That's according to a new study published this month in the journal Science by researchers who brought together a variety of information that has been collected on 529 bird species since 1970. This stunning news signals a widespread ecological crisis.
Scientists knew that the population of some bird species were in decline but also knew that some were increasing. Some thought that it might be a wash and that there might simply be a shift in the total numbers of birds moving toward birds adapted to living around humans. Well, it's not a wash, it's not even close.
The effects of climate change, urbanization, the use of pesticides and loss of habitat have combined to be devastating to the birds in North America.
To gather the information, scientists looked at data from long running bird counts like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Study. They combined that data with ten years' worth of data on migrating bird flocks detected by 143 weather radar installations. The consensus seems to be that we are likely seeing substantial declines in our bird populations, particularly migratory birds.
"Depressing but not surprising", is how Kristen Ruegg, a biologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins put it.
Ken Rosenberg, an applied conservation scientist at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., and the study's lead author, says results show that more than 90% of the loss can be attributed to just a dozen bird families, including sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches.
The report tells us that some of the common birds particularly affected include meadowlarks, dark-eyed juncos, horned larks and red-winged blackbirds, . Grassland birds have suffered a 53% decrease in their numbers, and more than a third of the shorebird population has been lost.
Some bird populations have increased. "The numbers of ducks and geese are larger than they've ever been, and that's not an accident," says Rosenberg. "It's because hunters who primarily want to see healthy waterfowl populations for recreational hunting have raised their voices."
The template for reversal of this trend exists. Conservation works. Hunters have proved it. The website www.3billionbirds.org is a great resource to find out more about the study and what to do to help. Spreading the word about what's happening to help raise awareness about this urgent issue. By making your windows safer to prevent bird strikes and keeping cats indoors. Outdoor cats, according to some estimates, kill 2.6 billion birds each year in the U.S. Less lawns, no pesticides and more native plants will help birds. Providing food and water also helps as well as sing less plastic and generally paying attention to how we treat the planet as a whole.
This quote about the study's findings from Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick and study coauthor Peter Marra really got my attention: "A staggering loss that suggests that the very fabric of North America's ecosystem is unraveling.".