Declining Bird Population in the US and Canada


Samantha Roark, Intro Writer

One in four breeding birds have been lost in the US and Canada in the last 50 years. That is 3 billion birds.

Released by the State of The Birds Report, this loss is coming from birds in all habitats except for waterfowl, where years of conservation efforts have contributed to their sky high population.

Photo from Flickr:
Tufted Puffin flies over ocean

This isn’t just happening somewhere else. It is happening here. It is happening now. 

If you’ve been to Cannon Beach’s iconic Haystack Rock, you’ve probably heard of the Tufted Puffins. Their population has been dramatically declining since 1979, with the breeding populations down by 90%. This bird, very important to the town as many people come from near and far to see them. It would be devastating if one day, they were all gone. 

Nowadays we hear all the time about climate change, and how it’s ruining our world, it’s almost normalized. So why should you care about birds? Derek Mackdicken, Ida B. Wells science teacher and birdwatcher said, “You see a much more immediate positive reaction than you do from most other things that you do environmentally. But this is one thing that I can do and go, ‘wow. I do see an immediate change.’ Also, the awareness when you start looking at the decline in bird populations you start being more aware of how unclosed the system is.”

Awareness is an important element in saving birds. When people are aware of the way birds reflect the health of their environment, it becomes easier to not just save birds, but wildlife, people, entire ecosystems, and planet earth. 

Gustave Axelson, editorial director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and who recently led the production of the State of the Birds Report, reports that,  “Where birds are declining, that’s a warning sign—like the engine light going off on a car’s dashboard—that something is wrong in that environment. So if birds are declining in an area, that’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong with the air, the water, the land in that area, and that will be bad for people, too.”

What is also concerning scientists is the amount of bird species that have had two-thirds of their population lost in the last 50 years, and are on track to lose another fifty percent. Also called tipping point species, the State of the Birds report acknowledged 70 species on the tipping point. 

Male rufous hummingbird sits peacefully in a tree

The rufous hummingbird, a tipping point species that comes to Portland every summer, is becoming less and less common. It is a beautiful bird with males possessing bright orange feathers. Now a tipping point species, it makes you wonder how common this bird was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and what birds we think are common now, will be thought of as a rare sight in 30 years. 

There are many causes to widespread bird population declines, including habitat loss and climate change. Many groups and organizations are working hard to ensure that we have birds in our future. They are applying wetland conservation acts used to save waterfowl to other birds to help sustain and restore ecosystems, getting communities, state, federal, and international efforts involved, and implementing the  “lights out” movements in big cities to prevent window crashes during peak migration seasons. 

Townsend’s Warbler sits atop a suet feeder in my small, suburban backyard, proving that even doing something as easy as putting a feeder up, can attract eye-catching birds

You can help make a difference by buying special window stickers to prevent window collisions, avoid using pesticides, and attract birds with birdhouses, baths, and feeders. If you’re interested, you can donate to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help fund scientific research and conservation efforts. 

“Bird populations rebound when conservation investments are made,” Axelon said. “America can bring its birds back, if we have the will and make the commitment to smart conservation that’s guided by science,” he said. “And oh yeah, we won’t just get more birds out of it, but we’ll also get cleaner and more plentiful drinking water, cleaner air, more protection from wildfires and floods and other climate-change-fueled disasters. There are a lot of benefits for people, too, in saving birds.”