The new U.S. State of the Birds report presents a sobering picture about the health of our bird populations, with continuing declines in songbirds, shorebirds, and more. Yet there is also a hopeful story: the report found significant increases in populations of waterfowl, thanks to longstanding investments in conservation. This insight provides important lessons as we chart a path forward and continue to advocate for policies that will help bring birds back.
The State of the Birds 2022 report used data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and other sources to review bird population trends across the nation’s ecosystems. Published by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, this report is the first look at our bird populations since 2019, when Science published a study that found a loss of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970.
Here are some key findings from the new report:
- Grassland birds have seen the largest declines of any group (34% since 1970), followed closely by shorebirds (33% decline), along with declines in sea ducks, eastern forest birds, and aridland birds.
- There are 70 bird species that are at a “tipping point,” including the Rufous Hummingbird, Bobolink, Greater Sage-Grouse, Golden-winged Warbler, and Black-footed Albatross. These birds have lost more than half of their populations in the past 50 years, and they are on track to lose yet another half of the population in the coming decades if nothing changes.
- Dabbling and diving ducks have increased by 34%, and geese and swans have increased by more than 1,000%. And while many individual species are still at risk, wetland birds have expanded overall – the only group of birds to do so. This positive news is no accident, but the result of direct investment, policymaking, and collaboration to address the conservation needs for these species.
As a supplement to the report, Audubon and other partners developed a policy document highlighting priority actions that can help bring birds back. Priorities include expanding funding for habitat and partnerships, reducing hazards and threats facing birds, and enhancing planning and coordination. Each of these priorities includes key opportunities and spotlights the following policy items:
Advance the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act. This legislation would enhance a key grant program – the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act – that has benefitted more than 5 million acres of habitat across the Western Hemisphere since 2002, and supports research, education, and more. To help bring birds back, this bill would ramp up its authorized funding, make it more accessible to partners, and provide greater staff capacity. You can take action and ask your elected officials to support this bipartisan legislation.
Ensure that we have a strong and durable Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In recent years, the MBTA has faced unprecedented threats, putting our bird populations at even further risk. A 2017 legal opinion by the Department of the Interior and a regulation in the final days of the previous administration had eliminated bird protections from industrial hazards – even major oil spills. Fortunately, that policy was reversed last year. Now, Congress should safeguard the law by passing by passing the Migratory Bird Protection Act – which you can support by urging Congress to move forward with this legislation – and the Biden administration should move forward with a permitting program that will expand practices that reduce avoidable harm to birds and enhances regulatory certainty.
Further implement the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. This law is the basis for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Birds of Conservation Concern report and includes key language regarding federal responsibilities for bird conservation. It requires monitoring bird populations and trends, and identifying priority species for conservation, priority lands and waters for birds, effects of environmental changes, and conservation actions. Congress should reauthorize funding and update the law, and agencies should further implement the law to identify key lands and waters, enhance international and interagency coordination, and improve and expand bird conservation efforts.
Taken together, these actions can provide an urgently needed boost that will help us bend the curve of bird population declines. More work will certainly be needed, and Audubon and partners will continue working to address climate change, invest in science, and advance conservation strategies. But the State of the Birds report shows us that with enough habitat, protections, and collaboration, birds will start to come back.