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European Study Shows Bird Declines Similar to North America’s 3 Billion Birds Lost

By Gustave Axelson
House Sparrow in Scotland. Photo by Lukasz Pulawski/Macaulay Library.
In a new study of bird population trends in the European Union, the House Sparrow was one of the biggest decliners. House Sparrows, which are a native species in Europe, have declined by 50% since 1980. The one here was spotted in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Lukasz Pulawski/Macaulay Library.

From the Winter 2022 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

In November the journal Ecology and Evolution published research showing that bird populations across the European Union have declined by nearly 20% since 1980. The declines amount to about 600 million breeding birds lost in Europe over the past four decades.

The European study—by scientists from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, BirdLife International, and the Czech Society for Ornithology—echoes findings published in the journal Science in 2019 that showed North America has lost 3 billion breeding birds since 1970.

Both studies showed big declines among birds that breed in farmlands and grasslands, as well as long-distance migratory birds.

“The annual rates of bird loss in the European study are remarkably similar to the rate of decline in the 3 billion birds lost paper,” said Ian Owens, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Owens is a native of North Yorkshire, England. “Both studies show a decline of 0.5% per year in population size, which may not initially sound like much, but it adds up to devastating losses across a human lifetime. It’s ecological collapse on an unprecedented scale.”

“We need transformative action across society to tackle the nature and climate change crises together,” said Fiona Burns, lead author of the European study and RSPB senior conservation scientist. “That means  increasing the scale and ambition of nature-friendly farming, species protection, sustainable forestry and fisheries, and rapidly expanding the protected area network.”

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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