A new paper in Science today reports that North America has lost 27% of its bird population since 1970, with the biggest declines in grasslands and forests. The authors of the report, ornithologists John Fitzpatrick and Peter Marra, sound the alarm:
As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent.
Much of the loss is among common species. The red-winged blackbird population has declined by 92 million. A quarter of all blue jays have disappeared, along with almost half of all Baltimore orioles. These are the birds we know and love, part of the bird life that makes North America lively, colorful and filled with song every spring. While it remains vital to save the most endangered of these birds, the loss of abundance among our most common species represents a different and frankly more ominous crisis.
What we need most is a societal shift in the values we place on living side-by-side with healthy and functioning natural systems. Natural habitat must not be viewed as an expendable luxury but as a crucial system that fosters human health and supports all life on the planet. The loss of nearly three billion birds signals a looming crisis that we have the power to stop. We call on all our lawmakers, political candidates and voters across the continent to place renewed value on protecting our common home—the great tapestry of natural systems we share with other species and must protect for future generations.
Unfortunately, with our current government, that seems unlikely.