Despite Climate Claims, These Birds Are Not Declining

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen


There have been many claims from environmentalist and nature groups that modern civilization, climate change, pollution, wind farms and pesticide use have been driving bird populations down all across North and Central  America.   I see these claims in my email inbox because I am a big fan of birds — almost a bird groupie — and my email address appears on the mailing lists of birding organizations like Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I love to watch and listen to birds of all kinds and have nearly missed crashing my cars more times that I wish to admit due to seeing some interesting avian event.

 Several years ago while doing humanitarian work in Puerto Rico, I swerved off the road (intentionally this time) to spend an hour watching a male pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura), with its outsized tail feathers, attempting to get into flight from the ground.  He was having a hard time of it with his tail getting snared by clumps of grass and bushes and was obviously pretty tired out from his repeated attempts.  I was afraid he would be discovered by a cat or dog (and killed) but, to my relief, after about 20 minutes he finally managed to get airborne and perch on the electrical transmission wires.   Pin-tailed whydahs are an introduced species in Puerto Rico and are originally from Africa.  The one I was watching had even longer tail feathers than the one in the photo.

I have been annoyed by the constant drumbeat of alarm and despair spread by some organizations (National Audubon being the worst in my opinion) claiming that bird populations are seriously declining and that many birds are threatened with imminent extinction.  Nearly all of these claims are wrapped into a plea for donations.  I’ve written about this here at WUWT before:

Birds in Crisis?

Update: About those claims of declining bird populations due to ‘climate change’

About those claims of declining bird populations due to ‘climate change’

And, of course, the truth is that some bird populations are declining due to a wide variety of causes: some that mankind can control and many that mankind has no power over.  Of the factors that mankind can control, some should be addressed such as rapid and unnecessary deforestation in Central America, unnecessary over-use of pesticides in some countries and poorly considered land-use changes.  As wind power continues to be subsidized by governments, questions are being raised about bird deaths, particularly of the already stressed raptor populations.  Other bird populations are increasing — for reasons easily understood by ecologists and land-use managers such as Young Forest bird increases due to farm land being abandoned (thus beginning to transition to forest land) and Mature Forest birds increasing as more and more forest land is put under the protection of national and state park systems  and is no longer harvested for timber.

This week though we have had Good News on the birding front.  Mind-boggling good news.  Front Page good news.

If you missed it, here are some headlines:

Incredible Combination of Factors Leads to Historic Migration Flight

Dispatches From Inside a Record-Breaking Bird Migration

A River of Warblers: ‘The Greatest Birding Day of My Life’ — NY Times

The birding event these press reports are talking about is summarized in the official eBird report filed collectively by  François-Xavier Grandmont, Ian Davies, Sarah Dzielski, Thierry Grandmont, Tim Lenz and Tom Auer.  Ian Davies, who is a project coordinator of the eBird project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, gives this first hand report:

“On our arrival (545a), it was raining. A few warblers passed here and there, and we got excited about groups of 5-10 birds. Shortly before 6:30a, there was a break in the showers, and things were never the same.

For the next 9 hours, we counted a nonstop flight of warblers, at times covering the entire visible sky from horizon to horizon. The volume of flight calls was so vast that it often faded into a constant background buzz. There were times where there were so many birds, so close, that naked eyes were better than binoculars to count and identify. …  For hours at a time, a single binocular scan would give you hundreds or low thousands of warblers below eye level.”

All told, by the end of their nine-hour day, this one group of six expert birders at a single location — the Tadoussac bird observatory in Quebec, on the north bank of the St. Lawrence River — counted over 720,000 migrating warblers of various species.  They estimated that the total of warblers in motion that day in that general area totaled upwards of a million birds.

To understand the magnitude of this event, one needs to realize that this number of migrating warblers was seen by a small group at a limited location and therefore must represent an incredibly small fraction of the total number of warblers in this year’s migration.   Those interested can watch a video of birds whipping by the photographer at speed, just feet above the ground — in some cases, passing between his legs — you have to watch carefully, they are really moving.

Pascal Côté, the director of the Tadoussac Bird Observatory, said:  “I think millions flew over Quebec, and all over the whole province. It’s the biggest one [migration] ever [recorded] in North America.”  Birds were overtaking lawns and highway medians. Radio stations were flooded with calls from confused residents. Weather radar picked up on the flocks as though they were clouds.

Among the birds sighted were over 100,000 Cape May Warblers.  Note that the Cape May Warbler is on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats.  The sighting of so many Cape Mays on a single day in a single location casts doubt on their “most  at risk of extinction” status.

As I have pointed out before, many (possibly most) bird populations swell and shrink mostly for reasons far beyond our control.  Some, like beach-nesting shore and sea birds are being adversely affected by Man’s mania with building condos on every stretch of available beach and regulation of such development is called for along with the designation of National and State Sea Shore reserves.

Want to help dispel the gloom about birds and participate in citizen science?  Join the eBird Team and get’a birding!    More knowledge means better understanding.  Better understanding means better science policy.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

I enjoy reading your comments — positive or negative, preferably on topic.

