- Title: 'Staggering' number of birds have died off, and people are to blame -scientists
- Date: 19th September 2019
- Summary: TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND, UNITED STATES (SEPTEMBER 19, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) PETER MARRA, DIRECTOR OF THE GEORGETOWN ENVIRONMENT INITIATIVE AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY AND A CO-AUTHOR OF THE STUDY PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL SCIENCE, SAYING: "The good news is, is that nature is resilient once given a chance. So if, if we as humans act on this, if we start to really value nature, value birds, put policies into place that are going to protect these animals that we share in our common home, that these birds will respond over, respond rapidly. In five or 10 years, we could easily see some of these species starting to increase. It could happen that fast."
- Embargoed: 3rd October 2019 20:58
- Keywords: environment climate change birds
- Location: TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND, UNITED STATES/ UNKNOWN LOCATIONS
- City: TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND, UNITED STATES/ UNKNOWN LOCATIONS
- Country: USA
- Topics: Environment,Nature/Wildlife
- Reuters ID: LVA009AXBR807
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:From grasslands to seashores to forests and backyards, birds are disappearing at an alarming rate in the United States and Canada, with a 29% population drop since 1970 and a net loss of about 2.9 billion birds, scientists said on Thursday (September 19).
People are to blame, the researchers said, citing factors including widespread habitat loss and degradation, broad use of agricultural chemicals that eradicate insects vital to the diet of many birds, and even outdoor hunting by pet cats.
"What we found was staggering," said Peter Marra, director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative at Georgetown University and a co-author of the study published in the journal Science.
"It's depressing that there was a decline in over twenty nine percent of birds 3 billion birds lost over those 50 years. Birds that make up some of the most common species that we've been that we see red and black birds warblers thrushes Eastern metal a whole suite of species across diverse families. It was it was quite depressing."
Most of the losses were not among rare species, but common ones across nearly every bird family and all habitats. They included sparrows, swallows, blackbirds, thrushes, finches, warblers and meadowlarks.
Some 90% of the total loss came from just 12 bird families and 19 widespread bird species such as the dark-eyed junco, common grackle and house sparrows. Each of those species lost more than 50 million individuals.
"It's also happening with other organisms. Insect declines are now being seen in a variety of places. Monarch butterflies, one in the North America landscape that people have talked about for a long time, amphibian declines are happening. And it's not just terrestrial. When you go out and look in the oceans: tuna stocks have declined, salmon stocks have declined. Lots of marine organisms are being impacted in horrible ways. And collectively, what this says is that we're looking at a massive ecosystem decay. And why that's important is: we as humans depend on this environment on this ecosystem just as much as these other organisms do," Marra added.
The researchers tracked populations of 529 species using decades of bird counts taken on the ground as well as weather radar data that revealed similar declines in the volume of migratory birds.
Grassland birds were particularly hard hit, with a 53% reduction in population, amid agricultural intensification.
Shorebirds, reliant on sensitive coastal habitats, sustained a 37% drop. Most shorebirds are migratory and experienced habitat degradation and destruction in many locales where they migrate. In addition, many shorebirds breed in Arctic regions rapidly changing due to climate change.
The researchers documented a steep decline for migratory birds. They noted broad declines among birds that migrate to the tropics, where there have been devastating rates of habitat loss and degradation. Migrating birds also face threats at their stopover sites and on their North American breeding grounds.
The researchers said other studies have documented worrisome bird population losses in other parts of the world.
While climate change was not the major driver of the population plunge, it is likely to exacerbate the existing threats to bird populations in the future, researchers said.
The researchers said the extinction in the early 20th century of the passenger pigeon, once likely the most numerous bird on Earth numbering in the billions, showed that even abundant species can go extinct rapidly.
"What can people do is the really the important question," said Marra. "Make sure you keep your own cat indoors. Plant native plants over non-native plants. This supports a really rich insect base that birds depend on to live. But you can also support decision makers that are pro-environment both at local-- in your own town-- as well as state and national levels. We have to protect our air. We have to protect our water streams."
Some types of birds showed gains. Banning the pesticide DDT allowed for the resurgence of raptor populations including the bald eagle, the researchers said. Waterfowl management policies including wetland protection and restoration enabled ducks and geese to thrive, they added.
"The good news is that nature is resilient once given a chance. So if if we as humans act on this, if we start to really value nature, value birds, put policies into place that are going to protect these animals that we share in our common home, that these birds will respond over, respond rapidly. In five or 10 years, we could easily see some of these species starting to increase. It could happen that fast," he added.
(Production: Kevin Fogarty, Arlene Eiras)
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