Hmmmmmm........fewer birds, more bugs, more poison........
Posted on Mon, Jun. 25, 2007
Decline of birds startles experts
A loss of habitat is cited as the primary factor. Some point to global
By LES BLUMENTHAL and DARRYL LEVINGS
WASHINGTON | Are meadowlarks in the meadows now our canaries in the
Some of the nation’s most common birds are disappearing at alarming
While loss of such habitat as fringe forests, grasslands and wetlands
is believed to be the culprit, there are mounting concerns that global
warming could be starting to take a toll.
And the push for ethanol from many fields now lying fallow in the
Conservation Reserve Program will bring only more pressure.
The numbers are shocking.
In the past 40 years, populations of the northern bobwhite are down 82
percent and have virtually vanished from parts of its range, something
many hunters have known for many seasons.
The count of eastern meadowlarks, reduced by 72 percent; loggerhead
shrikes, another grassland denizen, down 71; the shiny common grackle,
61; the whip-poor-will, 57, according to a new Audubon Society
Fully half of the 20 birds that have seen their populations fall by
more than half range in Missouri and Kansas. Other distressed locals
include the field, grasshopper and lark sparrows, the American bittern
and the northern pintail, a duck.
“These are not rare or exotic birds we are talking about — these are
birds that visit our feeders and congregate at nearby lakes and
seashores, yet they are disappearing year by year,” said Carol Browner,
Audubon chairman and a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
administrator. “Their decline tells us we have serious work to do, from
protecting local habitats to addressing the huge threats from global
Andy Forbes, ornithologist for Audubon Missouri and the state
Department of Conservation, said the “flagship species of the grassland
birds,” the greater prairie chicken, is not even on the list and
“they’ve really been crashing lately.”
Only a few hundred are left in the state.
“It’s habitat first and foremost. If a species doesn’t have a place to
live, what can it do?”
Take the northern pintail, which has dropped by 77 percent nationwide.
Why? Disappearing prairie water holes. The pintails “have a unique
foraging strategy that makes them vulnerable.”
Some birds are endangered by the climate changes far north in Canada.
Listed birds from other parts of the country include evening grosbeaks,
greater scaups, common terns, snow buntings, little blue herons and
The declines are not uniform across the nation. In Washington state,
evening grosbeaks are down 97 percent.
“I haven’t seen an evening grosbeak in my backyard this year,” Nina
Carter, executive director of Audubon Washington, said of a bird that
was a frequent visitor in years past to her Olympia, Wash.,
neighborhood. “What’s happened is pretty incredible.”
“This isn’t so much about the birds, though that is important,” Carter
said. “It’s what it means for people, for the environmental health of
Nationally, critical common bird habitat is under pressure from urban
sprawl, energy development and even the nation’s drive to grow more
crops for biofuel, Audubon found.
The meadowlark, for instance, nests in shallow depressions in
grasslands. Besides losses to crops and subdivisions, meadows have been
reverting back to forest in much of the east.
Some pasture is similarly being lost in Kansas, which also sees
extensive grazing and burning in the Flint Hills, said Ken Brunson,
diversity coordinator for the state wildlife department. “We’ve seen
declines in all our grassland species,” he said, although the prairie
chickens, both greater and lesser, are doing well enough in the state.
Meanwhile, such suburban species as geese, robins, crows and some
populations of gulls are thriving, said Greg Butcher, who headed the
Audubon analysis. “Some of these are getting more abundant than we
would like,” he said.
A more popular species, the bluebird, has made a healthy comeback
thanks to nesting boxes and mild winters.
The information comes after a review of data from the annual Christmas
Bird Count and the U.S. Geological Survey’s annual Breeding Bird
Survey. More than 500 species are covered by one or the other survey.
Butcher said he did not expect any of the common birds to go extinct,
but he added that steps needed to be taken to protect them, including
dealing with the challenges of global warming.
“We know a number of species, robins, bluebirds, crows, are wintering
farther north,” Butcher said.
Similarly, the heat is sending some species farther north in Missouri
and Kansas, such as the western kingbird, scissortail flycatcher and
greater road runner.
“It’s a clear signal they are responding to global warming.”