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State of the Birds Report

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Aridlands

Unique Birds of the Aridlands Face Habitat Loss and Degradation

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Consider This:

  • Aridlands harbor more than 80 nesting bird species, including many unique and beautiful birds found only in deserts, sagebrush, or chaparral.

  • More than 75% of birds that nest only in aridlands are declining and 39% of all aridland birds are species of conservation concern.

  • Habitat loss from urban development, habitat degradation from overgrazing and invasive plants, and a changing climate are causing significant problems for many aridland birds.

  • A regional system of protected areas is critically needed to accommodate increasing development while meeting the habitat requirements for keeping bird populations stable.

 

The State of Aridland Birds

Of 83 aridland-breeding bird species, 39% are species of conservation concern, including 10 federally listed as endangered or threatened. These species are especially vulnerable because of their small ranges or restricted habitat requirements, or both.

Sixty percent of all aridland species and 76% of aridland obligate species have declined. The aridland birds indicator, based on 17 of 30 obligate species with sufficient data, shows a steady decline over the past 40 years, to nearly 30% below the baseline value. An additional 13 species, including nine species of conservation concern, are not adequately monitored.

Unplanned urban growth is by far the greatest threat to aridland birds.
A regional system of protected areas can enhance quality of life for
people and enable birds to survive. 

 

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Birds in Trouble

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Golden-cheeked Warbler
by Greg Lavaty

Federally listed as endangered: California Condor, (Northern) Aplomado Falcon, (San Clemente) Loggerhead Shrike, (Least) Bell’s Vireo, Black-capped Vireo, Golden-cheeked Warbler. Threatened: (Western) Snowy Plover, (Coastal) California Gnatcatcher, (Inyo) California Towhee, (San Clemente) Sage Sparrow 
  • Endangered Golden-cheeked Warblers depend on ash-juniper woodlands that are being cleared for agriculture or suburban development in the Texas hill country.

  • Species such as Elf Owl, Bendire’s and LeConte’s thrashers, and Gilded Flicker are of conservation concern because of their small range, known threats, or declining populations.

  • Resident game birds that depend on aridlands, including Greater and Gunnison’s sage-grouse and Scaled Quail, have suffered significant declines and are threatened by continued degradation of their fragile habitats. About 45% of potential sagebrush habitat has been converted to other habitat types, including agriculture and urban areas.

 

 

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Aridlands in the U.S. include the Sonoran Desert (shown here), Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Great Basin deserts, and major shrub-scrub ecoregions (coastal California chaparral, Edwards Plateau, Colorado Plateau). Aridlands are characterized by low annual precipitation with variability from one year to the next. Photo by Gerrit Vyn

 

 

Major Threats

Development and Energy

Unplanned and sprawling urban development is by far the greatest threat to aridlands. Some of our nation’s fastest growing cities are in aridlands (e.g., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego).

Coastal sage and chaparral of southern California represent a global biodiversity hotspot with numerous threatened or endangered plants and animals. About 40% of the area is now urban or suburban, supporting nearly half of California’s human population.

Energy development and exploration have major impacts on aridland birds. Poorly planned energy infrastructure degrades and fragments habitat and provides conditions favorable for invasive plant species.

 

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Greater Sage-Grouse by Ted Schroeder
Agriculture and Invasive Species

Invasive nonnative plants are a serious threat to virtually all aridlands. In the Great Basin and other areas, more than 17% of remaining sagebrush is dominated by introduced grasses such as cheatgrass. Invasive grasses fuel wildfires that devastate sagebrush and desert plant communities, eliminating native plants that evolved in the absence of fire.

Unsustainable livestock ranching practices have degraded habitat and damaged soils, fostering areas dominated by nonnative plants.

 

Climate change

The impact of climate change in aridlands is difficult to predict, but warmer conditions and changes in precipitation may dramatically affect the production of seeds needed by birds. Improved monitoring of bird populations may provide the first indications of changes to habitats.

 

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           Harris's Hawk by Gerrit Vyn
           

Solutions 

Proactive conservation measures, such as ensuring sustainable agriculture and environmentally sustainable energy development, are needed to reverse declines of native aridland birds.

Linking the protected lands system with “smart growth” in communities will provide opportunities for people to enjoy birds, as well as for birds to move and adapt to increasing pressure from development.
 
Immediate, innovative efforts are needed to encourage the coexistence of agriculture and native birds, including wildlife-compatible grazing practices, maintenance of native habitat patches, and planting native seed mixes in disturbed areas.

Continual efforts must be made to prevent invasive plants from spreading in areas most affected by wildfire.

 
Beyond Our Borders 

More than 50% of aridland birds are permanent residents of the U.S. borderlands. Effective conservation requires close collaboration with the Mexican government and private conservation organizations. Most migratory species winter in Mexico and Central America, including the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. New and existing international partnerships must be supported to ensure the survival of aridland birds.

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California Condor by Brian L.
Sullivan

Reasons for Hope

Endangered California Condors and Aplomado Falcons have been reintroduced to areas where they had been extirpated in the United States. Public lands have provided important habitats for these species. Today, 174 condors are flying free, and the number grows each year.

Vast areas of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Defense offer opportunities to protect and manage habitats for aridland birds. 

 

 

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