Study: A third of North American bird species need urgent conservation action

Chestnut-collared Longspur, a species of conservation concern, by Gerrit Vyn.
Chestnut-collared Longspur, a species of conservation concern, in Alberta, by Gerrit Vyn.

According to a just-released trinational study of the state of migratory birds, more than a third of all North American bird species need urgent conservation action.

Results of the study were published in The State of North America’s Birds 2016, the first comprehensive report assessing the conservation status of all bird species that occur in Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico. The report was released by partners of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

The State of North America’s Birds 2016, a report on the conservation status of North America's birds.
The State of North America’s Birds 2016.

More than half of the species in ocean and tropical-forest habitats are in crisis, say the authors. No less than 57 percent of ocean species and 56 percent of tropical-forest species fall above the threshold of high conservation concern.

Moreover, steep population declines also threaten birds in coastal, aridland, and grassland habitats. In particular, continental populations of shorebirds and species that migrate from the Great Plains of Canada and the United States to Mexico’s Chihuahua grasslands have lost almost 70 percent, on average, since 1970.

A 2014 report from the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, listed 233 species — more than 30 percent of all of North America’s breeding birds — that are either endangered now or at risk of becoming endangered without significant conservation.

Conservation-vulnerability assessments

The new report evaluates the conservation status of all native North American bird species across all major habitats — nine key ecosystems. It is based on the first conservation-vulnerability assessment for all 1,154 native bird species that occur in Canada, the continental U.S., and Mexico, and reflects a collaboration between experts from all three countries.

The analysis showed that 432 species, 37 percent, are at risk of extinction without significant conservation action. Only generalist species — birds that are adaptable and can live in multiple habitats — are of low conservation concern.

The overall conservation status of each species takes into account its population trend, population size, extent of breeding and nonbreeding ranges, and severity of threats to populations. Methodology information, the complete assessment database, animated maps, and other resources are available at on the report website.

“This report is a superb demonstration of the power of birds, and the growing power of citizen science,” says John W. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Tens of thousands of Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans contributed bird sightings to help produce an unprecedented continent-wide assessment of North America’s birds.”

The report is being released during the centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada that promised collaborative conservation to protect the migratory birds of North America. In 1936, twenty years after the signing of the treaty, Mexico and the U.S. committed to a similar treaty, connecting all of North America in its efforts to protect our shared species.

The State of North America’s Birds calls for a renewed, continent-wide commitment to saving birds and their habitats. Healthy environments for birds also provide benefits to other wildlife and people, such as clean air and water, flood and erosion control, and coastal resilience.

The North American Bird Conservation Initiative was created by the governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico in 1999 to recognize birds as an international natural economic resource. NABCI is a trinational commitment to protecting, restoring, and enhancing populations and habitats of North America’s birds.

The State of North America’s Birds 2016.

Reports show North America’s birds face shifting, shrinking ranges in years ahead.

United States Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

 

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