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The birds are dying

Friday, Sep 20, 2019

* Vox

One of the great environmental crises today — and there are many — is the loss of biodiversity on planet Earth. Human actions have lead to an extinction rate higher than anything seen on Earth in the last 10 million years, as a sweeping UN report recently explained. It’s estimated the average vertebrate (bird, fish, mammal, amphibian) population has lost around 60 percent of its individual members since the 1970s.

Scientists keep telling us that something is going devastatingly wrong in the natural world. Today, a study in Science focuses on the birds of North America, and the results are again eye-opening and grim.

A team of scientists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and several conservation groups, have estimated North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970. That’s an estimated decline of 30 percent in the total bird population. In other words: More than one in four birds has disappeared from American skies in the last 50 years.

A 30 percent population decline since I was eight years old. Wow.

* The Illinois angle in the Tribune

Jim Herkert, executive director of the Illinois Audubon Society, has been studying data for our state that further confirms the Cornell study’s findings: “Over the past 10 years, my estimate is that Illinois is losing about 1.4 million birds per year,” Herkert says. That’s a decline, he points out, that is continuing. And though it’s a small percentage of a large population of birds, “it’s big. And it’s certainly not a sustainable rate of decline.” […]

[Doug Stotz, senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum], who has spent years in the agricultural zones of Illinois documenting bird populations, says the shift to industrialized agricultural starting around the 1970s is a major habitat change for birds that has undoubtedly had an impact on the decline. “The intensification of agriculture doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else out there.” […]

“Fifty years ago, if you went out into the agricultural fields in Illinois, a lot of the grassland birds were still in them,” says Stotz. “Today, if you go out there, there’s nothing.” […]

Though it seems counterintuitive, “cities can be a refuge for wildlife,” says Stotz. Chicago’s backyards, lakefront and network of forest preserves have helped to nurture wildlife for decades and continue to provide habitat for species such as raptors, a group of birds that rebounded after use of the pesticide DDT was discontinued. “There’s habitat in cities,” Stotz says, “and there’s potential for a whole lot more.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Amalia - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 10:28 am:

    the birds are dying? maybe it’s the family of hawks in my back yard.

  2. - Rabid - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 10:33 am:

    It’s the loss of habitat efficient harvesting that leaves nothing behind

  3. - Blake - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 10:38 am:

    There’s also evidence that more deer can mean fewer birds. Example:

  4. - Rabid - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 10:39 am:

    There is no more earthworms in the farmers fields

  5. - Last Bull Moose - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    Pheasants Forever has maintained a lot of habitat. Maybe we need a Songbirds Forever.

    I know that pesticides are having the side effect of hurting bird populations. Some are directly poisoning the birds. They are also reducing insect populations that are food for the birds.

  6. - Concerned - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:09 am:

    Is this the canary in the mine?

  7. - Italianguy626 - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:14 am:

    Increasing the number of wind farms certainly isn’t helping:

  8. - Blago's Hare - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:16 am:

    I’m with Amalia on this one. The number of predatory birds has risen significantly over the last 50 years.

  9. - RNUG - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:17 am:

    In the pursuit of maximum yield, most fields no longer have fence rows of trees. And fields are now plowed and planted almost all the way to the roadways and waterways, then the remaining brush in the ditched gets mowed down several times a year. That is a lot of habitat that has disappeared.

  10. - PrairieDog - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:19 am:

    “industrialized agriculture” is a cheap, easy scapegoat. The shift from general farming, which included livestock production(requiring hay and pasture) to intensive row-crop production certainly has decreased songbird habitat. But blaming “industrialized agriculture” is to gloss over the many factors, economic, technological, social, and others, which has caused that shift. I’m not sure “pesticides” generally are particularly to blame, either, but I’m sure that explanation appeals to people with a certain mindset.

  11. - Anon221 - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:29 am:

    From the American Bird Conservancy link posted above:

    “ Poorly sited wind turbines could be next in line for enhanced scrutiny.”

    Siting matters. It’s not NIMBYism. We, as taxpayers and landowners, have been investing in restoration activities such as CRP, CREP, pollinator habitats, sites like Emiquon for decades. Poorly planned and sited industrial wind complexes can disrupt, displace, or destroy migration routes, habitats, and nesting areas. Is that really worth the Renewable Energy Credit tradeoff for the state or a coffee franchise?

  12. - Donnie Elgin - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:29 am:

    Residents should think about planting native varieties in their yards. The state/feds have funding opportunities for land-owners to create agricultural conservation easements.

