The Bird Extinction Crisis in North America

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The devastating decline in bird populations across North America frightens backyard birders and scientists alike.

The numbers are staggering, and sadly, most people are completely unaware of the ongoing and worsening bird extinction happening not only in our wild spaces and across every wild biome, but also in our backyards.

Knowing the numbers and what birds are at high risk spreads awareness and encourages everyone to be a part of the solution. Let’s look at the numbers.

The Endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow
The Saltmarsh Sparrow, listed as Endangered in 2020. Image by Evan Lipton via Flickr.

Bird Extinction and Endangerment 

Birds are experiencing a long-drawn major extinction event, primarily due to humans. Over the last 20,000 to 50,000 years, ten to twenty percent of avian species have fallen prey to extinction. This is not a natural occurrence. 

Three to four species would disappear in a 500-year timespan if left untouched. Instead, we are causing an acceleration of loss, leading to upwards of 187 species in the last 500 years. 

The Facts and Figures of North American Bird Decline

The facts don’t lie. Birds are in a dire situation and need our help. How bad is it? 

What Bird Species Are Considered At-Risk of Extinction?

The Endangered Tricolored Blackbird
The Endangered Tricolored Blackbird. Image by Travis Williams via Flickr.

The list of at-risk birds is, unfortunately, far too long to share in this article. For a more in-depth listing, refer to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the listing provided in the US FWS Birds of Conservation Concern publication. 

Endangered Birds of North America

Here, we share some of the most commonly known and appreciated birds teetering on the brink of extinction:

  • California Condor
  • Whooping Crane
  • Tricolored Blackbird
  • Saltmarsh Sparrow
  • Ivory-billed Woodpecker
  • Ashy Storm-petrel
  • Brown-Capped Rosy Finch
  • Black Rosy-Finch
  • Marbled Murrelet

The Tipping Point

The tipping point is when a bird population has an immediate need for help as it faces a severe risk of landing on the endangered species list. Species are considered at their tipping point when they have lost fifty percent or more of their population. These species are typically on track to lose the other fifty percent within a short period of time.

Currently, over seventy species are considered at their tipping point. Most species are considered common birds. With over 11% of species already extinct, it is imperative we take action to eliminate the possibility of a future without birds. 

What Causes the Extinction of Bird Species

The California Condor, a Critically Endangered Species
The California Condor, a reintroduced species after its extinction in 1987. Today, it remains critically endangered. Image by Dorothy Sutherland via Flickr.

The current rate of bird extinction is not natural. What is causing the rapid loss of bird populations? There are several factors, but they all link back to one common denominator. Us.

Bird Population Decline Contributing Factors

The primary factors significantly influencing the critical decline in bird populations across North America are listed below:

Is There Hope?

Is it too late to stop the extinction of birds? Can we positively impact the future? The answer- we can, if we start now.

Why should we act to prevent bird extinction?

Birds are biodiversity indicators. This means their health status represents that of the overall habitat. Therefore, if the birds are dying, the ecosystem is too. In the end, this leads to a fatal outcome.

Luckily, there are a lot of actions that can be taken to prevent this disastrous future scenario. Each action helps, both small from the individual standpoint and large from the organizational and governmental standpoint.

How To Save Wild Birds

The Endangered Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes, a North American bird species endangered with extinction. Image by Todd Leech via Flickr.

Here are some ways you can help to save the wild birds risking extinction:

  • Write letters to government agencies pleading for the protection of wild birds through needed legislation.
  • Prevent the use of pesticides and fertilizers both in your backyard and by advocating for the elimination of their use in big AG.
  • Plant wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. Research what native birds need to thrive in your location and provide a backyard sanctuary. (Be sure to keep up with your act of kindness! The birds, native and migratory, will come to depend on your backyard oasis.)
  • Donate to bird conservation organizations.
  • Get engaged! Appreciate the birds around you and share that appreciation and newfound knowledge with your peers. The more people that care and the deeper they do so, the more likely it is we can save the future of birds.

Bird Conservation Resources

Getting involved in a community structured around bird conservation is a great place to start your conservation efforts. These organizations typically offer educational resources, in-person philanthropic events, and virtual opportunities to get involved. 

Look for local groups or learn more about resources available through the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Audubon organization. National and State parks additionally provide educational programs and volunteer opportunities.

You may also refer to our website, where we regularly share insights, information, and inspiration on all things related to bird conservation. 

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