Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

March 19, 2009


Secretary Salazar Releases Study Showing Widespread Declines
in Bird Populations, Highlights Role of Partnerships in Conservation

Washington, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.

At the same time, the report highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, offering hope that it is not too late to take action to save declining populations.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

The report, The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.

In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. In addition, the report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline in birds of aridlands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.

However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.

“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”

“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for ConservationPrograms. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”

“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to healthy, thriving bird populations,” said Dave Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy.

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.

“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”

Birds are beautiful, as well as economically important and a priceless part of America's natural heritage. Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The report is available at http://www.stateofthebirds.org.
Contacts:
Hugh Vickery (DOI), (202) 501-4633
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Alicia King, 703-358-2522/571-214-3117, Alicia_F_King@fws.gov
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Vanessa Kauffman, 703-358-2138, Vanessa_kauffman@fws.gov
American Bird Conservancy: Steve Holmer, 202-234-7181, sholmer@abcbirds.org
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 607-254-2137, pel27@cornell.edu
National Audubon Society: Nancy Severance, 212-979-3124, nseverance@audubon.org
The Nature Conservancy: Blythe Thomas, 703-841-8782, bthomas@tnc.org
Klamath Bird Observatory: Ashley Dayer, 541-324-0281, aad@klamathbird.org

Please see the two following attachments:
1. Questions/Answers about the U.S. State of the Birds report
2. Highlights of Birds Species in the Mountain Prairie Region
(Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming)

The State of the Birds United State of America 2009

What is the State of the Birds United States of America 2009?
The State of the Birds United States of America 2009 demonstrates and provides data-driven support in a comprehensive, collaborative effort to assess the health of all birds and their habitats within the United States. This report also provides support for the concept that the health of bird populations is linked to the quality of life for citizens of the United States, and that bird populations are an indication of changes in this nation’s valuable natural resources.

The State of the Birds United States of America 2009 will give us a glimpse of what is happening in the United States through a bird’s eye view. In other words, it will show us that birds can be effective indicators of the health of habitats and our environment as a whole. The report will demonstrate and provide data-driven support in a comprehensive, collaborative effort to assess the health of all birds and their habitats within the United States. It will point to habitat areas where we have problems as indicated by the state of bird populations there. These are problems not only for birds but also the environment itself and its human inhabitants.

Who created the State of the Birds United States of America 2009?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with bird conservation partners created the State of the Birds United States of America 2009. The State of the Birds team is a subcommittee of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). This report reflects the first product of what will become a long-term collaboration among partner organizations to chart the state of United States’ birds over time and, thereby, the state of our environment.

What data was used in the State of the Birds United States of America 2009?
The report presents a new synthesis of major North American databases, highlighting the contributions of thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists. Results from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Christmas Bird Count, and Spring Waterfowl Population Survey, including information from each of the bird conservation initiatives*, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations, and a variety of surveys for shorebirds, seabirds, and other groups of birds, will be integrated to provide for the first-ever comprehensive summary of population status for North American birds found in the United States for some part of their life cycle.

Why is the report based on habitats?
Bird species rely on specific types of habitats to provide food, shelter, water, and space they need to survive and reproduce young. To understand how bird populations are changing over time, we analyzed trends in bird populations by groups of birds that live in the same habitat, such as wetlands or grasslands. The trends in bird populations in a given habitat can provide important insight into the ever changing quality of these habitats. If the bird populations that depend on a given habitat show an increase, then we might expect that habitat has healthy characteristics. In contrast, if bird populations in a given habitat are declining, it might suggest a habitat in trouble.


Birds as indicators of the health of our environment, what does that mean?
Trends in bird populations can give us the first insights into the health of the environment as well as a serve as a measure of sustainability. Birds respond quickly to changes in their environment and reflect the health of other wildlife populations. Research and monitoring of bird populations is an easy and cost-effective means to track ecosystem health. People, other wildlife and birds both live in habitats. By focusing on bird populations in specific habitats, we hope we can use birds as indicators of the health of those habitats and relay that healthy habitats are good for people too.

Why is there a need for such a report? Why now?
Enormous changes are occurring in our environment. Birds reflect these changes occurring and are increasingly being used as an indicator of the health of our environment. This report will provide the findings of the first-ever comprehensive analysis to understand the relationship between changing bird populations and habitat. Datasets and monitoring results are now in place to allow us to conduct this analysis we could not have done previously. Because birdwatching is one of the most popular recreational activities, citizen scientists and bird watchers represent great potential for gathering comprehensive and rapid information about birds and their habitats.

Who is the target audience?
The target audience is primarily policy decision makers and bird conservation organizations as well as the general public. The objective is to inform these audiences about the status and trends of bird populations in relation to the health of habitats, ecosystems, and many environmental issues of importance to Americans.

How will this report be used?
This report will present information to policy makers and the American public about birds and the need for action concerning bird conservation. The United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries in Europe have produced their own national “State of the Birds” reports at regular intervals. In 2004 and 2008 Birdlife International published the “State of the World’s Birds.” In 2004 the National Audubon Society published a “State of the Birds” report that addressed the health of all bird populations, and in 2007 reported on the decline in common birds. Connecticut and Washington have published their own state reports.

These reports have been helpful in illustrating the need for conservation action of birds and their habitats. As a result of these reports, the UK government has adopted the “State of the Birds” as one of the quality of life indicators for the country, along with such indicators as gross national product and air pollution. In response to the results, the government has made a commitment to return bird populations to historic levels. For example, in their farm conservation programs they have chosen ten conservation practices that are good for farmland bird species and require farmers interested in receiving subsidies to implement some of these practices.

