A Lewis’s Woodpecker near Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. (Submitted)

Three billion fewer birds in North America than in 1970, study finds

Worst declines found in sparrows, warblers and blackbirds

An extensive study of hundreds of bird species across decades worth of data has for the first time estimated how badly numbers of even the most common birds have shrunk.

The paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, concludes the total number of North American birds has dropped by three billion since 1970 — about 30 per cent. Some of the most familiar species have been the hardest hit.

“The species like pigeons and house sparrows and starlings, species we think of as thriving in urban environments, even those species are in steep decline,” said Adam Smith, an Environment Canada scientist and the paper’s co-author.

The study, conducted through nine universities and government agencies in Canada and the United States, looked at 529 different kinds of birds.

It’s based on data collected from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, which began in the mid-1960s with the help of governments and an extensive network of volunteers. It was backed up by information contained in records from 143 U.S. weather radar stations, which are able to track migrating flocks.

The declines have been widespread. Except for waterbirds and raptors, which are heavily conserved, nearly every family is suffering.

Forest birds such as flycatchers, woodpeckers and chickadees are down more than a billion.

Grassland birds — meadowlarks, sparrows, wrens — have been more than halved. There are 700 million fewer of them than there were 50 years ago. Three-quarters of the species in this family are shrinking.

The worst declines have been ascribed to some of the most abundant birds. Sparrows, warblers and blackbirds account for almost three-quarters of the total losses.

“The loss of abundance overall is something that has a cost to our healthy ecosystems,” Smith said.

“There are billions fewer beaks out there to eat insects. There are fewer birds to eat and disperse plant seeds. And there are fewer birds for us to experience.”

Birds are also what scientists call an indicator species. Because information on them is so extensive, they reveal early trends in environmental change.

“Birds are an indicator that the natural world is stressed,” said Smith.

The results of the Science paper were foreshadowed by the State of the Birds report, which came out in June and looked at Canadian species. That report found similar patterns — waterbirds up, most everything else down, with some unknowns.

The findings are echoed by other research detailing declines in insects, amphibians and fish.

The current study doesn’t address reasons for the drops, but Smith said previous research points to probable causes.

READ MORE: Wrong turn leaves Caribbean-bound bird in B.C.’s Lower Mainland

“Habitat loss and degradation — the loss of the land, water and air that birds use to survive. The loss of that ecological space is the primary driver of population decline for almost all of these birds.”

He pointed out that most birds in the study migrate, so efforts to rebuild populations have to be co-ordinated across jurisdictions from Nunavut to South America. It can be done, Smith said, as it has for bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

“I want (my kids) also to see someday those massive, spectacular flocks of migrating birds that used to be and have declined.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Sylvan Lake RCMP arrest man in Fox Run area hit and run

The arrest was made with the help of information provided by alert Sylvan Lakers

PHOTOS: Senior girls Aces beat the Blazers

The senior girls Eckville Aces met the Bowden Blazers in a Wednesday night game on Oct. 16

Lacombe County Council Highlights

County Council met for its regular meeting of council on Oct. 10

Pilot project proposed for Sylvan Lake and Rimbey RCMP

Chief Superintendent Shahin Mehdizadeh spoke about the project at Tuesday’s meeting of council

Sylvan Lake shoreline flags wrongfully replaced by well-meaning citizen

Al Cameron of VVOC says a loose thread is not enough to replace the Canadian flags on lakeshore

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

‘The more you test, the more you find’: Beef recalls a sign of success, experts say

Despite appearances, experts say a recent rise in major recalls is not a sign of food supply problems

PODCAST: Journalism instructor discusses how reporters have taken on climate change

Mount Royal University’s Sean Holman has been researching how journalists have covered climate change

ELECTION 2019: Have Justin Trudeau’s Liberals really cut middle-class taxes?

Conservative Andrew Scheer vows to cut bottom bracket, NDP’s Jagmeet Singh targets wealth tax

Alberta truck convoy plans counter-protest at climate rally with Greta Thunberg

United We Roll organizer says similar protest planned for Swedish teen’s event in Edmonton

Alberta takes second look at trucking changes after meeting Broncos families

Transportation minister has said government was reviewing rules for school bus drivers and farmers

Male pedestrian dead after collision with train in Blackfalds

Man from Red Deer pronounced dead at the scene

‘Sky didn’t fall:’ Police, lawyers still adjusting after pot legalization

Statistics Canada says 541 people were charged under the federal Cannabis Act between Oct. 17, 2018 and the end of the year

Fewer people prescribed opioids in Canada. but some provinces lack data: doctors

Patients who began taking opioids were prescribed smaller doses for shorter duration

Most Read