A Stunning New Study Shows How Fast North America’s Birds Are Disappearing

“It’s just staggering.”

UPPA-Nature/Zuma

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Bird populations are slowly but steadily dying off, solidifying their status as canaries in the ecological coal mine.

The North American bird population has declined by 3 billion, or 27 percent, since 1970, according to an extensive study published Thursday in Science. The authors of the study used population data from bird-watchers and biomass data from weather radars to calculate the decline. A majority of the 529 bird species studied experienced population loss, even species we tend to think of as abundant, such as warblers and blackbirds.

“We were stunned by the result—it’s just staggering,” Kenneth V. Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University and the lead author of the survey, told the New York Times

In addition to habitat loss, birds are suffering from the widespread use of pesticides, which kills the insects they eat. The study warns that the loss of birds could threaten ecosystems that depend on them as pollinators, predators, and prey, as the Washington Post explains.

Still, the populations of some species, like ducks and geese, are increasing thanks to conservation efforts. Other species, like vireos—small, grayish migratory songbirds that live throughout North America—are increasing as well, though scientists aren’t exactly sure why. The study was designed to quantify bird populations, but not to explain the factors affecting them.

Rosenberg told the Post that decreased pesticide use through sustainable agriculture is one thing that could help restore bird populations.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.