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Silent Skies: North America Lost 1.5 Billion Birds Since 1970s, Says Report


Silent Skies: North America Lost 1.5 Billion Birds Since 1970s, Says Report

Nika Knight, staff writer

North America has lost more than a billion birds over the past 40 years, says the most comprehensive survey of landbird populations in Canada and the U.S. to date, and 86 species are threatened with total extinction—all thanks to human-caused habitat destruction and climate change.


The canarys in he mine of life , will we pay attention?


During that time, the US pop went from 220m to 320m - not sustainable imo, and has to be a factor.


My city allowed a cell phone box to be put on an electric post in front of my house. I used to have at least 4 different type of birds nesting in my front yard. After they put the box in, the birds nested - but no babies left the nest. One kind of bird, Phoebe I was told, reused the old nests every year. After no babies left the nest, they broke down the existing nest and build a new one next to it. I have had no birds nesting in my yard for the past 5 years.


Bob, you don't say what your city is. I'd be interested to hear from your local Audubon or similar org whether your observation is typical or indeed connected to the "cell phone box," whatever you may mean by that. But note that this is about a report for all of NAm, by a Canadian org, and includes findings that

Those facing the most dramatic population declines are grassland birds, sagebrush and desert scrub species, "and forest species dependent on specialized structural features or natural disturbance," the report says.


San Francisco


The species mentioned were all once commonly associated with the Great Heartland. Up until about twenty years ago they flourished in great numbers about my region, however, with the introduction and massive expansion of GMO commodity crops there has been a steady and discernable decline in population and variety of species.
Certainly figuring in this decline would be at least three factors:
a) drastic alteration of habitat as woodlands are sacrificed to place more and more acreage under cultivation.
b) the nature of the cultivation, consisting primarily of genetically modified commodity crops planted in systems of mono-culture. Many of the GMO crops are modified to produce insecticides, and in addition are also treated with neonic pesticides capable of long term persistence in soils. This, along with the chemical cocktails of herbicides/fungicides/ and additional pesticides tends to eradicate a sizable percentage of the insect populations avian species forage upon. Of concern, too, those insects which survive as forage may often be contaminated with toxins adverse to avian survival or reproduction.
c) Then there is, in the guise of bio-security of poultry CAFOs, the outright and intentional destruction of feral birds with avicides. Many of the 'mysterious' mass bird kills that were making news a couple of years back ended up being attributable to farmers clumsily following USDA recommendations.


Do you live near water?
Do you live near some sort of 'gated' community?


I forgot to add - I did call the Audubon Society when it first happened. After doing a Google search, I read that India had a large decline in birds after the explosion of cell phones in their country. The Audubon did not know anything about it and, frankly, they did not seem to be that interested, so I never contacted them again.


Yes, I live a few blocks from the Ocean in San Francisco.


I tend to visit relatives who still farm in the area I grew up which is north east of Edmonton Alberta.

Now this an area that transitions from what is called parkland to Lakeland and the northern forest.

It was always teeming with songbirds of many varieties. Now all that left is magpies and crows. One of life's great joys was sitting on the porch in the early morning with the dew heavy on the grass, and drinking a cup of coffee as you listened to the birdsong.

No more.

I commented on the absence of the birds and my cousins attribute it to the spraying of herbicides and pesticides, either by the county (which saturate ditches with it to kill weeds and mosquitoes) or their fellow farmers.

One of my cousins that farms there was asked to give a presentation as to how farmers in the area can go green and organic and still get good crops. He described to an audience how they had to cut down on herbicide and pesticide use and his message ignored with them asking if there a way to do it and still use those chemicals.

It a hard mindset to break down. People think their yields will plummet unless they keep spraying.


India has also had an explosion of GMO industrial agriculture, or have you not been reading the Vandana Shiva articles often posted here?
My guess is someone around your neighborhood is playing fast and loose with pesticides. It might even be the case that someone is deliberately laying avicide due to unwanted gulls or pigeons. Many 'exclusive' beach communities are gulity of this very thing.


I do not think that population growth the major factor and I will explain my reasoning.

You describe the USA going from 230 million to 320 million. During that period the total poplation of birds dropped some 1.5 billion.

The starting point for that precipitous population decline in Canada saw a population of some 20 million which has since increased to 32 million. In other words the end point of population in Canada was magnitudes less than the starting point for that decline in the USA.

Now the article measures population decline in North America as a whole rather than by region but given my own personal experience I believe the decline in Canada is as significant.

I conclude from this that songbirds can co exist with larger populations of the human species , but can not co exist with how that larger population of humans decides it will live.

I think the decline linked directly to the use of GMOs and those pesticides and herbicides more than anything.


Further evidence of this is the relative decline of the Rural population.
There are many old farming towns across Alberta and Saskatchewan that have a lower population than in 1970 as does the countryside around them.

This because the nature of industrial agriculture needs less labor input.


Hi all,

Have dedicated a huge part of my life to protecting places birds need to survive. In the process, the willful ignorance and destructive behavior of humans has become as apparent as the apparent lower numbers of birds that now live on earth.

There were endangered Henslows sparrows nesting in an old hay field where my neighbor decided to try out a mower just as the the babies were about to fledge. He was just out mowing for the heck of it (what fun!!).
I ran up to his tractor to tell him about about the life that he was razing/killing and he rolled his eyes and kept on mowing. Meadowlarks, bobolinks, song sparrows, field sparrows all nested in that hay field (of which I “owned” a portion). Even though not officially listed----they are all endangered.

Very few bird species live there now.

Many human behaviors have impacted the birds where I live and all over the planet: use of pesticides, herbicides, climate change, invasive species and more. Too many human onslaughts to mention on this page.

I do not see any way to save the birds (or any species) at the rate of habitat destruction, ocean acidification and rising levels of CO2. Many things are out of our control. In the meantime there are things we can do to minimize bird deaths-----

The one thing people CAN do to help birds is this: KEEP CATS IN THE HOUSE!

I’ve lost count of the seemingly intelligent people who seemingly love birds that insist their cats can’t survive unless they go outside. They say: “my cat doesn’t kill birds” (they’ve “trained them”) or “it’s not that bad----there are worse things”. I will never understand the rationale behind insisting cats go outside given the facts.

So many things we can’t do----I couldn’t stop the county from spraying BT to kill gypsy moths (tried), or spraying insecticides for mosquitoes, couldn’t stop the spread of oak wilt that decimated oak savannas but I do have control over what I eat, how I live (no pesticides/herbicides have natural "yard" etc.)

Here is a no brainer of something we EASILY can do to help birds: keep cats indoors!!:


Two different, both good, points. But only the ground-nesters in the hayfield is connected to the OP. (I also keep my cats inside for their own protection.)


I have lived on the East coast of the US for most of my life.
The advantage was being on the flyways for migrating birds and listening to the beautiful blend of bird songs as the weather warmed or cooled and various species made their way to their summer or winter habitats.
I am sure the pollution of pesticides has played a role but I would nominate the development of every square foot of farm or wooded land for housing or other real estate development as the greater destroyer of habitat.


As a birder I find this seriously depressing, although not surprising, as we've seen fewer species than in years/decades past, and less of those species that either reside in or still migrate through our area - the Willamette Valley of Oregon.


Again, I suggest you look at the OP. It's a Canadian report and points to the greatest losses in grassland species in the north-south middle of the continent. Yes, I've seen other references to the impact of development, particularly as to climate change and the amount of land that's either paved or surrendered to monoculture. We really have not thought things through.


Canaries aren't the only casualties in the Anthropocene coal mine