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Ten billion migratory birds arrive in North America but threats increasing

Millions of Americans enjoy the return of migratory songbirds and shorebirds each spring – an annual event celebrated by International Migratory Bird Day which this year falls on Saturday May 12. However, the return of fewer birds of many vulnerable species is prompting concern among conservation groups.

“This weekend sees the peak of spring songbird migration across much of North America. The marvel of millions of migratory birds returning each year is something to pass on to future generations – by taking action now we can ensure this great natural phenomena can be celebrated by our children and their children,” said Dr. George Fenwick, President of ABC.

More than one third of the 650 bird species that breed in the U.S. now have declining populations, are restricted to small ranges, or face serious threats. Conservationists are particularly concerned about species such as the Cerulean Warbler, a beautiful blue and white songbird that has lost as much as 70% of its population in the past 40 years and which has become a flagship species for songbird declines. Other species of particular concern are the eastern Red Knot, a shorebird which has declined by 90% since the early 1990s, and the Long-billed Curlew, which has lost over one-third of its breeding habitat to development.

Each year, an estimated 2.5 billion birds are also killed inadvertently in the U.S. due to human activities. Such bird mortality includes collisions with lighted buildings and communication towers, pesticide poisoning, and free-roaming cat predation. Two million acres of bird habitat are also lost to development annually. New concerns over the potential impacts of climate change, especially among coastal, alpine, and Arctic bird species; as well as the spread of corn for biofuels which may replace vital bird habitats; and poorly placed wind farms that can kill thousands of birds are also causing serious concern. The combination of mass mortality and serious habitat loss poses a grave risk to many bird species across all regions and habitats.

“We’ve all heard of the canary in the coalmine – it is clearly time to heed a warning here” said Mike Parr, Vice President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC).

To counter these threats ABC and its allies in the Bird Conservation Alliance are calling for increased federal funding for bird conservation programs – such as the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act – and engaging in a range of conservation actions aimed at reversing songbird declines. Please see a fact sheet on protecting the Cerulean Warbler and other migratory birds linked to below.

International Migratory Bird Day itself is highlighting the threat posed to birds by climate change. Other initiatives aimed at conserving birds include the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, Partners in Flight, and the Bird Conservation Alliance. These programs and partnerships are building capacity among both public and private organizations to protect birds across the entire U.S. landscape. ABC also leads programs to reduce pesticide poisoning, to minimize cat predation, to halt the impacts of communications towers on birds, to protect key sites for birds, and to safeguard winter habitat in Central and South America for North American migratory species and rare endemic birds.

By Steve Holmer


12 May 2007