Aridland Birds

A Key Role for Public Lands

Status: Long-term declines with unrelenting habitat threats

Aridland birds have been in a long-term decline, with a slight improvement since 2012. Fires, drought, invasive plants, development, unsustainable grazing, and energy extraction pressures on habitat are all driving aridland bird declines.

a graph showing declines in 32 species of Aridland Birds, brown line, and 4 tipping point species, red line, since 1970
  • Several aridland birds (such as Chihuahuan Raven, Sage Thrasher, and Pyrrhuloxia) exhibit accelerated rates of decline since 2010.
  • Bendire’s and LeConte’s Thrasher have experienced long-term declines, but the Bendire’s Thrasher population has stabilized in the past decade.
  • Greater Sage-Grouse shows a continued steep decline that warrants increased voluntary habitat conservation incentives and renewed strong federal and state protections. 

Public Lands Are Essential for Aridland Bird Conservation

map of western United States showing overlap of aridlands and public lands
Western public lands are habitat for aridland birds. This map shows the cumulative range for 30 aridland bird species in North America, with the vast majority of that range falling within the boundaries of federal and state public lands. Sources: Aridland bird data from Bird Conservation Regions, Bird Studies Canada and NABCI. Public lands map from

The federal government and state agencies have a vital role to play in turning around bird declines in sagebrush and desert habitats. According to the 2011 State of the Birds report, public lands in the American West support more than half of the breeding distribution of aridland birds. Bureau of Land Management lands are particularly important, supporting almost a quarter of the distribution of all aridland birds and more than two-thirds of the U.S. distributions of Sage Thrasher and Sagebrush Sparrow, both species with declining populations. U.S. Forest Service lands in coastal chaparral habitats are important for the declining Wrentit. National Park Service lands are important for some desert bird species, such as the Bendire’s Thrasher (a Tipping Point species).

The 2011 State of the Birds Report found that about 80% of publicly owned aridlands were vulnerable to activities that could potentially degrade bird habitat—including energy development, off-road vehicle traffic, grazing, mining, and logging. Aridland bird habitat conservation can be compatible with multiple land uses, but management plans for these landscapes need to include measures to ensure long-term healthy populations of aridland birds.