A Lewis’s Woodpecker near Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. (Submitted)

Three billion fewer birds in North America than in 1970, study finds

Worst declines found in sparrows, warblers and blackbirds

An extensive study of hundreds of bird species across decades worth of data has for the first time estimated how badly numbers of even the most common birds have shrunk.

The paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, concludes the total number of North American birds has dropped by three billion since 1970 — about 30 per cent. Some of the most familiar species have been the hardest hit.

“The species like pigeons and house sparrows and starlings, species we think of as thriving in urban environments, even those species are in steep decline,” said Adam Smith, an Environment Canada scientist and the paper’s co-author.

The study, conducted through nine universities and government agencies in Canada and the United States, looked at 529 different kinds of birds.

It’s based on data collected from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, which began in the mid-1960s with the help of governments and an extensive network of volunteers. It was backed up by information contained in records from 143 U.S. weather radar stations, which are able to track migrating flocks.

The declines have been widespread. Except for waterbirds and raptors, which are heavily conserved, nearly every family is suffering.

Forest birds such as flycatchers, woodpeckers and chickadees are down more than a billion.

Grassland birds — meadowlarks, sparrows, wrens — have been more than halved. There are 700 million fewer of them than there were 50 years ago. Three-quarters of the species in this family are shrinking.

The worst declines have been ascribed to some of the most abundant birds. Sparrows, warblers and blackbirds account for almost three-quarters of the total losses.

“The loss of abundance overall is something that has a cost to our healthy ecosystems,” Smith said.

“There are billions fewer beaks out there to eat insects. There are fewer birds to eat and disperse plant seeds. And there are fewer birds for us to experience.”

Birds are also what scientists call an indicator species. Because information on them is so extensive, they reveal early trends in environmental change.

“Birds are an indicator that the natural world is stressed,” said Smith.

The results of the Science paper were foreshadowed by the State of the Birds report, which came out in June and looked at Canadian species. That report found similar patterns — waterbirds up, most everything else down, with some unknowns.

The findings are echoed by other research detailing declines in insects, amphibians and fish.

The current study doesn’t address reasons for the drops, but Smith said previous research points to probable causes.

READ MORE: Wrong turn leaves Caribbean-bound bird in B.C.’s Lower Mainland

“Habitat loss and degradation — the loss of the land, water and air that birds use to survive. The loss of that ecological space is the primary driver of population decline for almost all of these birds.”

He pointed out that most birds in the study migrate, so efforts to rebuild populations have to be co-ordinated across jurisdictions from Nunavut to South America. It can be done, Smith said, as it has for bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

“I want (my kids) also to see someday those massive, spectacular flocks of migrating birds that used to be and have declined.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Vernon business not zoned for growing pot: city

Water remains shut off at sports store after deemed risk to city supply

Vernon player wins ATP tour event, named to Davis Cup squad

Vasek Pospisil joins Raonic, Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime in representing Canada

Snow falls at SilverStar Mountain Resort

Ski season just around the corner

Vernon up for advanced gas meters project

FortisBC to host information session for Vernon customers Wednesday

Spallumcheen administrator earns provincial coaching gig

Doug Allin will be head coach for Team BC men’s softball team at 2021 Canada Games in Ontarior

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after her unleashed dog bites Muffin

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Halloween musical creeps onto the Summerland Community Arts Centre stage

Tracy Fehr and the Voice Studio Singers perform on Oct. 25.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

LETTER: Middle class better off with Trudeau’s child benefit boost

It’s a transfer, not a tax cut, but it helps families get ahead

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

B.C. scouting group’s tent destroyed by black bear on Thanksgiving

The Richmond-based Sea Dragon Sea Scouts were camping at Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Morning Start: Today is the last day to cast a vote in the federal election

Your morning start for Monday, October 21st, 2019

Most Read