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Common Birds “In Steep Decline”

Species at risk in Maryland are a roll call of birds we know and love

A report from the National Audubon Society warns that “more than half our birds are threatened by global warming;” but some wetland-dependent bird populations are near historic highs, like the northern shoveler. << photo by Mike Brewer >>

Make room for more.    
    The Vanished Birds of North America, now on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., features passenger pigeons, Carolina parakeets and heath hens.
    But two new reports tell us that list may soon be much longer.
    Thirty-three species common in the United States are “in steep decline” according to the 2014 State of the Birds Report from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.
    Owls, ducks, warblers, sparrows and even gulls are on the list of birds that have “lost more than half their global population over the past four decades.” Species include birds we know well, from the northern pintail to the eastern meadowlark to the pine siskin to the herring gull to the common grackle.
    Worse is the news from the National Audubon Society. The “largest and most comprehensive examination of birds and climate change” reports that “more than half our birds are threatened by global warming.”
    By 2080, 314 of 588 species studied “will lose at least half of their current ranges.”
    Species at risk in Maryland are a roll call of birds we know and love, from the iconic — but seldom seen — Baltimore oriole to the yellow-bellied sapsucker, wild turkey, hooded merganser, bufflehead, even the black vulture, mallard and bald eagle.
    Both studies leave room for hope. State of the Birds 2014 concludes from annual breeding bird surveys in the U.S. and Canada that some wetland-dependent bird populations are at or near historic high levels. Mallards, gadwalls, both blue- and green-winged teal and northern shovelers are prospering because of a couple decades of good rain in their breeding grounds. But their good fortune doesn’t extend to species like the northern pintail that depend on puddles that come and go.
    Nor, given climate change, is the future bright for all those waterfowl.
    Which leads to the second cause for hope.
    “To give birds a fighting chance, two actions are critical,” write Audubon scientists David Yarnold and Gary Langham in the Washington Post in a September 9 commentary accompanying the release of the report. Those actions? “Protecting the places that we know birds will need today and in the future, and reducing the pace and severity of global warming.”
    We can. But will we?