Birds in Crisis?

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

SONAB_450I get emails — lots of emails in lots of different email accounts.  Many of these emails are fundraising emails — requests for financial support, offering memberships in their organizations, most of them advocating for some great cause.

Lately, I’ve been getting a series of emails once again telling me that North America’s birds are in crisis.

The most featured “fact” in these emails comes from the State of the Birds (2016) [SoTBs] report represented in this endlessly repeated image:

one_third_of_all_birds

I am a Bird Fan —  almost a Bird Groupie.  I like birds.  I watch birds do their birdy thing.  I campaign against feral cats because they are an invasive species that kills wild birds, especially low- and ground-nesting birds.  I use the eBird bird watching app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.   I have used it to report my bird sightings all over the East Coast of the US, the Bahamas, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

I get upset when I hear things like: “Birds Are In Crisis!  37% of all North American bird species — 423 species — are on the Watch List as being “most at risk of extinction without significant action”.

Who is sending out this alarming  information?   The National Audubon Society  and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) — which comprises nearly every environmental and conservation organization in the United States:

sponsors

If you can think of an organization that doesn’t  appear here, please let me know.  US Federal agencies appearing include the USDA, USGS, National Park Service, the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, US Department of Defense (really, on the right just under the US Forest Service),  US Department of the Interior, and NASA.  (Oddly absent  is the US Environmental Protection Agency.)

Canada and Mexico likewise have a number of governmental organizations represented.

I doubt very much that these agencies are actually given a major part in the production of this report — I’m sure they supply data if they have it — but I don’t think they have editorial input.

[Set off by yet another alarming fundraising email, I wrote to Cornell Lab of Ornithology about it and received a pleasant reply.   Now, I have to admit that I made an error — the Cornell Lab is rather mild in its alarm factor — and I should have written to the National Audubon Society — which is the real culprit in beating the alarm bell for birds.  So — for the record — I apologize to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and [mostly] absolve them from blame for Bird Extinction Alarmism.]

Audubon does not get off the hook — here is recent text from their home page:

We must act now.

While there’s still time.

We’re in a race against time — to give birds a fighting chance in a changing world.

Your gift is a vital investment in a healthy future for birds and their habitats.

Audubon’s mission is urgent. The open spaces and iconic landscapes that birds need to survive are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Birds and their habitats are under attack. We must act now to protect the species and places at risk.

With your help, we can fight back. We can protect birds and the places they call home — as long as we have people like you who will help.

My goodness, we’re running out of time!  It’s a race and we’re losing, the beleaguered underdog birds don’t have a fighting chance.  It’s urgent that we make an investment to prevent iconic landscapes from disappearing.  Birds and habitats are under attack….to protect them we can fight back to save the homes of birds. Gee, it’s almost like someone intentionally looked for words and phrases they could use to evoke an emotional response from the reader.   Well, of course they did — and that’s my point.

Maybe there is a crisis, after all, 37% of bird species in North America — 432 species in all — are on the Watch List of species that are “most at risk of extinction without significant action”.

I wrote about the birds being threatened by climate change in 2014 and 2015 — and there are some birds that are being affected by changes in their environments.  This is perfectly natural and is the way Nature works.  When there is an extended drought in the American Southwest, the birds there have less breeding success and their numbers fall to levels that are sustainable under drought conditions.  When farmers in the American Northeast let their hay fields and pastures go back to forests, grassland birds decline and transitional-forest birds expand.  When breeding habitat in the Arctic improves, with more vegetation and less cold stress, water birds (ducks, geese and the like) that breed there have boom times.

There are birds that are being affected by human development and land use.  That is regrettable but that too is perfectly normal and in keeping with the ways of Nature.  When hundreds of miles of previously wild seashore are turned into boardwalk-fronted walls of 4-story condominium apartments, nesting habitat is lost.  In Cocoa Beach, Florida, there is a strip of beach dunes 50-100 feet wide between the sunblock-coated-tourist-dominated beach and the concrete boardwalks and the condos. Each Spring and Summer, portions of the dunes are roped off with stakes and brightly colored string with signs urging people to stay out of the dunes because shore birds are nesting.  But human habitation brings with it predators:  domestic cats and dogs inevitably roam free on the beach dunes where they chase nesting birds, eat bird eggs and kill young birds.   Once all the beaches have been thus converted, there will be no place for beach nesting birds.

On islands, especially those off the shores of Mexico, humans have brought with them rats and cats, both of which can destroy breeding populations of sea and shore birds that breed there.  Goats and sheep eat up the under-story needed by birds for nesting. This is not, of course, anything new, it has gone on for centuries. Eradicating invasive predators from these islands leads to great success in preventing and reversing population declines.

Changes in agricultural practices change the availability of food sources for migrating birds — corn left to dry on the stalk instead of being machine harvested as dry grain — one practice scatters dry whole corn on a field while the other leaves it  covered and locked up on the cobs.  Adding one more cutting to the hay season runs the mowers over meadow and grassland bird nests.  Suppressing forest fires, eliminating forest clear-cutting and trapping out beaver robs the environment of recovering disturbed-forest environments and wet meadows marshes, critical to some birds.

In Nature, change brings about change.  As any study of population dynamics tells you, small changes in breeding success or carrying capacity of any of the environments needed by a species can have large and unexpected results on population totals.

Some changes brought about by humans can be changed back — fire-fighting practices can be changed — agricultural practices can be modified.  There are some changes that we will not be rolling back — cities will not be torn down, highways will not be ripped up, farms lands will not be abandoned in great quantities.   Nature will have to adjust.

Let’s Do The Numbers

Looking at the State of the Birds report, they claim that 432 species are “most at risk”.  That’s too many to take a close look at.  If we look at the Partners in Flight “Saving Our Shared Birds” report, from which the SoTBs report is drawn, we find a chart more amenable to review.  I’ve made a visual summary of the  “Species at Greatest Risk of Extinction“ chart  and include it at the bottom of the essay for those interested in the details [not all columns are shown in the summary – for the full chart, see the linked pdf, page 38-43].

In order to evaluate the SoTBs report in general, I’ll look ONLY at these 44 birds on the Partners In Flight chart of “Species at Greatest Risk”.  On this list of 44 species, 12 are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (considered the gold standard for information about species conservation status) in the two lowest categories of concern: Least Concern (LC) and NT  (Near Threatened).  There are 11 more listed by the IUCN as VU (Vulnerable).  That’s a total of 23, less than half of the Greatest Risk list, that are classified as less-than Endangered by the IUCN.

I will accept the IUCN’s rating for birds of Least Concern and Near Threatened — and will not consider them further here.  This eliminates 12 of the “Greatest Risk” birds from the start — I will leave it to the specialists to decide why there is so much disagreement between major groups.

Of these Greatest Risk bird species, there remain 32 that we might examine.  Rather than do so individually, it makes more sense to see if there are broad categories that can be considered together.

On this list of 44 birds at greatest risk are 19 which are marked  as threatened by future climate change.  Three of these are in the IUCN’s two lowest concern categories — and I suspect that the climate concern is overblown.

