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

“It’s just staggering.”

UPPA-Nature/Zuma

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.

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

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.