2022 U.S. State of the Birds Report Reveals Widespread Losses of Birds in All Habitats — Except for One
A newly released State of the Birds Report for the United States reveals a tale of two trends, one hopeful, one dire. Long-term trends of waterfowl show strong increases where investments in wetland conservation have improved conditions for birds and people. But data show birds in the U.S. are declining overall in every other habitat — forests, grasslands, deserts, and oceans.
Published by 33 leading science and conservation organizations and agencies, the 2022 U.S. State of the Birds Report is the first comprehensive look at the nation's birds since a landmark 2019 study showed the loss of nearly 3 billion birds in the U.S. and Canada in 50 years.
Findings included in the 2022 State of the Birds Report:
- More than half of U.S. bird species are declining.
- U.S. grassland birds are among the fastest declining with a 34 percent loss since 1970.
- Waterbirds and ducks in the U.S. have increased by 18 percent and 34 percent, respectively, during the same period.
- Seventy newly identified Tipping Point species have each lost 50 percent or more of their populations in the past 50 years, and are on a track to lose another half in the next 50 years if nothing changes. These species, none of which are currently listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, include beloved gems such as the Rufous Hummingbird, songsters such as the Golden-winged Warbler, and oceanic travelers such as the Black-footed Albatross.
- Hawai‘i's ten most endangered species are collectively represented by fewer than 5,500 individual birds.
The report advises that meeting declining birds' tremendous needs will require a strategic combination of partnerships, incentives, science-based solutions, and the will to dramatically scale up conservation efforts. In a companion document, there are three key conservation policy priorities listed to help Tipping Point species recover.
“Everyone can make a difference to help turn declines around,” said Mike Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “Everyone with a window can use simple solutions to prevent collisions. Everyone can help green their neighborhood and avoid using pesticides that harm birds. Everyone who lives in a neighborhood can bring the issues and solutions to their community and use their voice to take action.”
Decisive and collaborative action is particularly needed in the case of Critically Endangered Hawaiian forest birds, of which several are at risk of going extinct within the next few years. Their biggest threat is avian malaria, carried by invasive mosquitos brought to the islands by humans.
“Building upon successes in human health, there is hope and the opportunity to use naturally occurring bacteria to reduce mosquito populations, break the disease cycle, and allow the forest birds to thrive,” said Chris Farmer, Hawai‘i Program Director at ABC. “The Birds, Not Mosquitoes partnership is dedicated to developing and implementing this technique to save our remaining forest birds.”
The State of the Birds Report used five sources of data, including the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count, to track the health of breeding birds in habitats across the U.S.
“From grassland birds to seabirds to Hawaiian birds, we continue to see that nearly all groups of birds and types of bird habitat have declined significantly,” said Martha Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “The one group that is seeing an increase in population size is wetland-dependent birds, including waterfowl.”
“While a majority of bird species are declining, many waterbird populations remain healthy, thanks to decades of collaborative investments from hunters, landowners, state and federal agencies, and corporations,” said Dr. Karen Waldrop, Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited. “This is good news not only for birds, but for the thousands of other species that rely on wetlands, and the communities that benefit from groundwater recharge, carbon sequestration, and flood protection.”
The report suggests that applying that winning formula in more habitats will help birds and natural resources rebound.
“The North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Federal Duck Stamp Program, grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and regional Joint Ventures partnerships are all part of a framework that has a proven track record with restoring and protecting wetland-dependent species,” said Williams of the FWS. “Now we want to use that precedent to work with our partners to restore bird populations, conserve habitat, and build a foundation for how we respond to the loss of other bird groups.”
Data show that the biggest population declines are among shorebirds, down by 33 percent since 1970, and grassland birds, down by 34 percent. Conservation must be stepped up to reverse these losses. Everyone can play a role in saving these species by making their voices heard in support of bird-saving legislation.
“Urgent action and funds are needed to halt biodiversity loss in the U.S.,” said Jennifer Cipolletti, Director of Conservation Advocacy at ABC. “Federal funding sources such as the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act can help fill the massive gap in funding for conservation programs managed by states, territories, and tribes. Migratory Bird Joint Ventures can play a vital role as the nexus among these organizations, bringing partners together to facilitate effective delivery of these funds for the greatest conservation success.”
Recognizing the need to work at bigger, faster scales, 200 organizations from across seven sectors in Mexico, Canada, the U.S., and Indigenous Nations are also collaborating on a Central Grasslands Roadmap to conserve one of North America's largest and most vital ecosystems — grasslands, which span hundreds of million acres.
