We often take birds for granted. We hear them in the morning, see them perched on power lines and eating at the birdfeeders. But the truth is that birds are in peril. According to the World Wildlife Fund, approximately 70 percent of the world’s nearly 8000 species of birds are declining. Estimates project that climate change could drive up to 75 percent of the world’s bird species in to extinction. Those that are at the highest risk are migratory, island, wetland, Arctic, Antarctic and sea birds.
While many familiar species of birds that we often see around the city are increasing (including robins, blackbirds and starlings), other species of forest birds are on the decline. The most significant decline has occurred among long-distance migrant species such as orioles, tanagers, thrushes, vireos and warblers that nest in northern forests during the summer while spending winters in the Neotropics or the Caribbean.
What’s causing the decline? The primary cause of the decline appears to be habitat loss and fragmentation of the birds’ breeding and nesting habitats. Throughout much of North America, critical habitat in woodlands and prairies are being cleared and broken up by roads and business and residential development. Unfortunately, the birds do not find refuge by flying South as a great deal of critical habitat is being lost there as well.
Conservation biologists and ornithologists are alarmed and working feverishly to determine effective solutions to solve the decline. However, the fact that birds live in virtually every climate and biome coupled with the relative ease with which they can be surveyed and counted, are reasons why they are considered to be excellent environmental indicators. When bird numbers decline, scientist respond.
Why is bird decline cause for alarm? Birds play an important role in many ecosystems. They perform a variety of economic and ecological services throughout the world. They eat rodents and insects in addition to clearing dead carcasses while acting as important pollinators and seed transporters. The extinction of the birds that carry out these critical functions may cause certain ecosystems to collapse if dependent species of plants are eradicated. Experts call us all to open our eyes and ears to the importance of birds and to find ways to play a role in maintaining bird populations. The best way to do this is to support habitat restoration, rehabilitation and conservation measures.