  13. - Anon221 - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:33 am:

    Excellent website to track migrations…

  14. - Amalia - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:50 am:

    like the link from Donnie Elgin. it with or without such funding opportunities. plant native plants in your yard and you will use less water. take out some…or all…of your lawn and plant native plants. don’t water your lawn. really. it will come back after the super dry month of july. grow vegetables, including dill, which attracts swallowtails…find their caterpillars. don’t use chemicals on your lawn or plants. buy beneficial insects.

    public entities should require that all plantings are native plants. stop with the flowers in flowers out mentality. let dandelions bloom, unless you use organic methods. dandelions attract honeybees. and the circle goes round to the birds….

  15. - Wensicia - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 11:57 am:

    It’s no coincidence that a lot of the insects and other small prey birds feed on are disappearing as well.

  16. - 33rd ward - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    The insects were first. Thanks to pesticides and big corporate farming practices.

    Next comes the birds.

    Mammels will follow.

  17. - Downstate Illinois - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    Considering the aforementioned U.N. report was a bunch of bunk I’d say the same about this report. Wildlife diversity has increased in Illinois over the last half century.

    If birds are dying it must be the wind farms and solar outdoor ovens.

  18. - Rich Miller - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:23 pm:

    ===If birds are dying it must be===

    Whatever makes me mad!

    Fixed it for ya

  19. - Don't Bloc Me In - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:29 pm:

    I hope this news gets everyone’s attention, but I’m not hopeful that, in the current political atmosphere, anything will be done. This decline is real, and has been noticed by birders for years. I remember watching hundreds of chimney swifts funnel into church steeples or chimneys at dusk, but haven’t seen this in years. I remember walking into woodlands on a spring morning to hear so much bird song it was difficult to distinguish individual species.

    Reversing the decline will be complex. The largest land use in Illinois is agriculture, perhaps most effort should focus there. Let’s not use terms such as “industrialized agriculture,” which are too general, and tend to trigger less helpful discussions. What has changed on farms in the last 50 years? Loss of livestock, loss of grassland for livestock, less small grain and hay in crop rotations, tilling and cropping closer to field edges, more land cleared for crops, more mowing of non-cropped areas, and a huge increase in insecticides and herbicides. Yields have increased and profits, also. I have benefited from this, too.

    Many bird species saw some increase with the onset of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the mid-1980’s. Now CRP, a Federal program, has a lot less funding, contracts are expiring, and fields are returning to crops. Public demand could help reverse this.

    Non-farmers don’t get off without bearing responsibility. Woodlands are destroyed as habitat when turned into house lots, no matter how large the lots are. First comes a lawn, lights, then cats and dogs. Whippoorwills are one casualty.

    Wind farms do kill birds, and I’ve heard bats suffer even more. Wind farms are never sited with wildlife in mind, even if their environmental assessments say otherwise. I have personal experience with this.

    It’s also important to realize that migratory birds spend part of the year in another place. Declines in their populations can also be due to conditions in those places or along the migratory route.

  20. - brickle - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:34 pm:

    @33rd ward, Wensicia

    exactly. insect biomass is dropping 2.5% a year. a 2017 study in Germany found a 75% decrease in flying insects over the past 30 years there.

    planet’s dyin’, Cloud

  21. - JS Mill - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    = Wildlife diversity has increased in Illinois over the last half century.

    If birds are dying it must be the wind farms and solar outdoor ovens.=

    Good to know that the cuckoo population is strong though.

  22. - M - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:40 pm:

    When the canaries stop singing, Run…

  23. - Not a Billionaire - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 12:43 pm:

    One thing under Illinois control is bobwhite. DNR could close the season since they are almost extinct here. The latest data is on their Upland Wildlife website.

  24. - Anon221 - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:00 pm:

    JS Mill- don’t lump all “cuckoos” together;)

    Some are having a harder time in Illinois due to habitat and food loss.

    If you hear a “whoop, whoop,whoop” call it may be this bird.

  25. - JB13 - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    Anyone considered cats?

  26. - JS Mill - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:06 pm:

    =JS Mill- don’t lump all “cuckoos” together;)=


    As an avid upland game hunter I can attest to the diminished pheasant population and nonexistent quail population.

    Farming practices are definitely a factor, another factor is the increase in skunk and opossum population since nobody really (very very few) traps or hunts them anymore. Hawks are definitely more prevalent as well.