One more, the Cozumel thrasher, is marked Critically Endangered and possibly Extinct already.  Jim Steele informed me by email that its demise is blamed, by some, on climate “due to its disappearance after a hurricane”.   Other factors are more likely to be the true cause.  As we all know, the Yucatan has been raked by hurricanes repeatedly in the last century and one more hurricane is unlikely to be the reason for its disappearance.  Cozumel is a small island at the northern tip of the Yucatan facing the Caribbean Sea.  Island species with small initial populations are always at risk by even tiny disturbances.  Cozumel, in the meantime, has transitioned to a major international tourist destination — with all that implies for the local environment.

Highlighted in dark green, in the column Primary Habitat, we see 9 species listed as Tropical Highland Forests.  All nine of these are listed as threatened by climate change.  Many North American birds migrate in the winter to these forests in southern Mexico and northern Guatemala (as well as further south in Central and South America).  Those migrating bird species that require very specialized nesting environments, or have very small populations to begin with,  are those that are hardest hit by changes in the region.  The greatest threat to habitat is the ongoing massive deforestation for agriculture. Clearing forests for agriculture is hardly an effect of climate change.

Migration_Highland_Forests

Climate does play a role — these same tropical highlands forests are also the perfect habitat and climate for growing coffee — a major cash crop in the region.  The native forest is being converted to coffee plantings as a cash crop of vital importance to the poor farmers of the region.  Major conservation efforts are underway to modify the manner in which coffee is grown there in order to preserve the native habitat.  This presents a difficult social/environmental problem and a variety of solutions are being tried.

In the Dominican Republic, in the northern Caribbean,  a long-term project funded in part by the humanitarian NGO that my wife and I directed was encouraging and helping the local people living on the dry western facing slopes of  Cordillero Central (central mountain range)  to reforest the area by inter-planting  multi-story perma-culture stands of native trees with cash crops, such as coffee, lime and avocado  in the under-story, along with annual subsistence food crops at ground level.  This provided a vibrant environment that replaced long-ago clear-cut native forests with a forest that provided habitat for both people and birds, protected the watershed, and provided cash crops and food for the local population.  Similar efforts are underway in Central America.

sorocco_islandMany of the Greatest Risk species are similar to the two species from Socorro Island – a tiny volcanic island in the Revillagigedo Islands,  370 miles south of the southern tip of Baja California. Both the Socorro Dove and the Socorro Mockingbird are found only on this little island and are threatened by human-induced predators — the cat and the rat.  Loehle and Eschenbach (2011) clearly demonstrated that “high extinction rates on islands are attributable to effects of uncontrolled hunting by humans and predation by introduced animal species.”

There are the two listed Aridlands birds, both naturally threatened by the continued long-term drought in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico — their populations dropping to the lower carrying capacity of the region. While this is unfortunate, it is as Nature requires.  This is a direct effect of the climatic conditions there but not an effect of changing climate — the region has seen repeating droughts,  long and short, throughout the paleo-historic record.

Of note is the number of birds found only or primarily in Mexico on the Greatest Risk list.  The human population of Mexico has increased, in just the last ten years, from 111 million to 131 million — an increase of 20 million.  “Mexico has a territory of 198 million hectares [764,482 sq miles] of which fifteen percent is dedicated to agricultural crops and fifty eight percent which is used for livestock production. “  – Wiki.    73% of the available land is used for crops and cattle.  And while 34% is still considered forested, livestock is run on some of the forested land (accounting for the overlapping percentages).  That doesn’t leave much for the birds, a great many of whom migrate to southern Mexico from the entirety of Canada and the United States — that’s a lot of birds squeezed into a small area that is undergoing a lot of change.  (See the image labelled Winter Migration above.)  Almost none of the change in southern Mexico is due to climate — it is due to widespread deforestation to accommodate agriculture — both commercial and sustenance farming and livestock production.

We also have a couple of oddball problems with the birds:

The Gunnison Sage Grouse (and all other species of sage grouse in the US and Canada), already being pressured by shrinking habitat, is being hounded by tourists flocking to see its famously beautiful mating dances at lek sites — sites where male sage grouse put on mating displays — interfering with breeding, already complicated by their lek-based mating system and very narrow range of acceptable nesting site parameters.

Likewise limited to small, fragmented habitat is the Belding Yellowthroat — marked as threatened by climate change — found only in certain small, fragmented freshwater-marsh areas of Mexico’s Baja California.   The IUCN says:  “This species is suspected to be undergoing a rapid population decline owing to pressures on Baja California’s oases and the resultant conversion of habitat at many sites.“  Again, not changing climate, but changing conditions in habitat, mostly due to increased human activity.

The Bearded Wood-partridge has the unfortunate feature of being big enough to eat and being far too similar in appearance to their Least Concern cousins — the very similar and deliciously edible Long-tail Wood Partridge — with which it shares a range.  It is reported that hunters shoot the rarer Beardeds unable to tell the difference between the two birds.  Though marked as Threatened by Climate Change,  the biggest threats are “Habitat destruction and fragmentation are the result of logging, clearance for agriculture, road-building, tourist developments, intensive urbanisation, sheep-ranching and grazing…Conversion from shade to sun coffee…subsistence hunting, predators, genetic retrogression and further human encroachment.”

The Red-crowned Amazon (aka  Green-cheeked Amazon, Red-crowned Parrot) — although listed as “endangered”, but not by climate change — has recently established populations in urban areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (Texas), USA, as well as feral breeding populations that have  established themselves (and are increasing) in Florida,  California, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.  Curious that it can be both endangered and an invasive pest species.

The poor California Condor — hunted to very near extinction — has been saved through heroic efforts — but may never establish true free-living self-sustaining populations.

Several species, according to the IUCN Red List, are endangered because they are interbreeding with closely related species sharing the same range. [This last fact brings up the question:  Does Biology really have an agreed upon strict definition of “species” that is universally accepted and in use?  Answer:  It does not.]

Not appearing on the Greatest Risk list are a number of sea and shore birds that nest on the offshore islands along the Mexican coast — islands that are increasingly supporting human populations and along with the people come cats, and rats, and dogs, and sheep, and goats… — all of which threaten the nests and young of these ground-nesting shorebirds whose populations are believed to be declining.  Again, nothing climate related here.

So where does that leave us?

In total, there are thought to be 882 bird species belonging to about 60 taxonomic families in North America.  Some are currently “winning” in the great game of survival — some are currently “losing”.  Human activity, as a predominate factor in the North American environment, has a huge influence on which species are the winners and which are the losers.

I have made a broad brush sweep across the species considered to be at Greatest Risk — and there are some that are seriously in trouble — for some of those,  the blame can be laid at the feet of Mankind.

Conservation efforts have had some great successes:  the elimination of lead shot for hunters, preservation of wetlands on migration routes, laws forbidding or limiting the hunting of certain species and, conversely, encouraging the hunting of others, eliminating invasive species from islands,  and the creation of National Seashores that provide safe and undisturbed nesting sites for shore birds.

My review of the State of the Birds and the Partners in Flight reports show that there are, on the tri-national list, 30 or so species for whom action may prevent further loses or extinction.  Success is not certain as some of these species are Darwinian dead-ends on their way out whether we intervene or not.  There are none for which the main concern can be ascribed to current or future climate change.

