The first ever U.S. State of the Birds report was issued today, in hard copy with an accompanying web site. The Nature Conservancy also has launched a great website that pulls together the report, a map of U.S. bird habitat, and other important bird information.

Why is this report so critical? Because it pulls together data from many sources to give the first-ever summary of the population status of U.S. birds in an easy-to-read, informative and repeatable format. I was privileged to represent The Nature Conservancy on the multi-organizational team that developed this document — a challenging but very rewarding effort for all involved.

Here is a sampling of some of the findings in the 2009 U.S. State of the Birds report:

  • When analyzed by habitat type, birds of grasslands and aridlands are faring particularly poorly, especially those species restricted to such habitats, such as Lark Bunting (grasslands) and Greater Sage-Grouse (aridlands).
  • Hawaiian birds are in very bad shape, with 71 known extinctions since human colonization and 31 species currently listed federally as endangered or threatened, such as the Nukupu’u, which may be extinct.
  • More optimistic findings are shown by population indicators for wetland birds, which show robust increases over the past 40 years and indicate the success of wetlands conservation programs such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, urban birds also show very strong population increases, since we seem to create more and more habitat for them every day.

The U.S. State of the Birds report is modeled after similar reports done regularly in the United Kingdom (developed by the British Trust for Ornithology and other partners) and for the World, developed by BirdLife International. The report is technically a product of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, but the authors of the report represent nearly every major bird conservation organization in the country, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. team intends to repeat this work at regular intervals (probably every 3-5 years) to provide a continual and easy to use way of tracking bird populations for the public, agencies, and conservationists of all kinds.

To quote from the report: “If our efforts succeed, future generations will look back at this first State of the Birds report with disbelief that their common birds could ever have been so troubled.”

(Image: Male Greater Sage Grouse in mating display. Credit: NDomer73 through a Creative Commons license.)

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