Bird Populations Are Shrinking In Nearly Every U.S. Habitat, Study Finds

More than half of U.S. bird species are declining.

Rufous Hummingbird bird
Photo: Devonyu/Getty Images

A new study paints a grim picture for America's birds.

The 2022 U.S. State of the Birds report found that more than half of U.S. bird species are declining. Grassland birds have seen the fastest decline, with a 34% loss since 1970, followed by shorebirds, with a 33% loss.

Of particular concern are the 70 newly identified Tipping Point species, each of which have each lost 50% or more of their populations in the past 50 years, and are on a track to lose another half in the next 50 years, making them likely candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. These include the beloved rufous hummingbird, the golden-winged warbler, and the black-footed albatross.

The 2022 State of the Birds report is the first assessment of the nation's birds since a 2019 study found that the U.S. and Canada have lost more than 3 billion birds (1 in 4) in the past 50 years. Scientists attribute this broad trend of decline to a combination of habitat loss, climate change, predation by domestic cats, invasive species, and other threats.

But it's not all bad news: waterfowl are thriving.

According to the report, populations of ducks, geese, and swans are increasing. Ruth Bennett, an ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Migratory Bird Center and co-producer of the State of the Birds report, points to the decades of conservation action taken by hunters and fishers to preserve these habitats so they could continue hunting.

"Without the hunting and fishing community these birds would have had the same trajectory as all these other species," Bennett explained to Smithsonian Magazine. "Hunting groups and federal agencies recognized that these birds were declining and took action. It's really a conservation success story and it goes to show what's possible when there is enough money and political will to protect birds."

Conservationists stress that the health of bird populations reflects the health of our ecosystems, and that improving conditions for birds can also improve conditions for humans.

"People and wildlife face many of the same threats, and we know that when we invest in conserving and restoring birds and other species, we also are investing in clean water, clean air, thriving ecosystems and vibrant parks and public lands," Corina Newsome, associate conservation scientist with National Wildlife Federation, said in a press release. "The State of the Birds report is a clarion call for us all to help address the wildlife crisis and equip our state, Tribal, and territorial wildlife managers with the tools and funds they need to strengthen our shared stewardship of birds and the diversity of life that depends on them."

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