Originally published on BarryNerhus.com
Given the magnitude of today’s environmental issues, there are an array of subjects that fall under the scope of “at risk.” Few things are more of an indicator of a depleting environment than the decline of a species. With how much of an emphasis we place on the extinction of a species, we tend to ignore declines in others despite how large of an impact this has on the surrounding ecosystem.
A loss of abundance of certain species affects nearly every living organism in its habitat. The services they provide to their local environment contribute to the bigger picture of “ecological, evolutionary, economic, and social aspects.” Measuring this enormous impact requires long-term studying of a species’ population size, its trends, and very specific data that can be challenging to obtain.
With all of that said, birds are perhaps the biggest indicator of our environment’s health today due to the fact that we have seen both an increase and decrease in North American avifauna populations over the last 50 years. Grassland birds, specifically, were shown to have the largest drop in population numbers since 1970, which equated to a staggering 74% decline. Wetland birds, on the other hand, were the only biome to see growth, with a 56% increase in all waterfowl populations. Over 90% of bird populations lost can be traced back to 12 specific types, some of which being sparrows, finches, and blackbirds. While this study does not focus solely on one species to determine more specific statistics, it does indicate that there has been an enormous drop in migratory bird species, totaling roughly 3 billion birds across the continent.
Taking into consideration certain birds’ roles within their respective ecosystems, the effects of these widespread declines can and will be seen far and wide. They are highly important in dispersing seeds and nourishing tree populations, as well as pollination of flowers and pest control to prevent a decline in plantae. However, hope is not lost in recovering bird populations across North America.
“Adaptive harvest management” in the ecosystems of wetland birds, such as ducks, egrets, rails, and geese, attributed to a restoration of these species through billions of dollars spent on wetland protection. This serves as a blueprint for environmental conservation in other habitats experiencing avifauna declines.
More research must be done to accurately identify why we have seen such dramatic losses within the last few decades, and we must put more policies in place to combat environmental and climate change. We as a society must do our part as well. Get involved with local organizations dedicated to conserving bird populations. Avoid using pesticides and plastics. Set up bird feeders and bird baths around your neighborhood. While small, these efforts contribute to a bigger picture when done on a larger scale and can prevent rapid declines in bird populations.