I’ve been so concerned with the state of our democracy lately (as I hope you have been) that I haven’t been paying attention to the state of our birds. Fortunately, Audubon is on the case. They have released, in the October issue of Audubon Magazine, the first national “The State of the Birds” report documenting the health and abundance of North America’s birds. The results are hardly surprising. Their summary of this groundbreaking report is below.

“The State of the Birds” paints a disturbing picture. Almost 30 percent of North America’s bird species are in “significant decline.” The overall state of the birds shows:

70% of grassland species are in statistically significant declines
36% of shrubland bird species are declining significantly
25% of forest bird species are declining significantly
13% of wetland bird species are declining significantly
23% of bird species in urban areas are declining significantly

According to the “State of the Birds,” these declines are abnormal. Not part of the natural cyclical rise and fall in bird populations, “statistically significant declines” are due to outside factors such as loss of native grasslands, overgrazing of grassland and shrubland, development of wetlands, bad forest management, invasive species, pollution, and poor land use decisions.

“Like the canary in the coal mine warning the miner of danger ahead, birds are an indicator of environmental and human health,” said Audubon President John Flicker. “Birds signal that we are at risk next.” Flicker went on to say, “People created these problems and people can solve them if we act now.”

Compiled by Audubon Scientist Greg Butcher, the “State of the Birds” analysis makes the case for private and public action, especially in strengthening, not weakening, existing environmental protections and more rigorously supervising their enforcement. Based on the report’s findings, Audubon is advocating for improved grassland, forest, and wetland protection, stronger pollution controls, partnerships with private landowners, and backyard habitat programs for homeowners.

Birds not only serve as reliable indicators of environmental conditions, they also contribute greatly to the U.S. economy. Keeping birds – and their home habitats – in good condition is not only a good conservation policy, it is also good business.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 69 million Americans – one-third of all adults in this country – call themselves birdwatchers. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes that they contribute at least $32 billion in retail sales, $85 billion in overall economic output, and $13 billion in state and federal taxes, creating 863,406 jobs. An analysis of expenditures is available on a state-by-state breakdown.

“Birds also contribute to the bottom line in more subtle ways, providing free pest and weed control, distributing seeds, and pollinating flowers and crops,” continued Flicker. “We simply cannot afford to ignore the state of the birds.”

Audubon’s “State of the Birds” summarizes the status of nearly 700 birds species native to the continental United States, focusing on the condition of species in each of five habitat types: grasslands, shrublands, forests, wetlands, and urban areas (the fastest growing habitat type in the U.S.).

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Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.