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2014 State of the Birds Report: Analysis, Action, and Hope

2014 State of the Birds report at the Smithsonian Institution.
The 2014 State of the Birds report was released today in a ceremony at the steps of the Smithsonian Institution. Illustration by Stef den Ridder.

The 2014 State of the Birds report was released today in a ceremony at the steps of the Smithsonian Institution. The report takes inspiration from the story of the Passenger Pigeon: a symbol of both America’s natural bounty and its fragility. It was once the most abundant bird in North America, but it declined from billions of birds to zero in half a person’s lifetime.

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The authors of the report—experts from 23 of the top bird science and conservation groups in the nation—believe that the health of bird populations foretells the health of larger ecosystems, and that efforts to conserve birds will result in a better environment for all.

They conducted the most comprehensive review of long-term trend data for U.S. birds ever assembled—and the results are both unsettling and hopeful. Bird populations are declining across several key habitats—particularly aridlands, grasslands, and forests; but strong conservation action in wetlands has paid great dividends. There’s lots to be done, but the good news is that conservation works.

What Does the State of the Birds 2014 Reveal?

  • Conservation Works: Grassland restoration through the Farm Bill has aided the region’s birds; wetland conservation has reversed the declines of waterfowl; coastal wetland restoration has provided resilience during major storm surges.
  • We Must Keep Common Birds Common: The report identifies 33 Common Birds in Steep Decline. Like the Passenger Pigeon, these are familiar birds we may take for granted now—but they have shown at least a 50 percent decline in the last half-century. Download a PDF of Common Birds in Steep Decline.
  • 228 Species on the Watch List: The Watch List includes federally endangered or threatened species, plus species that showed signs of severe population declines in the report’s analysis of of long-term (1966–2012) population data. Download a PDF of the Watch List.
  • Key Habitats in Danger: In clear trouble, based on the report’s analyses, are birds of the West’s aridlands; the native forest birds of Hawaii; the seabirds of the open ocean; the grassland birds of the middle of the continent; shorebirds of our coasts.
  • The Data You Provide Are Priceless: The State of the Birds 2014 analyzed decades of data from the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey to measure trends for hundreds of bird species—all data provided by enthusiastic, skilled, volunteer birders like you. Nowadays we have the Cornell Lab’s eBird project to make contributing data easy anywhere, at any time. The sightings contributed to citizen-science programs like these are an irreplaceable, indispensable part of understanding our world and planning for the future. We are grateful to everyone who participates.
  • We Know What Works: Just a few specific actions, broadly applied, would benefit bird populations in many places. Habitat loss is the number one cause of declining populations; conservation and restoration are key. Other problems include energy development, recreation in sensitive habitats, the introduction of invasive species, and climate change.

The State of the Birds report is the product of 23 agencies and organizations, including more than 70 individuals. The project lead was Alison Vogt of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Cornell Lab participants included Ken Rosenberg, who chaired the science team; Gus Axelson, who edited the report; Ashley Dayer, who served on the communications team; Joanne Avila, who designed the report; and Stef den Ridder, a Bartels Science Illustration Intern, who painted the cover illustration.

Visit the State of the Birds website to read the full report and to download a PDF copy.


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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library