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Bye, Bye Birdie?

Notice fewer visitors to your bird feeder? Can't remember the last time you heard the call of the Kentucky Warbler? Some of the most common song birds are disappearing around the country, thanks to habitat loss.The U.S. House subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans heard testimony Thursday on the global decline of bird populations, just as the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is up for reauthorization. The Act provides funding for on-the-ground conservation efforts in Central and South American countries, as well as Canada's boreal forests, where many of the United States' most common migratory birds breed or winter.Testimony from the National Audubon Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and more brought up some startling statistics:

  • 20 of the nation's most common bird species have lost more than half their population over the past 40 years (that includes four species of sparrows and the Eastern Meadowlark)
  • Scientists see declines in shrub and grassland, forest, and wetland bird populations
  • They also say it's likely that populations of the Cerulean Warbler - once a common song bird in eastern U.S. forests - will decline by more than 90% over this century

So, what's to blame for the drastic drop in populations? Habitat loss due to more consolidated and intensive farming and suburban development top the list. But here are a few other reasons:

  • Global warming: warmer temperatures, longer warm seasons, and all the attendant changes are causing changes in where birds can thrive, and how they access water and food.
  • Invasive species that like warmer climes: species that simply choke ecosystems, compete with birds' natural forage or habitat, or prey on birds (like fire ants in the southeast) are also pushing birds over the brink.

Witnesses at the hearing offered several solutions, including increasing funding for conservation, encouraging the National Wildlife Refuge program to look into ways to connect fragmented habitats, and encouraging federal and state agencies to restore destroyed habitats, such as wetlands.You can listen to the testimony here.