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Red List updates a mixed bag for North American birds

Spectacled Eider is now listed as Near Threatened. This bird was photographed in Barrow, Alaska. ©2015 Tom Ingram

Up-listed to Near Threatened

Spectacled Eider. Climate change threatens this Arctic sea duck. “Warming and sea ice retreat pose an ongoing and future threat to the species’ habitat as sea ice provides an important resting platform when not foraging,” researchers say. Surveys of wintering flocks in the Bering Sea are planned for March 2019.

Eastern Meadowlark. Researchers are concerned about this grassland species, despite its estimated global population of 37 million adults. Between 1966 and 2017, Christmas Bird Count data show an average annual decline of 3.24 percent.

Chuck-will’s-widow. This nightjar’s population is around 5.4 million adults, but its numbers have fallen by more than 60 percent since 1970, and it’s threatened by urban development, collisions with cars, and the use of pesticides on its insect prey.

Eastern Whip-poor-will. Dependent on flying insects throughout the year, this nightjar is particularly sensitive to pesticides, intensive agriculture, and other factors that reduce insect availability. Its population also has declined by over 60 percent since 1970.

Common Grackle. While this familiar bird numbers around 69 million adults, Partners in Flight reported recently that the population has fallen by half since 1970. As a farmland scavenger, it is often seen as a pest and is subjected to control measures, leading to the decline.

Rufous Hummingbird. This western bird numbers around 19 million adults, but that is down about 60 percent since 1970. Logging and other habitat changes may play a role in its decline, and climate change poses a looming threat: Flowers are already blooming as many as two weeks earlier in some locations, meaning many hummingbirds arrive from migration too late to take advantage of this vital food source.

Blackpoll Warbler. “Partners in Flight estimates that while the 46 steeply declining North American landbirds may have lost a combined 1.5 billion individuals since 1970, nearly half of these individuals have been Blackpoll Warblers,” according to the Red List. “This equates to a reduction of 92 percent between 1970 and 2014. However, a significant data deficiency due to the remoteness of its breeding range makes the rate of decline difficult to determine.”

Harris’s Sparrow. This bird of the central states and provinces has declined by more than 60 percent since 1970, likely because urbanization, agricultural conversion, and post-fire deforestation have reduced its shrubland and forest habitats. The sparrow breeds in northern Canada, so climate change may have a big impact on the species and its habitat.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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