With the State of the Birds United States of America 2009, we will be able to highlight where we have had successes and where energy must be focused to aid bird conservation and overall ecosystem health and the overall well being of the American people.

Many birds travel over international boundaries, how does the State of the Birds United States of America 2009 relate to other countries?
Birds do not recognize international boundaries. This report will present the population trends of some species of birds that exist both in the United States as well as other countries. Sometimes these birds may only spend a few weeks of every year in the United States, such as some of the seabirds. Further, we will address threats to bird populations experienced in the United States and often as well in other countries—during breeding and wintering seasons or on the course of migration. The report will be shared with scientists and conservationists in other countries and with organizations that work on bird population status worldwide.

State of the Birds United States of America 2009 follow up.
The report is expected to be updated at least every three to five years in conjunction with updates of the Service’s Birds of Conservation Concern. The continent of North America offers unique challenges and opportunities for bird conservation. Mexico and Canada are interested in developing their own State of the Birds Report. There is also interest in the publication of a North American State of the Birds Report in cooperation with Canada and Mexico.

* North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Joint Ventures, Partners In Flight Conservation Plans, Shorebird Conservation Plan, North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, North American Bird Conservation Initiative, Resident Game Bird Initiatives, and the Pacific Flyway Council

Contact information:
Alicia Frances King ,Communications Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Management
4401 N. Fairfax Dr. Mail Stop 4107
Arlington, VA 22203
703-358-2522
Alicia_F_King@fws.gov

March 19, 2009

CONTACT: Debbie Felker, 303-236-4588


Highlights of Bird Species in the Mountain-Prairie Region
(Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming)

The U.S. State of the Birds report details the status of many bird species that occur throughout the United States, including eight states that comprise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region – Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

The Mountain-Prairie Region has some of the most important, undisturbed nesting and migratory bird habitat in the United States, with 523 avian species occurring here. Conservation of many migratory species is dependent upon habitat currently protected in the region.

Grasslands throughout the region and the United States have declined. This report notes that of 48 grassland-breeding bird species, 44 percent are of conservation concern, primarily due to conversion of native grasslands to agricultural crop production and resulting habitat fragmentation and use of pesticides. Thirty-one of the 44 species for which data exist (70 percent) are declining nationally, including three species of obligate grassland nesting birds found in this region -- Sprague’s Pipits, Baird’s Sparrows and Bobolinks. These species occur throughout the northern grasslands and breed at many national wildlife refuges (NWR) in the region, including Medicine Lake NWR in eastern Montana.

The region has 134 national wildlife refuges and numerous waterfowl production areas, which include fee title and private land easements established to conserve important habitats such as wetlands and grasslands. Many bird species depend on these protected habitats to sustain them during breeding, migration and wintering periods.

Examples of the importance of the region’s NWRs to migratory bird conservation include the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR in Colorado, home to an important population of Burrowing Owls, and Lostwood NWR in North Dakota, which is known internationally as a breeding area for grassland and marsh bird species. Refuges also provide vital stop-over habitat. For example many sandpipers use habitat at Quivira NWR in Kansas to rest and refuel during their long migration from the Arctic to wintering areas in Argentina and Brazil.

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Great Salt Lake Basin in northern Utah are home to millions of waterbirds, including Eared Grebes, Cinnamon Teals, American Avocets and California Gulls. Approximately 45 percent of the entire global population of Wilson’s Phalaropes stop in this area during spring and fall migrations. Bear River also provides an important stopover for many shorebirds that breed in western grasslands, such as Long-billed Curlews, a national species of conservation concern.

The Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas and Montana produces more waterfowl then any other area in the United States. Some waterfowl populations in the Mountain-Prairie Region exhibit stable or increasing trends, including several species of ducks -- Mallards, Gadwalls, Wood Ducks and Redheads. This is partly due to habitat improvements resulting from five joint ventures established for migratory bird conservation: U.S. Prairie Pothole, Intermountain West, Rainwater Basin, Playa Lakes and Northern Great Plains. Joint ventures are non-regulatory and volunteer-based partnerships of state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, corporations and private individuals working to provide diverse habitats needed to sustain migratory bird populations. Last year, more than 100 partners conserved or protected almost 426,000 acres of habitat in this region.

Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin also protects millions of ducks, waterbird and shorebirds that stop in this area to rest and feed during their annual migration.

In addition to joint ventures, other partnerships in the region support research and improve habitat to help grassland and other birds on the decline. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is working to recover endangered Least Terns and Whooping Cranes and threatened Piping Plovers while water development continues in the Platte River Basin. The program is a partnership of the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming; the Bureau of Reclamation; the Service; local water users and environmental organizations.

In Montana, the Blackfoot Challenge is a grassroots group of private landowners, local, state and federal agencies, and corporate landowners coordinating efforts to conserve and protect the natural resources and rural lifestyle of the Blackfoot River Valley. Prairie wetland complexes attract a number of breeding and migrating birds, including Sandhill Cranes, Trumpeter Swans and Black Terns. To date, the Blackfoot Challenge has protected 110,000 acres with voluntary, perpetual conservation easements and restored 3,600 acres of wetlands and 2,300 acres of grasslands. Collectively, the partnership has also restored nearly 45 miles of instream habitat and 70 miles of riparian habitat.

The region is also home to many birds of religious and cultural importance to Native American tribes including Bald and Golden eagles. Golden Eagles find important nesting habitat in the states of Montana and Wyoming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region continues to work cooperatively with states, private landowners and other partners to develop and maintain habitat to recover and sustain populations of birds, plants, animals and fish. For more information, visit the region’s website: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/

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