This essay is meant to help dispel the doom-and-gloom culture that has overrun what, until the middle 1960’s, was a joyous endeavor — the celebration and protection of all things Nature.  Today’s mean-spirited, often societally destructive and pointedly biased as anti-human “environmental movement” has lost my support — I cannot sanction their attitudes nor their actions.

There are many helpful and useful local actions undertaken by concerned citizens that are uninfected by the disease that has soured national and international environmental movements — and I urge you to support them with your funds and your time.

If you address your comment to “Kip…” I will be sure to see it.

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Rich Wright
June 7, 2018 9:00 am

The Allen hummingbird is another example of a species that has been declared to be in danger, yet in reality is doing very well. The non-migratory sub-species of the Allen hummingbird has now spread into the suburban areas around Los Angeles that previously were dominated by the Anna hummingbird. The slightly smaller Allen hummingbirds hold their own at backyard feeders throughout Southern California. Reportedly, the non-migratory Allen hummingbirds have even expanded south into northern Baja California. Given the history of the Anna hummingbird, it is possible that the territory of this Allen hummingbird sub-species will expand further, into the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas in Arizona, and beyond.

Tom Halla
June 7, 2018 9:07 am

It seems to be rather difficult to raise money with the pitch that things are fine, and we wish to keep it that way. Doom and gloom is a perennial favorite.

John Garrett
June 7, 2018 9:08 am

Thanks. Your usual thorough research, knowledge and attention to detail are evident.

P.S., you might enjoy:

June 7, 2018 9:10 am

Those are birds that expend time at high latitudes, and they are probably the ones benefiting the most from global warming, specially for the past few warm years. Winter and cold are the biggest enemies of birds in temperate areas. On harsh winters their populations plummet.

Melvyn Dackombe
Reply to  Javier
June 7, 2018 11:19 am

What discernable ( global warming ).

Pop Piasa
June 7, 2018 9:19 am

Kip, I wrote a little limerick that reflects this sentence from the post
“Today’s mean-spirited, often societally destructive and pointedly biased as anti-human “environmental movement” has lost my support — I cannot sanction their attitudes nor their actions.”

Ode on Climate Activism
A Limerick

I long was a fan of Ecology,
‘Til it became “Gaia’s Theology”.
To question the memes
Is heretical it seems,
And errant exceeding apology!

Rather than Meteorology,
These pontiffs espouse Ideology.
To shape human feeling
Is foremost their dealing;
Inducing remorse with Psychology.

Yes, the science-of-climate’s esteem
Is built on “unprecedented extreme”.
Discoveries mundane
Would be ill to their gain,
As it’s lucrative for them to scream.

So, it’s up to the people to learn,
And the facts from the spin to discern.
Is the planet in harm,
Or just false alarm?
Which way will society turn?

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 7, 2018 6:42 pm

Thanks kip, but this one is not repeatable in the wrong crowd either. The climate hypnotized get red in the face and sputter Ad Homs about how you’re questioning “real science consensus”…

holly elizabeth Birtwistle
Reply to  Pop Piasa
June 9, 2018 5:18 pm

Thanks for that Pop, excellent limerick!

June 7, 2018 9:36 am

I have more than once photographed, in relatively close proximity, birds that are not normally seen in my area. Examples: white throated sparrow, which normally inhabits the eastern states, and the white-crowned sparrow, which also inhabits the eastern states.

Now, there are snowy owls from the north coming south to my county in the winter. The last census count was 150 of them, male and female, and young birds, not the older ones. There have also been snowy terns. I found a Coopers Hawk hiding in a bush. Might not have noticed him, except that the bush was full of buds instead of leaves.

There are plenty of birds. They all, especially the smaller varietals, eat bugs by the billions. They benefit us. The migration routes they follow should never be impacted by wind farms. If there is any way to stop the wind farms and solar farms from occupying those routes, please let us know.

J Mac
June 7, 2018 10:53 am

In my experience, feral cats are significant predators and contributors to song bird losses, especially when the fledglings are learning to fly and being taught to hunt for their own food. They are also efficient killers of frogs, snakes, skinks, and many other small creatures that make for interesting fauna among the flora. Feral cats are endemic in the urban and suburban environments around Seattle. Add to that the neighbor(s) that collect ‘rescue cats’ and don’t/can’t keep them on their own property. Then there are the country ‘farms’ that urbanites use as dumping grounds for their unwanted pets. Collectively, it is much more of a cat-astrophe than any minute wiggle in global warming!

bruce Sytrampe
Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 8, 2018 6:36 am

In many areas, both urban and rural, coyotes are doing a very good job of rounding up and euthanizing feral and farm cats. It seems to be one of their favorite snacks.

Reply to  J Mac
June 7, 2018 1:27 pm

Enlarge your experience! The coyotes in Puget Sound control the feral cats. The greatest bird predator is the local crow and house sparrow population.

