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State of the Birds Report

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Black Skimmers by Gerrit Vyn

Rising wintering populations along seashores

The coasts indicator for 50 bird species that winter along U.S. coasts has steadily risen 28% above the baseline assessment in 1968, with an 8% rise over the past 5 years—a testament to the wise investments in more than 160 coastal national wildlife refuges and 595,000 acres of national seashore in 10 states. Nevertheless, birds along America’s coastlines face threats from development, increased recreational use, and rising sea levels due to climate change.

Along the Pacific Coast, Black Turnstones and Black Oystercatchers show encouraging population increases. However, human-caused disturbances and habitat loss are negatively affecting California populations of wintering Dunlins and threaten resident populations of Snowy Plovers.

Along the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers, two coastal species already in decline. Deepwater Horizon–related funding will be critical to address environmental damage from the oil spill in a timely manner. Meanwhile, Gulf coastal wetlands loss continues; coastal habitats will need additional conservation measures to counter wetlands loss and sea-level rise.

Birds along the Atlantic Coast are squeezed for habitat in this most densely human-populated region of the U.S. Additionally, coastal engineering projects—such as sea walls being built to defend against sea-level rise—are impacting beach-nesting species such as Piping Plover and tidal marsh birds such as Saltmarsh Sparrow.

Piping Plover by Ray

Conservation works!

Coastal wetland restoration projects are showing that natural habitats offer the best resilience to rising waters. The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows in New Jersey provides important habitat for birds such as the endangered Piping Plover, and the preserve acted as a natural buffer during Superstorm Sandy, holding back the sea surge and floodwaters.


Long-distance migrants are steeply declining and need international conservation.

Shorebirds are declining more than many other species groups. Long-term migration counts for 19 shorebird species show an alarming 50% decline since 1974. Declines are particularly strong for long-distance migrants that breed in the Arctic and boreal forest. Species with the steepest declines include Red Knot, Hudsonian Godwit, and Ruddy Turnstone. Long-distance migrants require healthy stopover habitats along their entire pathway, and the chain of sites is only as strong as the weakest link. For example, overharvesting of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay can threaten the entire Atlantic coastal population of Red Knots, as they depend on this food source during their intercontinental migration. Cooperative international efforts are needed to improve the outlook for Red Knots and other winged ambassadors.

American Oystercatcher
by Michael Libbe

Conservation works!

In response to alarming declines among Atlantic Flyway shorebird populations, the USFWS, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and partners created the Atlantic Shorebird Business Strategy. The strategy uses business planning fundamentals to tie funding inputs to measurable results. NFWF investments in priority action areas have already stopped a regional decline of American Oystercatchers and increased reproductive success. Now the population is growing for the first time in 10 years.



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