Where Have All the Birdies Gone?

On January 26, 2020, as part of our Fourth Tuesday virtual lecture series, former CREA Board member Dr. Barbara Snapp, delivered a sobering account of the state of the world’s birds – tempered with suggestions of what we can do to slow losses and rebuild populations. You can watch her presentation here and view her powerpoint here. With a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology plus years of research and observation under her belt, Barbara knows birds.

Her main message was that bird populations are declining almost everywhere and climate change will increase challenges to bird health and survival. Since 1970, we have lost 1 in 4 birds across the globe. In Maine, some of the biggest declines have occurred among woodthrushes, white-throated sparrows, and rusty blackbirds.

Grassland birds are particularly affected due to loss of habitat. The good news is that some species are less affected, such as wetland birds, vireos, raptors, turkeys, and grouse. (Here in Maine, we can confirm the health of the turkey population!)

Climate change is affecting birds in many ways. Bird ranges are moving north, shorebirds are losing habitat as sea level rises, seasonal shifts are affecting food supplies, and more. In our region, chief threats to bird populations are spring heat waves, heavy rains, and urbanization.

What can we do to help birds in Maine (and elsewhere)? Think globally, act locally.

  • #1 – Keep cats inside – they are the largest single, human-associated cause of bird kills (2.6 billion birds/yr).
  • Support climate action policy in Maine.
  • Advocate for protective laws like the Endangered Species Act or support organizations that do.
  • Put bird decals on your windows to prevent bird strikes.
  • Plant native plants that provide the insect food, cover, and habitat birds need to breed and thrive.
  • Reduce plastic use (it degrades into microplastics and gets into the food chain).
  • Avoid pesticides (birds eat it and it reduces insects – aka bird food).
  • Drink shade-grown coffee that provides important habitat for migrating birds. 
  • Become a citizen scientist – participate in Project Feederwatch and E-bird
  • Support land conservation that permanently protects bird habitat, such as your local land trust (Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust).

Here are links to some additional resources cited in Barbara’s talk: