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Audubon Declares a “Bird Emergency,” Demands Immediate Action After Scientists Reveal Huge Losses of North American Birds

"We have to act now to protect the places birds need, like the Great Lakes."

CHICAGO (September 19, 2019) — Today, Science published a study by a joint team of conservation biologists describing a grim picture: a steady decline of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. In other words, within one human lifetime, North America lost more than one quarter of its avifauna.

“Birds are facing an unprecedented crisis due to human activity—this requires immediate action at every government level and at the individual level,” said Nat Miller, acting executive director of Audubon Great Lakes. “Birds are down but they’re not out—we’ve been here before when bird species were being decimated. Some of them have made an incredible comeback thanks to collective action and political leadership that helped create some of the earliest and most important conservation laws. When you give birds half a chance, they can recover.”

“The connection between birds and humans is undeniable—we share the same fate. This is a bird emergency with a clear message: the natural world humans depend on is being paved, logged, eroded and polluted. You don’t need to look hard for the metaphor: birds are the canaries in the coal mine that is the earth’s future,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), president and CEO of National Audubon Society.

The bird declines are due to varying causes, all of which are results of human activity. These include habitat loss via agricultural conversion and urban development, predation from outdoor cats, collisions with buildings and windows and widespread pesticide use, which also kills off insects, an important source of food for birds.

What Can We Do About This?

In response to this report, Audubon will be mobilizing its 1.4 million members to urge lawmakers to act on bird conservation priorities. In the Great Lakes region this includes:

  1. Return the Great Lakes to their former glory by passing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act, which would enhance coastal wetlands and improve natural infrastructure that will provide optimal breeding habitat for waterbirds while cleaning and storing water.
  2. Defend and reinforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which is the most important bird conservation law in the United States, protecting nearly one thousand species of North American birds. Audubon strongly opposes the administration’s unprecedented weakening of the law and supports draft legislation to codify the MBTA’s long-standing interpretation, which would protect all enumerated species from avoidable industrial hazards, such as oil waste pits. Such a reinforcement of the law could result in preventing millions if not billions of bird deaths in decades to come.

Individual Actions

In addition to urging lawmakers to protect birds through legislation at the local, state and federal level, Audubon is encouraging people to take simple everyday actions to help birds, starting with growing native plants. Because habitat loss is a major threat to North American birds and climate change will only compound this threat and many others, growing native plants is an easy and effective way to provide food, shelter and safe passage for many of the birds in decline. Those interested should simply type in their ZIP code to search Audubon’s Native Plants Database, which offers a free online tool to discover the bird-friendly plants, trees, shrubs and grasses that are native to their region and locate a local supplier to start or grow their own backyard bird oasis.

Audubon Has Been Here Before

At the turn of the 20th century, birds like the Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Roseate Spoonbill were being hunted for their decorative breeding plumes, which were all the rage in women’s fashion at the time. These species were being pushed to the brink of extinction. However, the earliest Audubon members fought back against the plume trade and encouraged the creation and passing of the earliest conservation laws, resulting in the MBTA in 1918. In the decades to follow, these birds and many others began a major comeback, and it is not exaggeration to say that the MBTA prevented the extinction of several species. Audubon encourages those interested in getting involved at the local level to protect birds and the places to join and support their local Audubon chapter.

About the Study

Researchers led by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy, Environment and Climate Change Canada, US Geological Survey, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center analyzed data from five decades’ worth of on-the-ground bird surveys, including data from Audubon’s Christmas Bird Counts, in addition to studying the number of migratory birds in flight captured by 143 weather radar stations located across the United States. Such drastic declines of bird populations are not limited to North America, and similar drops are taking place across the globe. Losses were seen in all types of birds, and for some species the staggering losses of individuals numbered in the tens of millions.

About Audubon

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon Great Lakes is a regional office of Audubon. Learn more at gl.audubon.org and follow us on Facebook Twitter and Instagram. Contact: Marnie Urso, murso@audubon.org, 216-246-7150.

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