Birds are in crisis around the world. Here’s how you can help

Dark-eyed Juncos are among the most abundant forest birds of North America. Look for them on woodland walks as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them. (Photo provided — Bob Vuxinic, Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

North Americans share an amazing diversity of birds. More than 1,000 species can be found in the U.S. alone.

They come in an astonishing variety of colors, shapes, sizes and behaviors. You could live a lifetime and never see every variety of bird that it’s possible to see in our state, or even in your neighborhood.

For a serious birder, spotting a rare bird is tremendously exciting, but for everyone else, seeing a quick flash of red, yellow or orange on the trail can be just as exhilarating. And watching birds at home has been proven to reduce stress.

The Great Backyard Bird Count

The 26th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) — a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Birds Canada — is an opportunity to discover birding in a way that you may never have imagined.

It’s also a chance for non-specialists, people like you and me, to be part of an international team of citizen scientists who, using specified scientific protocols and the power of the internet, provide vital data to professional environment and wildlife researchers and the scientific and educational institutions they represent.

It’s a monumental task. And you can help!

Every year, tens of thousands of participating citizen scientists from around the world record information about birds observed at their homes, in schoolyards and at local parks or wildlife refuges, and enter their tallies at the GBBC website. Every entry helps researchers better understand and protect birds around the world and the environment they (and we) share.

During last year’s event, people from 192 countries reported sightings of 7,099 species of birds — approximately three quarters of the world’s known bird species — creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded. Amazing!

This year, from Feb. 17-20, people of all ages, whether beginners or experts, are invited to support bird conservation by counting the number of birds, separated by species, seen during any outing or observational sitting. It’s fun. It’s easy. And it’s free.

To find out more, visit birdcount.org and click on the “How to Participate” link. Check out the latest educational and promotional resources, too.

A startling decline in bird populations

Information gathered during the GBBC will help researchers track changes in bird populations on a massive scale. The data couldn’t possibly be more important.

Since the 1970s, North America has lost three billion birds, nearly 30% of the total population. More than half of U.S. bird species have declined. A recently released State of the Birds report for the U.S., published by 33 leading science and conservation organizations and agencies, reveals that birds in the U.S. are declining in forest, grassland, desert and ocean habitats, with grassland birds declining fastest. Even common birds such as sparrows and blackbirds are in decline.

Waterbird population have increased however, by 18%. And duck populations have increased by 34%. This is widely-believed to be the result of investments in wetland conservation, which have improved conditions for both birds and people.

According to Corina Newsome, an Associate Conservation Scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, “The State of the Birds report is a clarion call for us all to help address the wildlife crisis and equip our State, Tribal, and territorial wildlife managers with the tools and funds they need to strengthen our shared stewardship of birds and the diversity of life that depends on them … America’s wildlife are in crisis with one-third of species at heightened risk of extinction. People and wildlife face many of the same threats, and we know that when we invest in conserving and restoring birds and other species, we also are investing in clean water, clean air, thriving ecosystems, and vibrant parks and public lands.”

Perhaps the most disturbing conclusion in the report is that of 70 newly-identified “tipping-point” species. Each has lost 50% or more of their population over the past 50 years. In the words of Dr. Peter Marra, the director of the Earth Commons, Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability: “Despite best hopes and efforts, 70 tipping-point bird species … will lose half their already dwindling populations in the next 50 years unless we take action.”

“It’s staggering,” says the 2022 report’s first author Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. And Dr. Scott Sillett, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, believes that “birds are in trouble, but we all can help bring them back. Living bird-friendly makes your home and lifestyle better for birds and the planet.”

A downloadable copy of the 2022 State of the Birds Report is available from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Committee and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Supplemental material is available as well, as an Excel spread sheet. Visit stateofthebirds.org.


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