    Interestingly enough (at least to me) turkeys, eagles and turkey vulture populations in central Illinois have been rising rapidly. 15 years ago you would rarely see a turkey vulture or wild turkey, it has been common place for 5 plus years now.

  27. - IllinoisBoi - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:30 pm:

    ==Anyone considered cats?==

    It’s been estimated that cats kills nearly 4 billion birds in the US annually. Far more than wind turbines (about 200,000 birds in the US annually). Our furry feline friends also kill billions of small mammals (and not just ones we don’t like, such as mice).

  28. - DoingHumanThings - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:33 pm:

    Tangentially related, but I just noticed an article that the WIU Quad Cities campus is looking into what they can do to help keep birds safe from running into the windows on campus.

  29. - Anon221 - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:44 pm:

    JS Mill- one reason mesopredators ( yes, that is a scientific term) such as raccoons, skunks, and possums may be on the rise in certain areas is because their predators, namely coyotes, have been hunted down. Then the meso populations increase, and they tend to prey on the smaller birds and ground nesters more.

    To IllinoisBoi- lame argument when it comes to raptors. Kitty does not kill eagles or hawks or owls. Wind turbines do. And these Apex predators do not reproduce at the same rate as their prey. So keep singing that tired tune.

    “Attempts to measure and mitigate the effects of wind turbines on wildlife have been an integral part of wind-energy development. Raptors are among the species known to be most strongly affected by wind turbines, mostly through direct mortality and secondarily through habitat alteration and loss.Mar 1, 2018”–Case-Studies-From-Around/10.3356/JRR-16-100.1.pdf

  30. - revvedup - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:50 pm:

    I wouldn’t rush to tear out a lawn to put in other plants, since modern varieties of lawn grasses can be water-limited without harm. I have some type of
    Zoysia grass. Never water it, haven’t fertilized in years, tough to kill (had a drought; it browned out and came back when we have some rain), grows in sun or partial shade. Tearing out a few thousand square feet isn’t going to happen, and does more harm.

  31. - Enviro - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 1:50 pm:

    Perhaps it is the many causes of climate change that are killing our birds. Today children around the world are marching in a Climate Change Strike. We should listen to them.

  32. - Anonanonsir - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 2:17 pm:

    Chicagoland is known for nighthawks — they eat bugs — and I used to hear one or more at most hours of the night throughout the summer.
    In the past couple of years I haven’t heard them, except maybe briefly in May when they come up from South America.
    Anecdotal but it makes you wonder.

  33. - Cats - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 2:19 pm:

    re cats and birds, even if you do believe that this is a big cause, the numbers are wildly all over the place, from 1 billion to 4 billion . that is because the methods of estimating are off, don’t accurately count cats without owners. Please help take down the population of cats because you care about cats. feral fixes, trap neuter and release. kitties belong at home because THEY are in more danger outdoors than birds who can fly away from them.

  34. - Amalia - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 2:47 pm:

    Cats was me….jeez, so tired from the heat.

  35. - BluegrassBoy - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 2:56 pm:

    Window strikes during the migration. Here is some data from a favorite blogger.

  36. - Jibba - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 3:05 pm:

    ==Wildlife diversity has increased in Illinois over the last half century.===

    Citation, please.

  37. - Biker - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 3:37 pm:

    As Enviro stated, today’s Climate Strike led by our youth can hopefully shake some of the apathy we’ve collectively gathered over the years and help us put our shoulder back to the wheel.

  38. - Biker - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 3:38 pm:

    Also, for the climate change deniers out there, here is the report for your review:

  39. - Not a Billionaire - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 4:15 pm:

    We don’t have good data on bird mortality at all but now we have small radio tracking so we can get cause specific mortality. This cat stuff is based on cat population densities that are not found in studies. Also cats don’t live wilderness. The story implies urban birds doing better.But Science did a big presser on this and stuck that paper behind a paywall.

  40. - Froganon - Friday, Sep 20, 19 @ 4:21 pm:

    We are in the middle of the Sixth Great Extinction. If everyone who has a yard planted a half to a third of it into trees and plants native to their part of the world, we could provide habitat and food for birds. Birds require insects to raise their young. Quit using pesticides and herbicides, plant natives, keep all cats inside and save our birds (and ourselves). Do your part, plant the right stuff.

  41. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Sep 24, 19 @ 7:17 pm:

    Its just a demographic shift. Even the birds don’t want to live in Illinois anymore.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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