Billions of Wild Birds have Disappeared: Study

A disturbing new scientific study published in the Science journal has reported that there are nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds in the air than in 1970.  (The new study focuses on the drop in sheer numbers of birds, not extinctions.) The bird population in the United States and Canada had an estimated 10.1 billion birds nearly half a century ago, and has fallen 29% to about 7.2 billion birds (source: AP).

“People need to pay attention to the birds around them because they are slowly disappearing. One of the scary things about the results is that it is happening right under our eyes. We might not even notice it until it’s too late.”

-Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg, lead author of the study and Cornell University conservation scientist

“If you came out of your house one morning and noticed that a third of all the houses in your neighborhood were empty, you’d rightly conclude that something threatening was going on…3 billion of our neighbors, the ones who eat the bugs that destroy our food plants and carry diseases like equine encephalitis, are gone. I think we all ought to think that’s threatening.”

-Dr. Margaret Rubega, state ornithologist, University of Connecticut

Overview of study findings

-Scientists projected the current bird population data using weather radar (which captures flocks of migrating birds), 13 different bird surveys going back to 1970, and computer modeling, to come up with trends for 529 species of North American birds.

-Some of the most common and recognizable birds are taking the biggest hits, even though they are not near disappearing yet.

-The common house sparrow was at the top of the list for losses, as were many other sparrows.

-The population of eastern meadowlarks has shriveled by more than three-quarters, with the western meadowlark nearly as hard hit.

-Bobwhite quail numbers are down 80%.

-Grassland birds in general are less than half what they used to be.

-Not all bird populations are shrinking. For example, bluebirds are increasing, mostly because people have worked hard to get their numbers up.

What is behind this significant loss of birds?

Experts say habitat loss was the No. 1 reason for bird loss. A 2015 study said cats kill 2.6 billion birds each year in the United States and Canada, while window collisions kill another 624 million and cars another 214 million.


People can do their part by keeping cats indoors, treating their home windows to reduce the likelihood that birds will crash into them, stopping pesticide and insecticide use at home, and buying coffee grown on farms with forest-like habitat.


Journal Reference: Rosenberg, K., et al. Decline of the North American avifauna, Science  19 Sep 2019: eaaw1313, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313