Bird watchers all over New Jersey have been feeling something amiss.
“I see lots of backyard birds like cardinals and robins, but I have to search harder to find birds that thrive in more natural habitats,” says Dr. Emile DeVito, staff biologist at New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “The birds are all still out there, but not in the numbers I remember in the 1970s, when trees were dripping with birds.”
Unfortunately, these gut feelings about diminishing birds have been verified. A groundbreaking new study published in the journal Science has concluded that North America’s bird population has shrunk by nearly 3 billion in the past half-century. That means there are 25 percent fewer birds alive today in the United States and Canada than there were in 1970.
“We were astounded by this net loss across all birds on our continent,” said Cornell Lab of Ornithology conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg, who led an international team in analyzing population trends for 529 bird species. The bird losses, Rosenberg added, are “a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.”
According to the study, grassland birds like bobolinks and meadowlarks were the hardest hit, with a 53 percent loss in population over the past 50 years. Shorebirds like sandpipers lost 37 percent of their population. Eastern forest birds lost about 17 percent of their population, and losses of Western forest birds, boreal forest birds and Arctic tundra birds were higher.
These losses can be blamed on many factors: insecticides, climate change, invasive species and destructive land use practices throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The study is sobering, but Eric Stiles, New Jersey Audubon Society President and CEO, hopes birders and nature enthusiasts will view it as “a rallying call to action” rather than a reason to give up.