Nearly 3 Billion Birds Gone

A new study finds steep, long-term losses across virtually all groups of birds in the U.S. and Canada

Photo: David Zeig / Audubon Photography Awards

Read the Full Study

Published online in Science, Sept. 2019.

Feature Story

In Living Bird magazine

Help Birds

With 7 Simple Actions

See a short overview of the study’s findings on North America’s steep bird declines.
Show Transcript

NARRATOR: Birds are part of our lives. They fill the air with song, Inspire us with their beauty. And make their homes in the most unexpected places. Sometimes they’re even our neighbors. But the birds we love, are vanishing. An alarming new study reveals that the population of North American birds has dropped nearly 30% since 1970. That’s almost three billion birds gone. Vanished from our forests, grasslands, and backyards, in less than the span of a human lifetime. Some of the hardest hit are familiar birds: orioles, meadowlarks, swallows, warblers. What’s driving this decline?

NARRATOR: Birds are losing the habitats they need, places to live, find food, rest, and raise their young. They face many other threats as well—from free-roaming cats and collisions with glass, to toxic pesticides and insect declines. Climate change will compound all of these problems and accelerate the loss of habitats birds need. This enormous loss of birds signals a broader crisis in the natural world one that ultimately affects us all. But it’s not too late….

NARRATOR: Our actions on behalf of birds make a positive difference and benefit the entire planet. Thanks to strong conservation efforts and habitat management, many waterfowl and formally endangered species are now flourishing. It’s time to expand these conservation efforts to help the rest of our birds recover too. With our help, they can be restored as a vital part of the American landscape, and a precious part of our lives. We’re united in pursuing better protections and increased support for birds… and you can help. Please, join us.

End of Transcript

Nearly 3 Billion Birds Gone Since 1970

The first-ever comprehensive assessment of net population changes in the U.S. and Canada reveals across-the-board declines that scientists call “staggering.” All told, the North American bird population is down by 2.9 billion breeding adults, with devastating losses among birds in every biome. Forests alone have lost 1 billion birds. Grassland bird populations collectively have declined by 53%, or another 720 million birds.

A staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick and study coauthor Peter Marra

The Main Findings

Even Common Birds Are Vanishing

Common birds—the species that many people see every day—have suffered the greatest losses, according to the study. More than 90% of the losses (more than 2.5 billion birds) come from just 12 families including the sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, and finches.

The losses include favorite species seen at bird feeders, such as Dark-eyed Juncos (or “snowbirds,” down by 168 million) and sweet-singing White-throated Sparrows (down by 93 million). Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are down by a combined 139 million individuals. Even the beloved Red-winged Blackbird—a common sight in virtually every marsh and wet roadside across the continent—has declined by 92 million birds.

“We want to keep common birds common, and we’re not even doing that,” said Pete Marra, a study coauthor who formerly directed the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and now directs the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

7 simple actions to help birds - drink shade-grown coffee, use less plastic, do citizen science, make windows safer, keep cats indoors, use native plants, avoid pesticides
7 simple things to help birds, graphic by Sarah Serrousi. Wood Thrush by John Petruzzi/Macaulay Library.

This Is a Problem Everyone Can Solve

7 Simple Ways to Help Birds

1.

Make Windows Safer, Day and Night

Simple adjustments to your windows can save birds’ lives.

2.

Keep Cats Indoors

Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. Outdoor cats kill more birds than any other non-native threat.

3.

Reduce Lawn by Planting Native Species

The U.S. has 63 million acres of lawn. That’s a huge potential for supporting wildlife.

4.

Avoid Pesticides

Look for organic food choices and cut out some of the 1 billion pounds of pesticides used in the U.S. each year.

5.

Drink Coffee That’s Good for Birds

Shade-grown coffees are delicious, economically beneficial to farmers, and help more than 42 species of North American songbirds.

6.

Protect Our Planet From Plastics

91% of plastics are not recycled, and they take 400 years to degrade.

7.

Watch Birds, Share What You See

Bird watchers are one of science’s most vital sources of data on how the ecological world is faring.

Support Our Research

Support from our members helped make this vital work possible.

Now, our scientists must seek solutions that will stem further population declines. The future of birds and our natural world depends on it—and you can help.

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Let’s Tell People About This

If you’re on this page, chances are birds are already important to you—but most people don’t know about this finding. Can you help us take the news to them? Share these short videos on social media. Tweet about the research. Post an image to Instagram. Or just tell a friend the old-fashioned way—it all helps.

Facebook

Share these videos:


Twitter

New finding says 1 in 4 birds have vanished in our lifetime. Let’s get together and #BringBirdsBack 


Instagram

Save these infographics and share them on your Instagram feed to help people see how the birds we know and love are faring. Many trends are downward, but some positive trends illustrate what is possible when we take action.


Links

ABOUT THE STUDY

Critical data were contributed by citizen-science participants in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, North American Breeding Bird Survey, and other bird-monitoring initiatives. The Partners in Flight Avian Conservation Assessment Database was a critical source for the data.

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