Thirty-three leading science and conservation organizations have released the State of the Birds report for 2022 and the results are mainly grim.
- More than half of U.S. bird species are declining.
- Grassland birds are among the fastest declining with a 34% loss since 1970.
- Waterbirds and ducks in the U.S. have increased by 18% and 34% during the same period.
- 70 newly identified Tipping Point species 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 if nothing changes. They include beloved gems such as Rufous Hummingbirds, songsters such as Golden-winged Warblers, and oceanic travelers such as Black-footed Albatrosses.
There are some not so well known birds on the list such as the Ashy Storm-Petrel and the Cassia Crossbill, but many are familiar species: Allen’s Hummingbird, Chimney Swift, Ruddy Turnstone, and Tricolored Blackbird, for example.
Over the past 50 years, three billion birds – one in four breeding birds – have disappeared from the U.S. and Canada. The primary reason for the decline is disappearance or degradation of habitat. The birds that are doing the best are waterfowl, thanks to various programs that support wetlands, such as Ducks Unlimited. Certain gamebirds also increased. Turkey and grouse numbers are up 25%, and waterfowl have increased 56% over the past 50 years due to efforts of organizations like the National Wild Turkey Foundation.
No question that organizations whose underlying motive is hunting have provided the funding and energy to save habitats for waterfowl and other game birds. Although their focus is narrow – saving habitats for species that they can shoot – the end result is that a lot of other species, birds as well as mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, also benefit.
Many years ago, at the urging of colleagues, I took up hunting: ducks, deer, rabbits, and dove, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was certainly no threat to wildlife, bagging only two ducks, a rabbit, and a dove in a year. None of which tasted any good. After a dozen or so adventures, I found the sport unpalatable.
In 2006 there were 15 million people in the U.S. who participated in hunting. In 2020, the number was the same. In that time, 33 million people were added to the U.S. population. So although the number of hunters stayed the same, it was a decrease in the proportion of hunters to the general population. Fewer people overall are interested in hunting and more in conservation. Nearly two thirds of the population sees environmental protection as a priority today, compared to 40% in 2006.
There needs to be some mechanism to protect songbirds and other non-hunted species besides adjunct benefits as part of a hunting arrangement. There are many organizations that purchase and/or protect land as habitat (Nature Conservancy, for example.) But the State of the Birds demonstrates that those efforts are not sufficient. I’m not sure how non-hunters can emulate the well-funded efforts of Ducks Unlimited or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, but we should try.