A book written by Rachel Carson and published in 1962 called "Silent Spring" warned of a world of endless quiet once pesticides had decimated the bird population. Now, experts are concerned about just how prophetic the book could be.
A new study published in the journal Science has stated that the bird population of the United States is decreasing dramatically, with the population dropping by 29% since the mid century. That means a 3 billion drop in the average bird population, which is a staggering number.
Bird species have gone extinct before and scientists are aware that some species are more vulnerable than others, but one shocking thing that the survey of 500 species (a team of researchers from universities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations collaborated on the new study, ) had found was that sparrows and robins were also in sharp decline. Both birds are part of what were until then considered abundant populations.
David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, called the findings “a full-blown crisis.”
Like the sharp decline in the bee population, man-made circumstances like rampant habitat destruction and the use of pesticides and blamed for the drop in numbers.
“Declines in your common sparrow or other little brown bird may not receive the same attention as historic losses of bald eagles or sandhill cranes, but they are going to have much more of an impact,” said Hillary Young, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the new research.
Since birds are necessary for the ecosystem, especially in terms of the way they interact with the insect population, this has experts deeply alarmed.
“We were stunned by the result — it’s just staggering,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, and the lead author of the new study.
“It’s not just these highly threatened birds that we’re afraid are going to go on the endangered species list,” he said. “It’s across the board.”
An editorial by Drs. John W. Fitzpatrick and Peter P. Marra published in the New York Times stated the case plainly:
As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent.
What makes this study particularly compelling is the trustworthiness of the data. Birds are the best-studied group of wildlife; their populations have been carefully monitored over decades by scientists and citizen scientists alike. And in recent years, scientists have been able to track the volume of nighttime bird migrations through a network of 143 high-resolution weather radars. This study pulls all of that data together, and the results signal an unfolding crisis. More than half our grassland birds have disappeared, 717 million in all. Forests have lost more than one billion birds.
Despite this grim news, there are conservation groups out there taking steps to help redress the damage done by humanity. 3BillionBirds.org has a campaign running to raise awareness of the issue and to teach people positive solutions to help.
Partnered with the Audubon Society, the Smithsonian, Cornell's department of ornithology and others, 3Billion Birds advocate common sense habits include using pesticide free plants, supporting efforts to reduce our dependence on disposable plastics, and keeping your home environment less harmful to local species.
It's a rough path back to help these endangered populations, but the birds are worth it.