Studies show bird population plummeting in North America

Published: Oct. 14, 2019 at 7:05 PM AKDT
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Places like Potter Marsh attract thousands of bird-watchers every year, but new studies show that if the population of birds continues to plummet like it is, there may not be any more birds to watch.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology did a study on North American bird populations recently that shows since the 1970s, the number of birds as a whole has dropped by 29%.

Wildlife biologists like Katie Christie with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are trying to look into those numbers and figure out what’s happening to all the birds. Right now, she says they have a lot of ideas, but not that many definite answers.

She’s been studying birds for years, but most recently, she has been working with a bird that breeds right here in Alaska, Lesser Yellowlegs.

“We’re concerned about lesser yellowlegs because they are declining at a rate of 5% a year,” she said.

Through her research, Christie said they’ve been tagging as many lesser yellowlegs they can find to see where they migrate to. By doing this, Christie said they’ve found that these birds will go all over South America on their migration pattern.

If scientists know where the birds are going, they can try and determine where along with their migration pattern a problem might be occurring according to Christie.

“Maybe their optimal habitat is disappearing, pesticides could be a factor because they spend so much time in agricultural areas, or it could be something going on the breeding grounds,” she said.

Christie said they even found out that in some of the countries where lesser yellowlegs fly, hunting of shorebirds like them is legal and happens in large quantities. However, because of those trackers, they know that most of the yellowlegs that make it to those places are more from the eastern Canada area.

Some birds are doing better than others as time goes on according to Christie. She said there’s a number of birds that are doing much better in urban environments, and some populations are being decimated by development. She said grassland birds are taking the biggest hit.

On the flipside, Christie talked about how there are some success stories in the world of birds. For example, increased preservation of wetlands has helped the population of waterfowl immensely. Also, in the lower 48, banning a specific pesticide helped the bald eagle make an impressive comeback.

It can be hard to imagine how you could do anything to help these birds when it’s large-scale things that are impacting their population the most. However, there are ways to help according to Christie.

The first tip she had was to keep your cats inside.

“Cat’s kill millions of birds every year,” she said, “they are voracious bird killers, so we need to keep them inside.”

She also suggests contributing to local and citizen science efforts such as the Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count.

Christie also mentioned that people can buy Conservation Stamps for the preservation of local lands at the same office where you get hunting permits or do it online

Copyright 2019 KTUU. All Rights Reserved.

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