John P Schneider
Reply to  J Mac
June 7, 2018 5:18 pm

I moved from Orange County just a bit over a year ago. We lived on the edge of a wilderness park.
We had 2-3 cats during the entire time we lived there. They never killed a single bird, frog, snake, skink, although quite a few spiders got their legs ripped off. You see, we couldn’t let the cats outdoors. Coyotes could hop our six-foot fence with ease – although some just walked between the iron bars. Bobcats and cougars made life for outdoor cats a very short one – NEVER more than two weeks. There were no outdoor cats in our neighborhood.
Los Angeles used to complain that there were 10,000 coyotes inside city limits. There were far more in Orange County. They were efficient hunters of small game – and not too bad at worrying deer. Of course, the cougars were very good – even caught a couple of humans on the trail that wended back there.
Maybe you should reduce the number of traps you or your city/town set for coyotes. Your cat problem will disappear. Of course, you may have to keep your small dog under class watch. One of our neighbors lost his full grown Doberman to a cougar.
OF course, then the local fauna have to look out for coyotes, bobcats, and cougars. Just like before people from other continents moved here. How did those birds survive without our protection?

June 7, 2018 11:33 am

Its not always a reduction in population.
In a recent “Climate Change and Me”, on BBC Radio 4. Professor Sir John Lawton made the claim that the Little Egret population in Britain was INCREASING, due to climate change.
However, this as despite the fact that the bird used to be more common in the 15th century and only became scarce in the 16th century, due to persecution.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 7, 2018 11:46 pm

His starting point wasn’t the 15th century, I only found that as a result of my elementary research on Wikipedia, which he (a renowned environmental scientist) had evidently not done.
His starting point was pre 1970’s (when he were a lad) when he saw is first little Egret in Britain and the birds were migrants and confined to Southern Europe and were not in British bird books.
The programmes are still available on iPlayer in the UK

June 7, 2018 12:58 pm

If birds were declining, then it would be because they were flying into Wind-turbines and being sliced up.
CO2 has nothing to do with Birds’ decline or Global Warming either.

June 7, 2018 1:56 pm

Gosh when you got to…” he finally managed to get airborne and perch on the electrical transmission wires” I got terribly worried that this story was heading toward an unhappy ending. Glad he was OK.

June 7, 2018 2:44 pm

I’m enjoying the hummingbirds in my AO, and usually also like the sparrows. But not the one which swooped in to eat the large spider I was enjoying watching on my window. Last year a finch kept attacking its reflection in the kitchen window. He seemed to survive this pointless expenditure of precious calories.

Now time to go out and shoot some starlings and the introduced (Asian) Indian doves, invasive species which have devastated the native birds of my childhood. Plus the neighbor’s cats, which my dad trapped, but I just hit with BBs.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 7, 2018 3:05 pm

My nearby cousin has a major bird and squirrel feeding operation. She would probably qualify for a wildlife refuge grant.

The many plants in my yard feed and attract a variety of birds.

I’ve massacred starlings for decades with little apparent effect on their population, more’s the pity. Much as with coyotes, which at least are indigenous.

I hope that the felons who released starlings in Central Park and Indian doves on the Bahamas are roasting in the hottest pit of hell.

June 7, 2018 5:10 pm

The last couple years in the Chicago suburbs I’ve noticed humming birds interested in the balsam that got transplanted from northern Wisconsin to its current southern climes, must have hitched a ride in the roof racks, (and NO, I did not dig said balsam out of a National Forest and transport it across state lines in the back of a SUV. I’ve got witnesses that will say it never happened).
First hummers I’ve seen in the ‘burbs.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 8, 2018 8:43 am
Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 8, 2018 6:51 pm

Oh, and I’m sure that the sudden influx of orb-weavers in the hood (spiders), truly hitchhikers, had nothing to do with the SUV or the boat trailer, or silken threads.

June 7, 2018 6:17 pm

We were raised by a duck hunter and avid birder. When we first moved to Florida in the late 1950s it was a rare event to see some wading bird species and a rarer event to see raptors of any species. Bald eagles and osprey were few and far between. That has all changed. We have a pair of bald eagles that nest in the middle of our neighborhood. Several pairs of ospreys nest a mile away in the local park. Red tailed and red shoulder hawks hunt our feeders most late winters and springs. Wood storks fly over regularly. The bird population rebound has been amazing. I was once on the board of the largest Audubon Chapter. I left for a variety of reasons but one of the most significant is they couldn’t celebrate success. One would have thought the plume hunters were still blasting birds. It is a rare day for any environmental group to celebrate environment success. It is one reason environmental issues have fallen way down the list of policy concerns. Try to down list, that is lower the designation, of a species listed under the Endangered Species Act and the blow back in intense. Yet to many environmental groups putting up giant wind turbines is perfectly fine. Covering over acres of land with solar panels is absolutely wonderful.

June 8, 2018 4:09 am

so these tiny birds migrate to where?
and the entire trip at low level?

June 8, 2018 12:37 pm

This report seems to be big on Twitter.

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