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State of the Birds Report

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Chris Wood

Science is the foundation of effective conservation.

The population crash of the Passenger Pigeon didn’t occur out of sight from
human eyes. Americans in the late-19th century could see that the great
Passenger Pigeon flocks were growing thinner. But without a mechanism for
population monitoring, there was no widespread recognition that the population
was in full collapse.

Today scientists have rich data sets for evaluating the health of bird populations.
Monitoring allows scientists to inventory bird populations, just as a business takes stock of its assets. Continued monitoring, with years of data for comparison, makes it possible for scientists to gauge population changes. The indicators and assessments in this and previous State of Birds reports were made possible by longterm, consistent monitoring, such as the Breeding Bird Survey, Christmas
Bird Count, and eBird. Much of this data is now available to the public and all scientists through the Avian Knowledge Network.

Once declines are detected, causes must be diagnosed. Recent advances in research technologies (such as geolocators small enough to fit on a songbird’s back) provide new ways to study birds not possible a decade ago. By locating where the troubles are (on breeding or wintering grounds, or during migration), and
what physiological factors play a role (such as DNA or chemical disruption), scientists can pinpoint the limiting factors in a bird population. Out of research
comes the prescription for recovery.

Investments in monitoring and research pay for themselves with smarter conservation that’s effective and cost-efficient—the kind that keeps species off the
Endangered list. Such investments must be planned for up-front in budgeting as
a key tool for land management. At the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument,
bird monitoring was designated as an indicator of oak woodland ecological
integrity. The monitoring data helped guide improved grazing management on 52,000 acres of public lands.


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