Bye Bye Birdie?

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According to new research published in Science this month, birds are in crisis. Nearly 3 billion birds are gone. The study finds steep, long-term losses across virtually all groups of birds in the U.S. and Canada. This research reveals massive losses among hundreds of species of birds

from coast to coast. The study, led by Cornell Lab of Ornithology conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg, says the U.S. and Canada lost 2.9 billion birds from 1970 to 2017—a 29% decline in the breeding bird population. If you were alive in the year 1970, more than one in four birds in the U.S. and Canada has disappeared within your lifetime. Rosenberg shares that “These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife. And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”

Forests have lost 1 billion birds. And grassland bird populations have declined by more than 50%. The greatest losses came from our most common birds. More than 90% (2.5 billion + birds) come from just 12 families including the sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, and finches. “There’s a shifting baseline phenomenon,” said Adam Smith, the study coauthor and biostatistician. “Because the declines are gradual, we lose track of just how abundant these birds used to be.” But the research findings in this analysis indicate that some of America’s most familiar and beloved backyard birds are rapidly disappearing.

Habitat loss is the driving factor, according to the paper. Some groups of birds are doing well,  because governments and societies have invested in saving them. Waterfowl, which has benefited from billions of dollars in wetlands conservation, actually increased. Raptors, waterfowl, and turkeys show what’s possible when commitments are made to bird conservation.

Hopefully, we’ll see more conservation measures put into place to protect our common birds. Some of the most wonderful things about a well-developed garden are the sights and sounds of it. Birdsong and activity are definitely an essential piece of “garden peace”. What can we do to help? There are a number of things, including creating bird habitats and hanging up bird feeders. Planting native plants is also a way for us to be a part of the solution. Native plants add interest and beauty to our yards and neighborhoods. They provide shelter and nesting areas for birds. The nectar, seeds, berries, and insects will sustain birds and diverse wildlife.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County will host a Native Plant Hike with Nature Photography Workshop at San-Lee Park on Saturday, November 16, 2019, from 10 a.m. until noon. Please call the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center (919-775-5624) to register for this free workshop. Registration deadline is Thursday, November 14.

Find more information about managing backyards for birds,  landscaping for wildlife with native plants and birdboxes.

Find more information about the Cornell study and more tips for helping birds.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.