State of the Birds Report: Common Birds In Decline
Disappearing Common Birds Send Environmental Wake-up Call
The national study found that populations of some common birds nosedived over the past 40 years, with several down nearly 80 percent. In Arkansas, some widespread birds such as the Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark, and Prothonotary Warbler have declined from 60 to over 90 percent, mirroring or exceeding nationwide trends. The dramatic declines are attributed to the loss of healthy grasslands, forests, wetlands, and other critical habitats from multiple environmental threats such as urban sprawl, energy development, and the spread of industrialized agriculture. The study notes that these threats are now compounded by new and broader problems including the escalating effects of global warming and demand for corn-based ethanol.
“Now is the time for worried citizens to act.” said Ken Smith, Executive Director of Audubon Arkansas, “We need to keep our common birds common, and keep them off the endangered species list. Urban sprawl in central Arkansas and northwest Arkansas have devastated our bird populations. In the Mississippi Delta, row-crop agriculture that stretches from county road to county road leaves no wildlife habitat. And in the Fayetteville Shale, the impact of energy development is yet to be determined, but the threat to our forests and streams is real.
Species especially hard hit in Arkansas and the reasons for their decline in the state include:
• Northern Bobwhite populations are down at least 70 percent, and have diminished throughout Arkansas mainly due to loss of suitable habitat to development, agricultural expansion, the planting of exotic grasses, and plantation-style forestry practices.
• Field Sparrow populations in the state are down nearly 77 percent due in part to expanding agriculture, forestry, and urban development.
• Eastern Meadowlarks, down 67 percent, are threatened by the loss of grasslands to industrialized agricultural practices. Further, the potential conversion of acres currently protected for conservation to biofuel crops like corn puts meadowlarks at even greater risk.
• Loggerhead Shrikes inhabit open farmlands and pastures across the state but show population declines of nearly 92 percent amid increasing habitat damage and loss from intensive agricultural practices.
• Prothonotary Warblers that breed in wooded swamps, river bottoms, and sloughs are losing ground due to loss of bottomland hardwood forests and channelization of waterways. Populations are down approximately 85 percent.
Public support is crucial for the future of Arkansas’s Common Birds in Decline. “With 90 percent of Arkansas in private ownership, average citizens can make a big contribution to conserving our birds,” said Dan Scheiman, Ph.D., Director of Bird Conservation. “There are many things that individuals can do to help make a difference, such as enroll marginal farmland in conservation programs, or support legislation that promotes wildlife habitat management on public and private lands.”
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,” said Scheiman.
More information about Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline analysis is available at audubon.org.