Audubon WatchList 2007
Conservation Efforts in Arkansas Play Critical Role in Survival of Bird Species at Greatest Risk Some of the U.S.’s Most Imperiled Birds Make their Home in Arkansas
Unlike those birds on Audubon’s recent survey of Common Birds in Decline, these species are often rare and limited in range. Because of this, they face a more imminent threat of extinction. For many of them, conservation efforts in Arkansas as well as nationally will play a critical role in determining their future health and survival.
The WatchList is based on a comprehensive analysis of population size and trends, distribution, and environmental threats, informed by extensive scientific review. In Arkansas, 12 species on the “red list” are those of greatest concern, while the additional 29 merit their spots on the “yellow list” due to a combination of rarity and seriously declining numbers. Species found on both parts of the WatchList demand immediate help while there is still time to save them.
“All of us in Arkansas have an opportunity and responsibility to help protect our birds at greatest risk – including the endangered Least Tern and Red-cockaded Woodpecker,” said Ken Smith, Executive Director of Audubon Arkansas. “We need conservation action now, while there is still time – and WatchList helps focus that action where we need it most.”
Priority WatchList species found in Arkansas include:
• Interior Least Tern (protected by Endangered Species Act)
Sandbar nests on the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Red Rivers are vulnerable to flooding, encroachment of vegetation, predation, and human recreation. Statewide surveys and new research are providing insight into the status and habitat needs of this endangered species. Efforts are needed to restore natural seasonal river flow, maintain sandbars, and to protect breeding colonies when they occasionally nest on rooftops.
• Red-cockaded Woodpecker (protected by Endangered Species Act)
Habitat loss from logging, fire suppression, failure of pine regeneration, and human development have isolated populations and greatly reduced overall population size. Protection strategies developed through the Endangered Species Act, including prescribed fires and moving birds among colonies, are helping populations in Arkansas gradually recover. Additional restoration of open shortleaf and loblolly pine forest is needed for further population growth.
• Bell’s Vireo (not on the Endangered Species list)
Populations have significantly declined over the last 40 years due to habitat loss. Periodic fire or thinning is required to maintain dense shrubby patches interspersed among grasslands or woodlands. Habitat management for quail and other grassland birds may benefit Bell’s Vireos. Because the species is widespread though sparsely populated across Arkansas, private lands play as important a role to play as public lands in its protection.
• Swainson’s Warbler (not on the Endangered Species list)
This secretive species prefers canebrakes in bottomland hardwood forests. Sites such as the White River National Wildlife Refuge, St. Francis National Forest, and Big Island are state strongholds. Despite an increase in bottomland hardwood forest over the last several decades, warbler populations have declined due to excessive flooding and difficulties regenerating cane. On-going research into warbler habitat requirements and cane restoration will help.
• Bachman’s Sparrow (not on the Endangered Species list)
This species requires mature, open pine forest with wiregrass and broomsedge but few shrubs in the understory, a condition not found in the commercial pine plantations that dominate Arkansas’s southern region. A fire rotation of 2-3 years promotes grass growth and reduces woody vegetation. Management for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and quail helps this shy species as well.
Public support is crucial for the WatchList birds’ survival. “To secure a future for these species, concerned citizens must demand strong conservation provisions from state and federal lawmakers. Such provisions include: protection under the Endangered Species Act, expansion of the conservation title of the federal Farm Bill, appropriations to state and federal agencies charged with protecting our wildlife, and legislation that curbs greenhouse gas emissions and promotes energy conservation,” said Dan Scheiman, Ph.D., Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Arkansas.
Scheiman also said that volunteers working with Audubon and other conservation groups can play a critical role in collecting important data by taking part in bird monitoring projects. “Participating in the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and entering bird observations into eBird are all important ways to help ornithologists track bird populations nationally and around the globe,” said Scheiman. “Citizen action is needed to improve the outlook of our WatchList species.”