Note:  In the larger sense, when habitats undergo changes in micro-, local or regional climate, a perfectly natural occurrence at all time scales, the carrying capacity changes resulting in changes in plant, animal and bird populations.  These changes in carrying capacity, due to the nature of population dynamics, can be stabilizing, catastrophic or seemingly innocuous.

Human poverty in southern Mexico and Guatemala (and the rest of Central America) is not going to solve itself so the people there will continue to do what they have to do in order to grow cash crops to feed their families and lift themselves, if possible, out of abject poverty.  This is the major environmental conflict for North American migratory birds and those species endemic to that area.

There are specific conservation actions, mostly already underway, that will have positive effects for some bird species.  Almost all of these actions need to happen in Mexico and Central America — and need to be funded by international NGOs, the majority of the funds coming from the Unites States (federal government agencies or citizen and corporate donors).

If you are concerned about the birds, I suggest that you contact a local bird conservation group and find out what you can do to help – there are things to be done.  If you’ve got more money than time, there are responsible international conservation groups that don’t waste your money — there are plenty of online resources for investigating what charities do with the money you give them [ here and here and here].

Keep your pet cat in the house or restricted to your yard.  Support programs to reduce or eliminated local feral cat populations.

As for me?  Well….I just like birds.

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My advice is that you chose carefully where your donations go — far too many NGOs spend too much on fund-raising and not enough on actual end-user programs.  An example is:

Programs: 83% Fundraising: 12% Administrative: 5%

Total Income $118,637,829

Program expenses 73,880,470

Fundraising expenses $10,499,287

Administrative expenses $4,860,090

Other expenses $0

Total expenses: $89,239,847

Income in Excess of Expenses 29,397,982

Note: “Some ($6,335,000 or 8%) of [this NGO’s] programs are conducted in conjunction with fund raising appeals.” That makes a total of almost $17 million spent on fundraising, 18% of total expenses. $17 million on fundraising and they end up with a $29 million unspent surplus. They are either over-fundraising or under-programing.

This particular example has fairly moderate outrageous fund-raising expenses — some NGOs exceed 35%.

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The Charts: (Link to larger Greatest Risk Chart)

SOTB_1SOTB_2SOTB_3SOTB_4

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Author’s Comment Policy:

This essay is about alarmism in fundraising — in this case on behalf of North America’s birds.  I’d like to hear from readers who are themselves involved in NGO charitable fundraising and how they go about it without hitting the Panic Button.  It is also about the excessive and unscientific use of Climate Science Alarm [itself unscientific] to support an otherwise nominally deserving cause.

Thanks to Jim Steele who offered suggestions and advice on the content of this essay. Given that, please note that all errors and omissions, opinions, and other nonsense are solely mine.

I’d love to hear your bird related personal experiences — and how your local birding organizations are doing simple useful things to improve the local environment for birds.

Let’s not talk about cats — except as an invasive species.

To get my personal attention in comments, begin your comment with “Kip…”

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dp

Ivanpah – the dichotomy that keeps on giving.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes Jacobson and his crew to back off using concentrated solar power in their 100% wind, water and sunlight analyses. As implied here the concentrated solar plant at Ivanpah has a spectacular negative effect on local birds and insects in the Mohave Desert. In the Jacobson analysis “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water, and Sunlight” concentrated solar (387 100-MW plants) is proposed. Even if they could find space for 387 sites in New York, given the flaming bird problem in a desert, I cannot imagine how any could ever be licensed in an area with more numerous and diverse birds and insects.

Alan Tomalty

My only comment is that more CO2 in the atmosphere will be good for birds and any other living thing.

Pop Piasa

May I add tyo that by noting that the only observable bird crises in my rural domicile are caused by the visits of occasional raptors, Hawks, Owls, etc, When the hunters fly on, the hunted hit the feeders.

Pop Piasa

Perhaps I should mention that some of the Orioles ignore their feeders and drink from the Hummingbird feeders instead. Hows that for an environmental anomaly? Tragic enough?

They might like to extend their search for the missing, damaged and dead birds and bats to include the area near the bases of the many Wind-turbines that disfigure the landscape of many countries around the World.

Ed Zuiderwijk

I’m pretty sure that the missing birds can be found in my back garden. May have something to do with all the feeders my other half keeps stocked up.

Tom Halla

You did bring up the “loss by interbreeding” with similar species. This is reminiscent of the old splitter v. lumper in naming species. Are barred owls a different species than spotted owls, if they regularly breed with them?

dp

To improve the lot of North American birds kill off the English Sparrow. Nobody will miss it.

Richard of NZ

It is actually the Eurasian Sparrow and as to how much they would be missed, duckduckgo “four pests campaign”.

There are good reasons for returning to old recipes; e.g. “Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie”.
Starlings and English (Eurasian) sparrows should be good cooked in pastries.
Pigeons are already good cuisine; they just need more people eating pigeons.
“What is the maximum airspeed velocity of a laden swallow”? Could be rephrased as What is the best roasting temperature for English Sparrows?
I do not recommend eating swallows; swallows earn their keep!

Roy Frybarger

We could suggest removal of some wind turbines…

Tom

Sound the alarm; there is a crisis; raise money; what a concept! Just not original.

The Rick

My goodness, as the millennials say TL,DR – (too long, didn’t read)…not to be callous….but I too like birds, in fact I’ve got a feeder on the back deck and one in the front flower garden, all sorts come by though all I can ID are the male cardinals and their female counters parts and the blue and grey jays. Further down in my plot the red tail hawk hangs out thinking he’s gonna get one of my hens from the coop but Uncle Leo (the rooster) alerts all his hens otherwise. 2km down the road, on a pile of grape vine clippings, a big barn owl has been hanging out this winter…and usually around April the owls (unclear which as they are in the tree line boarding my land) call back and forth to each other – around 3am – on perfectly minus 1 moonlight-filled nights (of course waking mother and I up such that I’m elbowed to shut the window). As The Who said “…the kids are all right” at least here, in our space, between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie

Whenever I read something from an environmental organization, I automatically assume they aren’t telling the truth.

Good work Kip,
My professional experience has been that people and land managers who jump too quickly on the Catastrophic Climate change bandwagon, become blind to the real issues affecting wildlife/birds and overelook the simple acts we can engage in to ensure their health and survival.
While biologist blamed climate change for a population crash in a Sierra Nevada meadow I was monitoring, the real culprit was a railroad track laid down over a hundred years earlier that had disrupted the hydrology and dried the meadow. When we dismissed the climate alarmism for lack of evidence and addressed the real causal factors, we set out on a course to restore the watershed and increase birdlife. Due to our restoration efforts the meadow remained wetter during California’s drought than it had been before the drought and before restoration. And so it supported more bird during the drought.
If we blindly blamed, CO2 nothing worthwhile would have been accomplished.

Barbee

Solar Farms and Wind Turbines.
While the slaughter is epic, I’m sure the birds are happy to make that sacrifice to protect the future.

