About this Collection
More than 1 billion breeding birds have been lost from forest habitats across North America over the past 50 years. The greatest number of forest birds have been lost from the vast boreal forests of the northern United States and Canada (500 million birds) and from birds than can utilize multiple forest types as breeding habitat (482 million birds). These numbers represent a 33% decline in boreal forest birds and an 18% decline in forest generalist birds. Western forest birds have declined by 30% and eastern forest birds have declined by 17% since 1970, with 64% of all bird species in these two forest categories experiencing declines.
Forest birds face threats from the loss and degradation of forest habitats on both their breeding and wintering grounds. In North America, the condition and vegetation of many forests have changed significantly over the past 50-100 years because of prevailing forest management, timber harvest practices, and shifting land ownership patterns over that time. As a result, today’s forests generally lack the diversity of vegetation structures, age classes, and forest types that help to sustain healthy forest bird populations over the long-term. Fragmentation of large forest blocks by human development and other land uses into smaller and more separated forest parcels also leads to increased nest predation and nest parasitism.
Migratory forest birds also face threats during the non-breeding portion of their annual life cycle, when they travel long distances to spend late fall through early spring in warmer climates. Forest loss has been significant in portions of Central and South America and the Caribbean islands due to conversion to various types of agriculture, timber harvest, human development, and other socio-economic pressures. Loss of forest habitats on the non-breeding grounds results in forest birds using less suitable habitats where they might experience higher mortality or reduced fitness, which can translate into reduced breeding success during the next breeding season.
What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doing?
FWS is working on forest bird conservation through a variety of efforts across our different programs, including the Migratory Bird Program, Migratory Bird Joint Ventures, the National Wildlife Refuge System, Ecological Services, and Science Applications. Through these programs, we are fostering partnerships with other organizations to develop and achieve landscape-level forest management plans beneficial for birds, conducting outreach to forest landowners regarding opportunities to enhance forest habitat for birds (including financial and technical assistance), and developing educational materials that help explain what kind of forest management is good for birds and how to accomplish it. Some specific examples of these activities include the following:
- Forests for the Birds webinar series: tells a compelling story about forest bird population declines, partnership opportunities, and forest management actions that can support bird population recovery and sustainability.
- Provide technical support to the U.S. Forest Service for forest management that both benefits forest birds and helps address fire risks and water management as part of the Western Forest Initiative.
- Work with partners in Mexico, Central America, and South America to develop and implement conservation strategies to protect and restore tropical forests that provide important non-breeding habitat for migratory forest birds.
- Partner with the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) to deliver habitat for forest songbirds on industrial forestlands.
- Conduct an outreach campaign to private forestland owners in the Appalachian Mountains to invite them to participate, along with industrial forest landowners, in creating dynamic forest landscapes of healthy forests beneficial to birds and other wildlife.