Kentucky Warbler, and Cerulean Warbler, and can contribute to nest failures from increasing numbers of cowbirds, which lay their eggs in these birds’ nests. Coastal development causes loss of beach dunes and threatens fragile salt marshes, harming birds such as Black Rail and Seaside Sparrow, as well as migratory shorebirds and other water birds dependent on tidal mudflats and estuaries.

As many as one billion birds each year may die from collisions with man-made obstacles, including windows, transmission towers, power lines, and wind turbines. Tall, lighted buildings and other structures along coastlines kill millions of migrating birds each year. Conservationists are exploring and implementing innovative ways to reduce this grim toll, but much remains to be done.

More Information 


  • Dunn, Erica H. 1992. Bird Mortality from Striking Residential Windows in Winter. Journal of Field Ornithology 64 (3): 302-309.
  • Klem, Daniel Jr. 1989. Bird-Window Collisions. The Wilson Bulletin 101 (4): 606-620.
  • Klem, Daniel Jr. 1990. Collisions Between Birds and Windows: Mortality and Prevention. Journal of Field Ornithology 61 (1): 120-128
  • Klem, Daniel Jr. 2006. Glass: A Deadly Conservation Issue for Birds. Bird Observer 34 (2): 73-81.
  • Longcore, Travis, and Catherine Rich, eds. 2006. Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
  • O’Connell, Timothy. 2001. Avian Window Strike Mortality at a Suburban Office Park. The Raven 72 (2).
  • Ogden, Lesley J. Evans. 1996. Collision Course: The Hazards of Lighted Structures and Windows to Migrating Birds, Published by World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Fatal Light Awareness Program 


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