News Analysis: New Study Finds Birds in Decline

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has just released the first comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States. The news isn't good. Many species are in decline. The Allegheny Front news analyst Ann Murray joins Host Matthew Craig to talk about the study and what it says about the health of our land, water and ecosystems.

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OPEN: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has just released the first comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States. The news isn't good. Many species are in decline. The Allegheny Front news analyst Ann Murray joins me to talk about the study and what it says about the health of our land, water and ecosystems.

M: What was the overall picture of bird populations that came out of this first ever report?

A: The report shows that nearly a third of the country's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline.

M: Why?

A: These populations are in decline because of habitat loss, invasive species and other threats like pesticides and hungry domestic cats.

M: Is there anything positive in the report. Are any bird populations doing OK?

A: Some species of water birds are in better shape than they've been in the past. There have been reverses in earlier declines where habitat has been restored or conserved for pelicans, ospreys. egrets and ducks. Other good news includes the recovery of the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon and other species after the banning of the chemical DDT.

M: Does that mean other species that are in decline can come back?

A: Scientists at the US Fish and Wildlife Department say they see this return of some water birds and raptures as hopeful. They say bird populations are amazingly resilient and if habitats are salvaged or conserved bird species can make a comeback.

M: Where did this report called the 2009 US State of the Birds get its information?

A: It's a combination of three ongoing bird census studies that were collected by birders and scientists.

M: Let's talk about some of the particular finds of the study. I understand that birds in Hawaii have taken the biggest hit.

A: More bird species are in danger of extinction in Hawaii than in any other state.

M: Why?

A: Because there are many species of birds there and Hawaii is losing habitat to development. More importantly, non native animals and plants have hurt bird populations there.

M: What about other areas of the country? What do declines in bird populations look like?

A: The report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years. Birds of desert areas have declined by a third. About 40 percent of species that depend on U.S. oceans have declined.

M: Give me a couple examples of birds that we're used to seeing in our area that are in decline.

A: There are two birds in found in urban birds chimney swifts and common night hawk...that have essentially lost their nesting habitats. Common night hawks nest on gravel roof tops, which apparently are not as common as they used to be.

M: How many bird species are actually considered to be endangered in the United States?

A: The United States is home to more than 800 species that live in inland, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. More than 184 species are designated as species of "conservation concern" because of a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations. Here in Pennsylvania, the Game Commission lists 15 bird species that are considered endangered in the state and 3 species are threatened including the bald eagle.

M: This is an environmental issue of big concern and an economic issue. Why?

A: Wildlife watching and recreation generate $122 billion annually, according to the report. The Obama stimulus package and proposed federal budget for the rest of 2009 will offer more money to the US Fish and Wildlife Department. This agency protects bird habitats.

M: Thanks for the information. I'm Matthew Craig along with Ann Murray. We'll have the full State of the Birds report on our website, alleghenyfront.org.

And as a program note, we'll have a special series this summer looking at Pennsylvania's threatened and endangered wildlife - not only mammals and birds, but reptiles, amphibians and even plants. And we'll talk with the scientists working to keep these species from going extinct in Pennsylvania. That's this summer, right here on The Allegheny Front.