Nearly 30% of birds have vanished in the US & Canada since 1970, new study finds

A new study out of Cornell University has found that the US and Canada have lost nearly 30% of bird populations since 1970. This equals approximately 3 billion birds lost, ranging from songbirds to long-distance migrants and backyard favourites. Unsurprisingly, people are to blame for this massive decline; things such as agriculture, urbanisation, cats, and buildings are the leading causes. Specifically, pesticides used for agriculture kill insects, which are an essential food source for birds. These chemicals also get ingested by a variety of animals, with the negative effects being passed on through the ecosystem. Buildings and windows are a major cause of death for birds, due to collisions. Urban growth results in habitat loss for birds, and greater air pollution. And free roaming cats are a major cause of death for urban bird species. Climate change also exacerbates these effects by altering bird habitats, and threatening plants which birds depend on to survive.

Despite the bad news, there have been some success stories in reviving struggling bird populations. Ducks, geese, and swans have made a remarkable recovery over the past fifty years due to a concerted effort in conservation, and billions of government dollars fed into wetland restoration. Certain raptors, including bald eagles, have made a remarkable comeback after DDT was banned and the Canadian and US governments enacted legislation to protect these endangered species.

So, while today there is bad news for birds, there are things we can do, and must work towards. Moving away from pesticides in favour or organic growing, which necessitates public support through purchases of organic foods over conventially-grown, is key. Placing bird-deflecting materials on your windows will help reduce collisions. And only allowing your kitty out supervised or on a leash will drastically reduce bird deaths. Collar bells are another option. These are daily actions that the average citizen can undertake, but strengthening protective legislation, such as the Migratory Bird Convention Act in Canada, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the US, is also imperative. Governments, citizen organisations, non-profits, and industry must work together to protect habitat for these vulnerable creatures.

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