The last year has held no shortage of challenges for birds and bird conservation. But thanks to the strong backing of American Bird Conservancy's partners and supporters, our conservation efforts flourished, and we scored major victories for birds across the Western Hemisphere. These accomplishments help build a better future for birds, but we still have a long way to go, and we're already gearing up for another big year in 2020. Before the new year arrives, however, we're taking a minute to enjoy nine of our most notable achievements for birds in 2019.
In 2019, ABC and our partners protected more than 21,236 acres of critical habitat for some of Latin America's most endangered bird species. We established five new reserves and expanded four existing reserves across four countries, often leveraging funding in coordination with other donors. For example, in a bid to prevent the extinction of the Lilacine Amazon – a colorful parrot found only in western Ecuador – ABC helped to protect 176 acres of key roosting habitat in the Balsas Valley of Ecuador. This was accomplished through 99-year easements with the community, in collaboration with our partner Fundación Jocotoco.
To aid the rare Blue-throated Macaw of Bolivia, ABC helped our partner Asociación Armonía create the 1,690-acre Laney Rickman Reserve in 2018; in 2019, the reserve's successful nest box program produced 12 chicks, bringing the total number of fledgling Blue-throated Macaws produced by nest boxes to 81. The young macaws reared in nest boxes now comprise a substantial percentage of the species' total population, which may not exceed 450 birds.
In early October, ABC staff participated in an expedition to search for additional populations of the Critically Endangered Antioquia Brushfinch in Colombia. Remarkably, the team found birds at eight localities, five of them newly discovered sites for the species. Altogether, the 20 to 25 birds seen represent at least a two-fold increase in the known global population of the species, offering new opportunities for its conservation. Originally declared a species based on analysis of museum specimens, this orange-crowned songbird was re-discovered in 2018, near the city of Medellin.
The first protected area for the Critically Endangered Marsh Antwren was established in São Paulo state, Brazil, with ABC support in late October 2019. The species has lost over 170 square miles of habitat in last 200 years and has a very small range near one of the world's biggest cities. The 5,860-acre Bicundinho Wildlife Refuge was declared by the municipality of Guararema, working with the local organization Guaranature and SAVE Brasil. It's an important step toward securing the future for this tiny antbird.
American Bird Conservancy and other conservationists have been concerned about bird declines for decades, but in 2019, a new scientific paper co-authored by ABC with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and others documented the loss of 3 billion breeding birds over the last 50 years from the United States and Canada. The research woke millions of people up to the crisis facing our birds, with coverage of the loss appearing in hundreds of newspapers and news platforms. In terms of the quality and quantity of online attention it received, the paper currently ranks as number 21 out of 63,000+ articles published in Science, according to the published science tracking tool Altmetric.
The paper calls for urgent measures by governments, companies, and individuals to reverse these declines. An ongoing outreach campaign by ABC and others highlights bird conservation actions that people can take now, from conserving habitat to keeping cats contained.
Grassland birds are the hardest-hit by population declines, according to the “3 Billion Birds” study. Over the past year, ABC-led migratory bird joint ventures in Texas have collaborated in the restoration of more than 20,000 acres of grassland for birds such as the Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Bobwhite, and Cassin's Sparrow, with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and other partners. These efforts in the South Texas BirdScape are also providing significant habitat for Monarch butterflies.
In the Central Hardwoods region – centered around Missouri and comprising seven other states – ABC and partners collectively completed over 193,000 acres of habitat improvements for Prairie Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, and other woodland birds, as well as (to a lesser extent) grassland birds in the region. Enough habitat has now been restored on the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri that an extirpated population of Brown-headed Nuthatches can be restored via translocations from the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. The first birds will be moved in the late summer of 2020.
Restoring breeding habitat for the rapidly declining Golden-winged Warbler continues to be a top priority for ABC. In 2019, we created more than 2,200 acres of high-quality young forest habitat for the warbler across private and public lands. Since this work commenced in 2013, ABC has created nearly 8,000 acres of habitat for the species in Minnesota alone – an effort extending across public lands in 13 Minnesota counties, conducted in partnership with 22 public and tribal agencies and supported by the National Resources Conservation Services' Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The most recent avian surveys estimate that 89 percent of enhanced sites were occupied by Golden-winged Warblers.
Our work to reduce the greatest threats to birds was rewarded this year with a major victory. The New York City Council passed a bill that requires the use of bird-friendly building materials in new construction and in major renovations across the city's five boroughs, where many hundreds of thousands of migrating birds die each year after colliding with glass. ABC staff played a key role by providing information to lawmakers over the last decade and testifying in support of the bill's passage. This is the most far-reaching bird-friendly building design legislation in the United States – and probably in the world. It provides a new model for how to make urban landscapes safer for birds.
We haven't won this one – yet – and while we take legal action only when absolutely necessary, ABC and Black Swamp Bird Observatory are proud to stand up for birds on Lake Erie. Together, we filed a legal complaint against the U.S. Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers over the agencies' failure to conduct a proper environmental assessment before approving and financing Icebreaker, the first offshore wind energy project in the Great Lakes. If it goes forward, the Icebreaker project would impact one of the greatest concentrations of migratory birds in North America. Renewable energy is vitally important in the fight against climate change. However, ABC insists that renewable energy be sited in such a way that impacts on birds can be minimized.