“Nature Is Unraveling.” United States and Canada Have Lost 3 Billion Birds Since 1970.

evere declines in common birds, like those shown in this study, tell us something is wrong. Since the 1970’s, we’ve lost three billion of North America’s birds. This is a full-blown crisis that requires political leadership as well as mass individual action.”

— Nicole Michel, Ph.D., Sr. Quantitative Ecologist, National Audubon Society

“We’re making the wrong moves now to sustain nature for the future, and this is an indication that nature is unraveling and that ecosystems are highly stressed.”

— Mike Parr, President, American Bird Conservancy and Co-Author, Science report


September 20, 2019  Albuquerque, New Mexico –  In the September 20, 2019, issue of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)  prestigious journal Science ( Websites below) comes a warning that life on Earth is not guaranteed even for once-huge native bird populations. The in-depth study is entitled, “Billions of North American Birds Have Vanished” by Kenneth Rosenberg, Ph.D., Cornell Lab and American Bird Conservancy. He led researchers in a study of bird surveys from the past half-century. Since 1970, as cement and asphalt replaced more and more grasslands and nicotine-based pesticides erupted onto landscapes killing huge swaths of bees and other pollinator insects, the beautiful, innocent lives of 529 bird species in the U. S. and Canada began to die, too.

The total bird population of North America has now fallen by almost three billion from 10 billion to 7 billion — a 29% decline in five decades. Common species such as the western meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, American sparrows and shorebirds such as green herons are being decimated.

Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark © 2014 by Susan Disher, Macaulay Library.
Red-winged blackbird   Photo: Johann Schumacher/VIREO
Red-winged Blackbird © by Johann Schumacher/VIREO.
Grackle Common Grackle, bronze form. Photo by Mircea Costina
Common Grackle, bronze form. Photo © by Mircea Costina.
American Sparrow. Image in 2003 by DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.
American Sparrow. 2003 image by DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.
Green Heron © Greg Homel, Natural Elements Productions.
Green Heron © Greg Homel, Natural Elements Productions.

“It’s an empty feeling in your stomach that these same birds that you grew up with just aren’t there anymore,” mourns Pete Marra, Ph.D., an ecologist and Director of Georgetown University’s Environment Initiative in Washington, D. C., who contributed to the bird study. “My gut says that if we don’t do something, if we don’t act right now, we’re going to lose more and more birds. We need to think about birds as if they are Monets and Rembrandts and Homers flying around out there, because if we lose them, it’s like burning down one of our greatest museums. These are things we’ll never be able to see again.”

Mike Parr, President of the American Bird Conservancy and co-author of the Science journal report, says: “We’re making the wrong moves now to sustain nature for the future, and this is an indication that nature is unraveling and that ecosystems are highly stressed.” 

In addition to toxic pesticides and square miles of asphalt and cement, it is estimated that cats that are let outdoors kill more than a billion birds in the United States each year. And there has also been a steep drop in the numbers of insects and amphibians.


What Are Neonicotinoids?

Nicotine-based pesticides, also known as neonics, are a class of neuro-active insecticides similar to nicotine that disorient honey bees and other pollinators, damage their nervous systems and contribute to colony collapse disorder (CCD) that began in the winter of 2007 and has caused serious honey bee population declines. In some years, nearly half of honey bee colonies have died.

Honey Bee © by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org.

Companies such as Bayer and Monsanto produce and sell the neonicotinoid group of toxins that include acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and others that have been linked to the persistence of colony collapse. Like dominoes falling, the poisoning of bees extends to many other insects that are also dying and that means a loss of food for birds. Most academic and governmental bodies agree that neonicotinoids have had a negative influence on bee populations and France in 2018 was the first country in Europe to ban all five pesticides that kill bees. That year, the European Union also banned three main neonics — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — for all outdoor uses. Several states in the U. S. have also restricted neonics to help bees and other pollinators survive.


What Can Be Done to Save Birds?

Scientists want lawmakers to protect federal lands and ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides as France has in Europe. There is also a need to educate the public about keeping their cats indoors in order to help save precious birds.

Humans everywhere should be encouraged to study up on their local bird populations and grow plants and trees that have seeds the birds like to eat.


21st Century — Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction? 

Earth's 21st Century 6th Mass Extinction monitored by the IUCN Red List.
Earth’s 21st Century 6th Mass Extinction threats monitored by the IUCN Red List. Click image to enlarge.

According to the International Union for Conservation, IUCN’s Red List, more than 27% of all assessed species on the planet are threatened with extinction provoking some scientists to say Earth is now in its 6th mass extinction. Currently, 40% of the planet’s amphibians, 25% of its mammals, and 33% of its coral reefs are threatened. The IUCN predicts that 99.9% of critically endangered species and 67% of endangered species will be lost within the next 100 years.

The United Nations has reported that more than 500,000 land species already do not have sufficient natural habitat left to ensure their long-term survival.

Also see:

04-23-2019 – Without Wild Bees and Bumblebees, No More Apples, Blueberries and Cranberries from Northeast?

12-30-2018 – Why Are So Many Earth Insects Dying?

More Information:

04-26-2018 – 1.8 Trillion Pieces of Plastic Garbage in Pacific Ocean Threaten Marine Life.
01-26-2018 – Climate Warming Is Turning 99% of Baby Green Sea Turtles Female
10-26-2017 – Adelie Penguins in East Antarctica “Suffer Catastrophic Breeding Event”
06-30-2017 – 20% of Earth’s Birds Are Threatened with Extinction
03-30-2017 – 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Suffering Coral Bleaching.
01-27-2017 – Disturbing 40% Decline in Earth’s Giraffes Since 1987 — Another 21st Century Extinction?
01-27-2017 – Only 7,000 Cheetahs Left In World — 21st Century Extinction?
11-03-2016 – Latest World Wildlife Report Shows Steep Declines — World’s Vertebrate Populations Half of What They Were In 1970.


“Decline of the North American Avifauna,” September 20, 2019, AAAS Science: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/09/18/science.aaw1313

“France becomes first country in Europe to ban all five pesticides killing bees,” August 31, 2018, The Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/31/france-first-ban-five-pesticides-killing-bees/

IUCN Red List of 6th Mass Extinction:  https://www.iucnredlist.org

National Audubon Society:  https://www.audubon.org

American Bird Conservancy: https://abcbirds.org

10 Plants for A Bird-Friendly Yard: https://www.audubon.org/news/10-plants-bird-friendly-yard

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