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

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Team Buchy skipped by Kimberley curler Kaila Buchy are unable to defend their BC junior women's title this year, after CurlBC announced the cancellation of the event due to the pandemic. Photo: CurlBC
CurlBC cancels U18 and U21 championships

With curling clubs closing due to PHO order, CurlBC was forced to cancel U18 and U21 events

Community mental health workers are in high demand, and a new program at Selkirk College will provide opportunities in this field. File Photo
Selkirk College to train community mental health workers

Twelve students will complete two courses enabling them to work in health and human services

Dr. Cori Lausen, bat specialist, has questions about logging in an unusual bat habitat near Beasley. Photo: Submitted
Kaslo biologist questions logging at unique West Kootenay bat site

Dr. Cori Lausen, a bat specialist, studies a population of bats above Beasley

Robbie Campbell lost his livelihood when the pandemic shut down Shambhala Music Festival. Instead, he spent part of 2020 working on a children’s book called Tulip that is now available. Photo: Submitted
In a lousy year, a Kootenay man was saved by a pink T-rex

Robbie Campbell became a children’s author after the pandemic cost him his livelihood

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Victoria waterfront

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Most Read