Leo Smith

I used to walk further than my cats. So I found ll the birds that had died naturally that the cats had not found and brought me as presents.
Can you do Basic Sums?
Look up any bird species, Calculate how old they would live to if they get lucky. Calculate how many offspring a pair will have. Calculate how many birds have to die before mating to keep the populations stable.
its around 97%
Last week as I was walking to my car, a pige0n fell out of the sky, narrowly missing me, It died,
No cats were involved, as there are no vats near here.
But if there had been one could have picked it up and even eaten it and contributed to ‘death by cat’ memes.
When I did have cats, they ate rodents and rabbits. Not birds.

Mike McMillan

Feral cats are doing nature’s work, as Darwin intended.

Sheri

Not in my yard. They are doing nothing after I’m done with them.

The Original Mike M

“Feral cats are doing nature’s work, as Darwin intended.”
I wouldn’t mind them so much if not for the fact that many of them are not strays and that they kill only for sport not sustenance. Natural selection doesn’t apply to domestic breeds, especially predators that can go back to a warm home and an easy free meal every night.

Jeff Alberts

“I used to walk further than my cats.”
Yes, but did you walk farther than your cats?

Roger Knights

+1

Extreme Hiatus

Kip, Great article. Must read it again. But for starters…
The Gunnison Sage Grouse was just ‘declared’ a species in 2000. A very convenient declaration. Very handy to stop any ‘development’ of their habitat.
Part of this numbers game is how ‘species’ and ‘subspecies’ and ‘local populations,’ are ‘declared.’ A lot of this is extremely dubious and convenient and of course, lucrative! Getting ‘your’ species listed can mean jobs for life and much more.
Sage grouse get their name from the essential feature of their habitat: sagebrush, specifically mature sagebrush. Their current ‘threat’ is due to the conversion of this habitat into farm fields, cattle pastures, solar farms and the like. (That lek crowding thing is a local issue which can and is being easily controlled.)
But if you step back to the ‘natural’ era, there was hardly any sagebrush habitat because of regular fires started by lightning or, more often, indigenous people (who knew that bison ate grass, not sagebrush). That is what ALL available historic photos show, as do pollen studies and all other historic documents and evidence. When that burning was stopped, sagebrush areas and sage grouse range and population grew exponentially. Early explorers only found sage grouse in patches and were unknown in much of their recent range.
In other words, while there were more during that unnatural population peak, we still have far more sage grouse than when it was all ‘natural.’
The Mass Extinction Industry constantly and deliberately ignores history or writes fake versions of it (e.g., the ‘pristine wilderness’) to make everything look as bad and dire and scary as possible.

Extreme Hiatus

Only 6 or probably 7 bird species have gone extinct in North America including 3 in the past century and none in the past 50 years. Last confirmed records.
Great Auk 1844.
Labrador Duck 1875.
Passenger Pigeon 1914 (zoo specimen)
Carolina Parakeet 1914 (zoo specimen)
Ivory-billed Woodpecker 1944 (last confirmed record but Bigfoot-like sightings persist).
Bachman’s Warbler 1958.
Almost certainly extinct: Eskimo Curlew 1963 (last confirmed); 1987 (unconfirmed report).
In the meantime, how many bird species have increased in the past 50 years? For starters, almost all waterfowl, wading birds, gulls, raptors (hawks, eagles, falcons), most owls and corvids (crows, jays), most forest birds which use successional habitats, and many, many more. Yes some species in some habitats have declined – none that I can think of due to climate change – but overall the past century has been a major conservation success story.
But that doesn’t fit the ‘crisis’ business model.

RoHa

Isn’t there some sort of crisis counselling for these poor birds?

Don K

It’s a curious thing, but when the first wind turbines were put up in the middle of the last century, folks worried about the potential for damage to wildlife. So they went out every day and looked for dead birds and bats. They found very few. They were pleased.
Presumably the problem is that in the drive to make wind turbines cheaper and more powerful, we’ve also turned them into efficient killing machines.

Sheri

It may be the locations. Often they are put where there are down drafts that raptors use to hunt. In the West, this would be more of a problem Upsizing probably did not help either. The number of turbines has an effect. There are thousands and thousands of them now.

Extreme Hiatus

“So they went out every day and looked for dead birds and bats. They found very few.”
You need to look much closer at this research, and the lack of it as well as the lack of reporting it.
One of their main tricks, when they do any research at all, is to use a very limited radius from the turbines for searches. The other main flaw is the search frequency; dead birds can and are picked up and removed by scavengers (mammal or bird) before they are counted.
The main problem with “very few” is that the kinds of birds these things kill – like raptors – are not abundant to begin with.

Are these averages annual or since inception, for each and every turbine?

First priority is to get rid of all those bird-mincing wind turbines.

4TimesAYear

That would be a good start.

Dodgy Geezer

….This essay is about alarmism in fundraising — in this case on behalf of North America’s birds. I’d like to hear from readers who are themselves involved in NGO charitable fundraising and how they go about it without hitting the Panic Button…
You don’t. Unless you can scare someone rigid you don’t get any money. unless you can make someone drool at the thought of this new item you don’t make a sale. This is what humans are like.
I enclose an example of a restrained protest…

4TimesAYear

I get these things too. Ad nauseum. If they keep crying wolf, we won’t know when to take action.
https://www.facebook.com/fourtimesayear/photos/a.427072877441780.1073741829.360297500785985/456086137873787/?type=3&theater

RAH

I love watching the birds. Keep an 8 lb feeder stocked and seed blocks out at all times. But I seriously doubt that the bird alarmists have a chance in hell of beating out the ASPCA in the fund raising game with their commercials of abused sad faced pups and kitties.

Robert from oz

I’m a big fan of pidgeon and duck especially with roasted veg and a red wine reduction .

Rhoda Klapp

What’s the matter with those people? Don’t they believe in Evolution or survival of the fittest?

Sheri

I ask that all the time.

pochas94

We’re in charge of this planet and we’re going to have our impacts. Let’s tread as lightly as we can.

Don K

KIp – Before contributing to any non-profit, it’s not a bad idea to fire up a search engine and check the salaries of the folks running it. They aren’t always readily available, but often they are. Then ask yourself exactly who or what the organization is being run to benefit?
In the case of the Audubon Society, It took me about 30 seconds to determine that a Vice-President makes $175,000 per annum. Presumably the President or whatever makes substantially more. Low level jobs there, OTOH, pay poorly. Not a pretty picture.
By way of comparison — most state governors make $100000 to $150000

MarkW

Governors only protect people.
The Audubon society protects birds. So obviously the president of the society is way more important than a mere governor. /sarc

George Lawson

You should ask to see the annual accounts of the National Auduban Society, and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. Then check out annual income against numbers of staff employed, what their top salaries are, and check on what the charity has actually done with its money over the last twelve months. I’m sure it could be quite revealing and I’m sure the charities will be providing some very comfortable executive positions..

Phil

In total, there are thought to be 882 bird species belonging to about 60 taxonomic families in North America. Some are currently “winning” in the great game of survival — some are currently “losing”.
Which is presumably why the SoTB in their graphic resort to a one-way scale, running from “Low concern” to “High concern”. It conveniently disguises the fact that there are winners in the great game of survival, by labelling them as “Low concern”.
I wonder what it would have looked like had they classified species in a more balanced way: from Abundant to Threatened, say, or Doing very nicely to Doing badly.

MarkW

An excellent example of how to lie through labels.
In this case, no matter how well a species is doing, it still gets dumped into the “Low Concern” category.
Reminds me of a temperature graph that we discussed on WUWT a few years ago. The chart showed temperature over some time period. Places that had cooled were shown in blue, with darker blue being the places that had cooled the most. Places that had warmed were shown in red, with darker red showing the places that had warmed the most.
The problem was there was no white, for no change. No change was given a light red shade.
If all you did was look at the chart, as most casual readers will do, you see a map dominated by red, when in reality most of the places would have been white had the chart been honestly colored.

dudleyhorscroft

What have people got against sparrows? A species that happily adapts to civilization! On the other hand, pigeons eat lettuces – I planted a row and found that one night the lettuces that had grown up to nearly two inches high were all shorn off at about a half inch high. Not cats, not dogs, not sparrows, not hawks – only pigeons could logically be blamed.
Pigeons should be farmed – good source of protein.

Ric Haldane

Kip, You should read the 1959 Bellerose report. No birds studied that contained lead had any symptoms of lead poisoning. Bellerose made a WAG that 11/2-2% of birds would have a problem. The government as it always does, over reacted. As steel does not have the density of lead, more birds have been wounded. I will admit that I have not read any recent research, but do believe that conservation science is as broken as climate research.

Gerald Machnee

Re California Condor
I did a presentation on it last year. Most of the hunters in California and Arizona have now quit using lead shot. The states were even providing steel shot. However, along the coast the Condors may eat dead sea mammals which because of their age will still have lead as well as chemicals.
Main threat to Condor eggs are Ravens. Golden Eagles and bears main threat to young. Power lines are threat in flight. Condors that are raised in captivity are taught to avoid power lines before they are released.

Gerald Machnee

Main causes of decline of the Condor were:
Poaching (museum specimens)
Lead poisoning (lead shot)
DDT poisoning
Electric power lines
Egg collecting
Habitat destruction
Mistaken belief that they killed cattle

Kristi Silber

It’s a big problem for raptors and waterfowl in some areas, a result of hunting and fishing using lead.
https://www.raptor.umn.edu/our-research/lead-poisoning
https://www.thespruce.com/how-lead-affects-birds-386483

RAH

Both Pigeons and Sparrows like to roost in our structures and so the problem people have with them is the mess they make. I remember my Grandma had several large Mulberry trees in her yard and vowed I would never live anywhere near those trees. The birds loved those berries and their poop would eat the finish off a car if not cleaned off pretty quickly. Cleaning her gutters full of those rotting berries was a very undesirable chore.

The Original Mike M

“What have people got against sparrows?”
If you are speaking of the common “house sparrow” from Europe, they are killing off native song birds in North America. Their strategy for a survival advantage is right up there with parasitoid wasps; invade cavity nests of native bird species and murder the occupants and or destroy the eggs. They were introduced in the 1800’s supposedly to eat bugs that were attacking Elm trees but they need to be eradicated.

Kristi Silber

I’ve never heard they directly kill other birds. Are you thinking of cowbirds? House sparrows compete with natives, they are highly adaptable and spread quickly; they are like a “weed” bird.

Kristi Silber

“Due to its abundance, ease to raise and general lack of fear towards humans, the House Sparrow has proved to be an excellent model organism for many avian biological studies. To date, there have been almost 5,000 scientific papers published with the House Sparrow as the study species.”
That’s interesting. Also that they will poke holes in flowers to drain them of nectar.

Extreme Hiatus

On the bright side, the booming Merlin population now often winters in towns and cities (far north of where they formerly did) where they prey on ‘alien’ House Sparrows, Rock Doves (and now Eurasian Collared Doves), Starlings, etc. – as well as on all the native feeder birds – so this is all good for them.
As for the huge number of studies on House Sparrows, you don’t exactly need to trek into the wilderness and endure mosquitos etc to study them; you can do ‘research’ on them from a chair in a Starbucks.

DaveW

House Sparrows are certainly a pest (e.g. they clipped off all my pea seedlings that I didn’t cage), but they are here to stay as long as they can. I once tried to eliminate them from my backyard in Edmonton, Alberta (where they are considered pests and it is legal to trap them), but it was like trying to empty the ocean with a teacup. Only good thing about my effort was collecting a couple of new records for their parasites for the Provence. Still, I have read that populations were in decline in Europe and that the House Finch (a ‘native’ that is expanding its range in North America) seems to be displacing them. So, even House Sparrows have to bow down to inevitable change. Nature is a pretty ruthless mistress.

John Garrett

I stand in absolute awe of the prodigious HARD WORK Mr. Hansen expended to produce this superb report.
A lifelong friend and well-known professional ornithologist pointed out to me the disappearance of the bobwhite quail. They were once ubiquitous. As a child and teenager, I used to engage in conversation with them. I had not noticed their absence until my friend mentioned them and asked me when was the last time I’d heard one. Only then did I realize that it has been a long time. I miss them.

Latitude

Two of their problems are birds listed as species…that should just be sub-species or variants…and where they claim their range is
I’m in several bird groups..and we’re all laughing right now about the flamingos at Imperial Beach in Calif…
…I have several birds in my yard…that are not supposed to be where I live at all….including flamingos
Birds can range anywhere they want to…and if they are spreading out…they are not getting counted

John

The biggest threat to birds in America is the non-native Starling. They are totally overwhelming native birds. Funny you never see people wanting to kill them off, even though they are directly harming the native species. They eat both seeds and insects, and are ravenous. They also reproduce at an alarming rate. My whole lawn has been covered by the things, picking every possible food item before moving on. The sky becomes dark when they fly in large flocks of thousands. From the original introduction in the 1890’s, there are now estimated to be a billion starlings.
Climate change? Birds don’t have houses. If they don’t like the climate they will fly to where they do like it.

Gerald Machnee

Audubon used a faulty prediction from IPCC in their “scientific” study on how climate will affect the birds and created another faulty report. What they did was to move the warming northward and the bids along with it. So you have prairie birds moving towards the arctic solely based on their temperature projections. Birds go where there is habitat and food, not temperatures. That report they did was so unscientific that it should have been thrown out in review, if it was reviewed. I wrote to them several times but the top will not talk to you. They get a secretary to send the same motherhood letter telling you their “science” is good. They are drunk on the Kool-Aid. I will not send them any more donations. I do the bird counts, and that is it until they come to their senses.
THE MAIN THREAT TO BIRDS IS HABITAT LOSS, WHICH INCLUDES VARIOUS EVENTS SUCH AS AGRICULTURE, URBAN EXPANSION.
Below is one exchange.
Gerald Machnee
Hello Gary,
RE:
“”Thanks to your dedication and passion, we have a clear idea of how climate will affect birds, and, more important, we are beginning to discover geographic areas where conservation is most needed now to protect birds in the future. “”
You cannot have a clear idea how climate will affect birds when you based your study on a faulty IPCC Report. The temperatures are not rising anywhere near the projections you used, and there is no MEASUREMENT of how much change is caused by greenhouse gases.
The MAIN problem for birds is habitat loss and that is not due to climate change.
For more information I suggest you read sites like:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/
where the outlook is less biased and more objective.
Gerald Machnee
On 17/11/2014 3:15 PM, Audubon wrote:
>
>
>
> Dear Gerald,
>
> In September we released the results of a seven-year-long study on the effects climate change will have on bird populations. One of the most significant aspects of this work isn’t the results—although they are certainly important—but where our scientists got their data. They got the data from you, the citizen scientists who go out each year and participate in projects like the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to your dedication and passion, we have a clear idea of how climate will affect birds, and, more important, we are beginning to discover geographic areas where conservation is most needed now to protect birds in the future.
>
> Sincerely
> Gary Langham, Chief Scientist

Kristi Silber

Gerald,
How is it you know their data are wrong? Do you have data that contradicts what they are saying? Is there something wrong with their analysis? Why do you distrust them? Is it simply because they use climate change as one factor that can affect bird populations?
They are open to considering climate change, and have indeed found cases where it is a likely influence in bird populations. You are not open to considering it, so you think they are wrong.
This is a common pattern: skeptic won’t believe climate change has an effect, they have to redraw the world around that belief and suddenly they believe they are smarter and know more than chief scientists in all kinds of disparate fields. Such a range of scientists are seeing the effects of climate change, from impacts of beetles on forests to results of ocean acidification, that you will have to be smarter than the experts in a hundred fields to show how wrong everyone is. And how do you know? Just look at wattsupwiththat, there’s the proof!
“where the outlook is less biased and more objective” Do you really believe that? Truly?

Kristi Silber

Kip,
Thanks for the respectful message. I appreciate that, and should learn from it!
I have spent hundreds of hours learning about the arguments for and against AGW. I’m still learning, but I haven’t seen any arguments against that are nearly compelling enough to make me doubt the scientific consensus. There is such rampant irrationality, so many false assumptions, and such ridiculous assertions made by many skeptics that it is sometimes hard to take even the more plausible arguments seriously. I imagine the same can be said on the other end of the spectrum, but I don’t know – I stay away from the liberal media.
What I find irritating is when people assume they know more than researchers about the studies done by those researchers. That was my main point.
It’s also worth noting that Gerald seems to assume that scientists are predicting bird ranges based on climate directly and alone. While that could be a factor, the greater one is habitat (including food resources), as Gerald points out. While I haven’t read the study (it would be nice if there were a link), I imagine the researchers looked at the effects of climate change on bird populations through the effects on habitat. Scientists are not stupid.
If their study took more than 7 years and used data from birders, it was based on more than IPCC data.
Anyone who thinks this site is not biased is not seeing it objectively, and that’s a worry in itself. All Americans should learn to better understand cognitive biases and the ways in which human thought and behavior can be manipulated. It’s scary, but very important.
They should also know that bias control is an essential, fundamental part of scientific methodology.

George Lawson

Garry Langham
“Thanks to your dedication and passion, we have a clear idea of how climate will affect birds”
Why do you automatically assume that a change in bird populations is caused by climate change? This automatic blaming of global warming on everything related to the ever-changing shape and condition of our world is quite ridiculous and the cause of so much misunderstanding of reality put out by those who want to believe in the false of climatechange. Perhaps Mr Langham you can explain in simple terms how you arrive at the view that changes in bird populations can be categorically put down to climate change, global warming or whatever else you wish to call it.

Essay No Bodies in ebook Blowing Smoke touches exensively on the definitions of species, extinction risk (using birds as an example) from climate change, and the egregious misrepresentations in AR4 WG2 concerning same.

Retired Kit P

Is there a problem?
Many years ago one of my jobs in nuclear power was doing root cause analysis. The idea is find the root cause if a problem so it does not happen again.
After being assigned a problem, the first step is determining if there is a problem. Your cat brings you a dead mouse, good kitty. If you cat brings you a dead bird, you have to decide if it is a problem. As suggested, the bird may have died of natural causes.
We are camping in our motorhome parked on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. We are enjoying the noisy seabird population. We noticed when we were in China that there were very few birds on the beach where we were which I thought was odd.
Observing birds I will point out that birds love to eat endangered species such as turles and salmon. Birds even kill other birds.
Is this a problem? It appears to me to be a case of conflicting agendas. If you look at the staffs of ‘environmental’ groups it would appear that hire more fundraisers than people who look for the root cause of a problem.
Then there is root blame. This is why we have wind and solar power plants. If you live in a big city on the east coast, you blame air quality issues on coal fired power plants in Ohio and ignore the car they drive.
I also observe the power industry. On the way to Crystal Beach I observed wind, solar, coal, and nuclear. The South Texas Project is also a wildlife preserve. Deer graze in the open during the day having figured out security that keeps the crazy people out also protects them.
Also drove by some refineries in Texas City. We could camp and look at refiners instead of enjoying the sound of the surf but we used the fuel to enjoy nature not engineering marvels.
Of course there is no rule you can not enjoy both.

Ernest Bush

Whenever I hear the term “We must act now” with the word crisis in a slow mail or emails I automatically discard them. The answer to reducing feral cats in Yuma, AZ, where the streets were crawling with them was to neuter them and return them to the neighborhood. It has drastically reduced the number of cats on the streets and increased the bird population over the last 10 years. We also have a large increase in squirrels, pesky things. Meanwhile, the birds here have learned to live with the agriculture here and take advantage of it. The red wing blackbird, not a desert species I think, comes to mine.

Sara

That’s what is done around here. Local TNR programs monitor the feral cat population. Those cats have an average lifespan of about two years.

“There’s going to be major fallout.”
“Nuclear fallout?”
“Bird fallout!”
https://youtu.be/g0nKExyXIEg

Climate change is making roosters bark like dogs:
https://mobile.twitter.com/limkitsiang/status/964082833181388801

ossqss

So Kip, how does one of these birds gain any of these status levels? Who determines their status and how do they do so? Who checks the checkers? I would bet grant money has much to do with it as it does in climate science. Pay for Play?
One example I am familiar with is the case of a Limpkin in Florida. The BRG (Biological Research Group) removed their protected status in 2013, but nobody would have that and placed them on another plateau called ” Species of Special Concern “. Who’s concern are they referring to as the study involved had no such concern and removed them from any protected status.

Ricdre

Somewhat off topic, but whenever I see the words “cats and rats” I always end the phrase with “and elephants, but sure as you’re born / You’re never gonna see no unicorn”. Old songs never die, they just pop in your mind at odd times. Sigh.
On the other hand, we are talking GW / AGW / Climate Change so there could be some unicorns out there somewhere.

Sara

Strangely, the bird census in my county and surrounding counties is UP.
I put out bird food on my deck railing, using it as a feeding station, so that I can get photos of the local birds and any that are unusual for MY area. Examples of unusual in MY area are a yellow throated sparrow and a white crowned sparrow. Lots of pairs of goldfinches came to my yard this past summer to attack the sunflowers that grew from seed spilled out of the bird feeder. I moved the birdfeeder and let the sunflowers grow.
I still have visits from the white crowned sparrow. The bird census goes on all year around here. I’ve mentioned before that we now have a census of snowy owls, an Arctic species, mostly youngsters that were driven south by lack of turf and game up north where the parent birds live. Sandhill cranes are on the rise around here, too, as is the green heron population, both of which used to be very rare in this area. I have taken many, many photographs of these kinds of birds, and of swimmers like red-breasted mergansers and blue-winged teals. as well as the redbellied woodpecker female and downy woodpeckers that show up when I put out suet.
If an unusual species is reported, it goes on the front page of the local newspaper. A good example of that is the recent appearance of an ivory gull usually found far to the north in the Arctic.
Based on the bird census count, the regular reporting, and the fact that it’s a begging letter designed to do nothing but punch your panic button and stir alarms over nothing, I am happy to label that “report” totally bogus, man, and at least as bad a scam as any and all of Algore’s begging letters are.

John Garrett

I stand in absolute awe of the amount of HARD WORK performed by Mr. Hansen to produce this superb piece. Bravo, sir!!
It was only recently that my lifelong friend, a world-renowned ornithologist, alerted me to the local absence of the northern (Virginia) bobwhite quail. I well recall my father teaching me how to imitate its call and I remember numerous instances in my youth and adulthood when I carried on conversations with them. My friend asked me when was the last time I heard one. It suddenly dawned on me that it has been a long time.
I miss them.

In the 1980s and 1990s I hunted abundant ruffed grouse on my SW Wisconsin dairy farm. Then two things changed. First, wild turkeys were very successfully reintroduced (via a trade of 50 ruffed grouse pairs to the Ozarks in exchange for 50 Ozark wild turkey pairs). Much bigger Turkeys (immature jakes first winter are 10-12 pounds while a mature ruffed grouse is less than a pound) outcompeted ruffed grouse because overlapping habitat and food supplies, especially in winter. Second, price of racoon pelts tumbled, trappers stopped trapping them, and local population exploded. A favorite spring coon food is ground nesting ruffed grouse eggs. We used .22 rifles to shoot any coons we spotted, but they are nocturnal so didn’t do much good. Last grouse I flushed was about 20 years ago. OTH, wild turkey jakes are delicious for Thanksgiving and now no permit required for the regular fall season, just for the spring Tom season.

We have shot pheasants twice on my farm. Both times, for sure farm raised and hunt club released escapees. We have two, a 500 acre and a 700 acre within a mile of my farm. (Sort of not my natural game/bow hunting/black powder hunting thing).Both times, by my brothers crazy son who does not know what a farmhouse lunchtime is. First time, he hoofed it in about a mile plus 400 feet vertical to trade his deer rifle in for ‘his’ (mine) Stevens .22 over 20 gauge to hunt the pheasant. The dumb farm raised pheasant was right where my cousin left him anout an hour ago, under a big invasive multiflora rose bush I couldn’t mow or spray with my trusty Ford 1910 deisel 4wD tractor because of slope steepness, off the ‘21deer’ stand in the far eastern pasture.
As for the stand name 21deer, ask my brother. He swears to this day back when buck permits came first (no longer, thanks to CWD eradication efforts in my neck of the woods) saw 21 does and no bucks one fine morning. We renamed the stand in his probably lying honor, and he has had to suffer riducule at the deer hunt farm dinner table ever since. Yup, poetic crow justice well served in an otherwise close knit very outdoors oriented largish extended family.

HDHoese

One of the justifications of the US government (Migratory Bird Act) in this goes back to when agencies tried to honor the constitution. I recall discussions on property rights. Also I seem to remember that not too long ago Audubon put out a special bird issue with a picture of a polar bear at the top of a cliff where seabirds were nesting, as if they were soo hungry. The two messages this sent out were (1) Boy polar bears are really adaptive and (2) Was this photo real? Neither did their cause any good, unless we are really, really, stupid.
Speaking of stupid I just found this put out by the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology.– http://www.beg.utexas.edu/coastal/thscmp/support/SeaLevelRiseLesson.pdf
The Bureau had a long distinguished history of research, in, guess what, economic geology. Note their Figure 8. Example of an aquifer http://www.fayettecountygroundwater.com (No doubt some astute student will note that Fayatte County is not on the coast where rocks and gravel happen to be rare) Surely this document is a troll fake! I am checking.
Don’t forget the so far success story about the whooping crane, a species which has several inherent problems even without humans– too big, small reproductive potential, territorial, etc. They may be getting too domesticated even around oil operations.

HDHoese

“Many years ago one of my jobs in nuclear power was doing root cause analysis. The idea is find the root cause if a problem so it does not happen again.” By the way Kit P that is what they did, problem solving, with the whooping crane. I knew some of the people and saw it happen. Works. Do you have a crystal from the beach?

Retired Kit P

“Do you have a crystal from the beach?”
No but we have some from KOA (King of Arizona) which is near Quartsite. We have been know to harvest interesting rock.
The sand on some Texas beaches is suitab le for driving on the beach and the goverement lets you enyoy ‘fragil’ habitat.
Cyrstal Beach was our first experience boondocking. The concept of pulling off the road and parking in front of a million doillar beach house for free sounds too good to be true. When the high tide got withning a few feet it was a little unnerving. In fact I was surprised after last fall’s hurricane that this barrier isaland was doing just fine.

Colin Dale

Kip, I appreciate your excellent piece. As you demonstrate, the notion that climate change is the overriding threat to bird populations is nonsense. I can tell you that I and others in the field are unhappy with National Audubon’s embrace of this distraction and their reluctance to devote much energy to other conservation issues, such as cats, collisions, and habitat conversion/destruction. Although I am an active member of Audubon, I donate to the American Bird Conservancy instead. National Audubon’s embrace of the Greens’ energy policy is nuts. It is my opinion, and that of other technically experienced colleagues I respect, that the push to mandate renewables that we see in states across the country is the largest environmental threat we currently face. The reason is simple: the abysmal power density for renewables will exacerbate the conversion of land for industrial energy purposes and destroy vast regions of habitat. For example, a 522-megawatt wind power generating plant proposed for eastern New Mexico will industrialize 234 square miles of grassland and shinnery oak habitat that is the home of the last remnant of the Lesser Prairie-chicken in our state. That’s two and a quarter square miles per megawatt. Habitat will be fragmented with hundreds of miles of service roads and buried transmission lines connecting more than 300 turbines to substations. In contrast, 10 or 11 of the new NuScale nuclear power reactors could be ganged together in less than one square mile and produce the same power reliably at thousandths of a square mile per megawatt. We need to reclaim environmentalism from the Greens, who have hijacked Audubon, Sierra Club, and other organizations for their ideological purposes.

Steve Lohr

Thank you Kip Hansen for this very engaged and detailed article. I don’t have the scholarship or experience to write anything like this but my experience has often contradicted the expert’s position. It began when I was living in California and there was a sweeping effort to preserve the burrowing owl. They were endangered you see but contrary to the alarms, I was seeing them all the time where I was training my pointer. That was my first skeptical experience. It was followed by the breathless claims that the black bears were being decimated by poachers killing them for their gall bladders to ship to China, but I was encountering bear sign quite frequently where I was camping in the Sierra, and it wasn’t in Yosemite NP. Then I moved to Colorado and it was explained that prairie dogs (black tail) were endangered, but those little biters were everywhere. I found them in my travels from South Dakota to Texas, which are exactly the places they come from. My most recent experience is with the greater sage grouse. I used to see them off and on and didn’t think much of it. Then I found out the sage grouse is endangered and we have to do something about them. Incredible coincidence; as the alarm was being raised about the grouse my wife and I encountered, and I photographed, literally dozens of them in a single area near Boulder, Wyoming. I had never seen so many in one place in the past 25 years being out and about in the sage brush. Why am I saying this, because my experience has reduced me to not believing anything. I believe nothing, be it lead shot, DDT, oil wells, you name it, all is suspect. I suppose I am wrong to reject everything but what can I do? If some organization can rattle enough emotion out of enough people, it becomes a bankable product. Your efforts, and devotion of time to write this essay, are very helpful at least on balance to temper our thoughts.

