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Coverage of alarming bird study may ‘jar people into paying attention’

Evening Grosbeak numbers are down 90 percent in the last five decades, according to a recent study. Photo by Jay McGowan/Macaulay Library

Last week, mainstream news outlets around the world carried stories about a new study that says North America’s bird populations are collapsing.

The alarming study, written by scientists from seven conservation and research organizations, reported that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats — from meadowlarks to swallows.

Articles about the research appeared in dozens of media sources, likely reaching millions of listeners and readers who aren’t birders and, presumably, don’t pay much attention to trends in bird populations. Could the volume of news coverage of the study spark positive actions for conservation by individuals and/or politicians and decision makers?

“Yes, this is a game-changer because it is not just endangered birds declining — it’s nearly all birds,” says Steve Holmer, a vice president at American Bird Conservancy. “The public is mobilizing to oppose climate change, harmful drilling policies, and species loss. Endless deregulation must give way to a new era of implementing smart solutions that prevent wildlife impacts and habitat loss.”

Ken Rosenberg, the study’s lead author and a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy, is hopeful that the publicity about the study will lead to change.

“Perhaps the study, the announcement, and the hard numbers will jar people into paying attention, and for bird lovers and nature lovers everywhere, to start raising our voices and do the kind of thing that duck hunters did 30 years ago,” he says.

“This is our resource, and we love these birds. People say there are 40 or 50 million birdwatchers out there. That’s a tremendous force, if they care enough. Bring that to the voting box. We need to become a political force. We need to make this an issue and we need to raise our voices.”

Learn more about the study at

A version of this article will appear in the November/December 2019 issue of BirdWatching magazine.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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