Edwin

When I was still a naive idealists I was on the board of the largest Audubon Chapter in the USA. We discovered by accident that a major corporation planned to build a very tall guided wired multi-use communication tower on the NE corner of a major wildlife refuge. Such towers were well known to kill thousands of birds a year, especially in migratory pathways. The refuge had been created to protect birds, wading birds, migratory birds and waterfowl. The tower had gone through none of the proper permitting channels at the state or national level. We passed the hat but also found a group of lawyers to sue pro bono. Then State and National Audubon got involved telling us nothing until they had worked out an agreement and demanded we sign the agreement. All it did was require the corporation to count dead birds and to give Audubon free time on any radio or TV station broadcasting from the shared tower. At that point half the board of our local chapter including me resigned. A few years later at the Merritt Island and St. John’s River Wildlife Refuges Audubon and USFWS allowed through mismanagement the Dusky Seaside Sparrow to go extinct. Why, because USFWS managers had not followed their on management plans. At about that time the big issue de jour was genetic diversity. In the last days of the Dusky there were seven males left. They were all captured, put in captivity. Yet no one would allow them to be bred with Seaside Sparrows just north and South of their home range. It would have saved a larger percentage, possibly as much as 95+% of the Dusky’s genetics. Nope, the Dusky’s died in captivity at Disney World.

Pamela Gray

In the US, deforestation is less in the West than in the corn belt. That land is covered in rows and rows of insect-controlled corn as far as the eye can see. What was there before corn? I think we have all become so addicted to this grain that it will one day cover most of America, North and South! Maybe this is a significant cause of bird habitat loss?

The Audubon Society is a shameless money whore. I’m a birder too. I even belong to the local Audubon chapter but the state and national chapters and their constant, hysterical appeals for money are a disgrace.

Michael S. Kelly

Great article. My wife moved to Manassas, VA two years ago. Our place is on 5 wooded acres, in an area that doesn’t allow further subdivision (the Civil War was fought almost everywhere, here, and the goal is to minimize the destruction of artifacts). We feed birds (and squirrels, and even foxes), and use the Cornell site to identify them. We’re up to 38 species, including bald eagles and Pileated woodpeckers. Cardinals are the dominant species, though.
We’re big history buffs, and hike all of the Civil War battle field trails whenever possible. They’re everywhere. I also look through historical photographs on the internet in my spare time. Something nagged at me for a long time, and then suddenly it hit me: in the historical photographs of this area (and surrounding states) show ground devoid of trees. Today, those same locations are heavily wooded. Despite the ever-growing human population, forested area has increased steadily. There has been a concomitant flourishing of all types of wildlife, including birds.
Yes, human beings have had a large negative impact on many animal species. But there are pockets, such as where we live, that the animals and people coexist very nicely.

Michael S. Kelly

My wife and I, that is…

FIGHT OR FLIGHT! as a slogan would have been clevererer.

A mostly great article Kip!

“the elimination of lead shot for hunters, preservation of wetlands on migration routes, laws forbidding or limiting the hunting of certain species and, conversely, encouraging the hunting of others”

These generic statements are each, at least partially wrong.
Hunters use lead shot for basic bird, small and big game hunting. Lead shot is only prohibited for waterfowl hunting.
• The entire campaign against lead shot lacked research, extensive data, proofs, verifications and follow-up replications. The campaign used the same shrill wailing urgency as so many other eco-looney campaigns.
A hunter’s shot spreads lead shot out away from shallow waters and across deeper waters. These lead shot pellets settle into the soft bottoms in deeper water and were/are unlikely to poison any birds.
Shown in the news and articles, many allegedly poisoned birds were shallow ducks, geese and swans feeding in shallow parks where hunting was prohibited.
• Banning lead shot is an attack on hunting, not serious animal conservation.
• Non-lead hunting shells are much more expensive than lead shot shells.
High cost materials force changes to hunter demographics regarding who can afford to hunt ducks and geese.
• This is reflected in plummeting Duck Stamp sales and revenues as fewer hunters purchase Duck Stamps..
• Government, used to high Duck Stamp revenues raises the Duck Stamp price; further precipitating a decline in Duck Stamp Purchases
Preservation of wetlands; driven by the “Duck Stamp Act” and the use of Duck Stamp fees and hunting equipment excise taxes fund the National Wildlife Refuges.
Recently, Federal Government changed the name of the Duck Stamp to “Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp”:
• Their plan, since government was trying to reduce hunters (guess which administration), was to convince the alleged legions of bird watchers and wilderness walkers to serve as the new revenue source.
Increases, through non-hunter participation is negligible.
• One reason is that many hunters are conservationists, bird enthusiasts and wilderness walkers/hikers.
Coupled to the wetlands preservation by hunters are American waterfowl hunters joining/participating/funding Ducks Unlimited.
• Ducks Unlimited, accomplishes what the United States Government cannot! i.e. Ducks Unlimited purchase, purchases, purchased, lease, leases or leased Canada’s far north wetlands.
• This particular action is critical, since many, if not most, waterfowl nest in the far North during summer then winter down in the USA, Mexico and Central America.
Hunting limitations, often termed as “bag limits” and hunting seasons are mostly state responsibilities.
For certain migratory species, individual states work with the Federal government.
Biologists focus on establishing bag limits are that provide for healthy breeding populations.
Vermin and undesirable species may have “unlimited” bag limits with hunting all year long.
That is hardly, “encouragement”.
To your list of “habitat losses” causes, one should add in the fetish of many urban/suburban lawn owners to conduct warfare against insects, non-grass and non-ornamental plants.
Large areas of suburbia would support greater numbers of birds and animals year round if people planted and encouraged natural foods availability. Instead, nearly sterile yards carpet large areas around cities.
The Migratory Bird Conservation Act of February 18, 1929,
The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of March 16, 1934
https://www.fws.gov/budget/2016/FY2017_FWS_Greenbook.pdf
“How Hunters and Artists Helped Save North America’s Waterfowl”
Guns, Excise Taxes, and Wildlife Restoration”
The basic truth is that wildlife restoration in America is such a success, in spite of habitat loss and anti-critter urbanites, because hunters value all animals and they especially value that which helps animals to survive.
Many alleged conservation organizations that claim they are rebuilding or preserving wildlife populations. Almost without exception, any funds spent by these organizations directly for conservation or wildlife restoration depends substantially on government funds derived from the hunter/fisherperson “wildlife Restoration” acts.
As always, the devil is in the details and most of these allegedly conservation organizations hide the part hunters, fishers, Federal and state governments play in conserving or restoring wildlife.