“People have changed our grassland landscape and people are key to its future,” said Tammy VerCauteren, Executive Director of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and a representative of the Central Grasslands Roadmap partnership. “Collectively, we are working to make a movement to save our grasslands and the people and wildlife that depend upon them. Together we can ensure Tribal sovereignty, private property rights, food security, resilient landscapes, and thriving wildlife populations.”
Given widespread declines in bird populations, the report emphasizes the need for proactive conservation across habitats and species.
“Despite best hopes and efforts, 70 Tipping Point bird species have a half life of just 50 years — meaning they will lose half their already dwindling populations in the next 50 years unless we take action,” said Dr. Peter Marra, Director of The Earth Commons — Georgetown University's Institute for Environment & Sustainability. “What we've outlined in this State of the Birds is a recipe for how conservation biologists can work with communities and use surgical precision to solve environmental problems — blending new technology and data to pinpoint the cause of losses and to reverse declines while we still have the best chance — now, before more birds plummet to Endangered.”
The 2022 U.S. State of the Birds Report was produced by a consortium of government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives led by NABCI (North American Bird Conservation Initiative). Read the report at StateoftheBirds.org.
Banner Image Bird Names and Photo Credits:
Top row, left to right: Black Rail by Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock, Bobolink by Dan Behm, Buff-breasted Sandpiper by Betty Rizzotti, Chestnut-collared Longspur by All Canada Photos/Alamy Stock Photo, Golden-winged Warbler @ Michael Stubblefield
Bottom row, left to right: Greater Sage-Grouse by Vivek Khanzode, Laysan Albatross by David Fisher, Least Tern by Dennis W. Donohue/Shutterstock, Prairie Warbler @ Michael Stubblefield, Rufous Hummingbird by mbolina/Shutterstock
Additional Quotes from Organizations Releasing the 2022 State of the Birds Report
“The rapid declines in birds signal the intensifying stresses that wildlife and people alike are experiencing around the world because of habitat loss, environmental degradation and extreme climate events. Taking action to bring birds back delivers a cascade of benefits that improve climate resilience and quality of life for people. When we restore forests, for example, we sequester carbon, reduce fire intensity, and create habitat for plants and animals. By greening cities, we provide heat relief, increase access to recreation, and create refuge for migrating birds.” — Dr. Amanda Rodewald, Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Center for Avian Population Studies
“America's wildlife are in crisis with one-third of species at heightened risk of extinction. People and wildlife face many of the same threats, and we know that when we invest in conserving and restoring birds and other species, we also are investing in clean water, clean air, thriving ecosystems, and vibrant parks and public lands. The State of the Birds Report is a clarion call for us all to help address the wildlife crisis and equip our state, Tribal, and territorial wildlife managers with the tools and funds they need to strengthen our shared stewardship of birds and the diversity of life that depends on them.” — Corina Newsome, Associate Conservation Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
“What affects birds affects us, and birds are telling us they are in trouble. The State of the Birds Report underscores both the serious threats facing birds as well as opportunities to forge solutions that will benefit birds and the places they need. It also shows that what's good for birds is good for people when it comes to addressing threats like climate change. Ensuring healthy landscapes across our forests, grasslands, wetlands, and more will help protect birds and people alike by storing carbon, providing essential habitat, and building more climate-resilient communities.” — Marshall Johnson, Chief Conservation Officer, National Audubon Society
“This is not a time to be dismayed. This is a time for optimism, inclusivity, and action — the birds will not have it any other way. What the State of the Birds Report tells us is investment in conservation works for both birds and people. With broad strokes of engagement across communities and proactive planning, we can collectively save birds and save ourselves.” — Nikki Belmonte, Executive Director, American Birding Association
“Birds are in trouble, but we all can help bring them back. Living bird-friendly makes your home and lifestyle better for birds and the planet. Our team at the Smithsonian is working hard to study and help conserve these magnificent feathered travelers, including creating an immersive exhibit opening in winter 2023 to further connect the public to understand and protect the grand phenomenon of bird migration.” — Dr. Scott Sillett, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
“It's critical that we bring the full weight of the collaborative bird monitoring community to these periodic assessments. We need to know how the birds of America are doing compared to previous assessments and the Avian Knowledge Network provides a partner-based data management platform that makes this easier and more efficient every time we do it. One thing that's clear is that continued monitoring of the plight of birds will be crucial in our ongoing conservation efforts.” — Dr. Sam Veloz, Director, Eco-Informatics and Climate Solutions, Point Blue Conservation Science, and Steering Committee Member, Avian Knowledge Network
“Western forest restoration programs that are integrating bird conservation objectives with efforts to increase climate-, fire-, and water-security for front line communities provides just one of many such opportunities outlined in this year's State of The Birds Report. This report highlights our work with Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Programs showing how a small investment in bird conservation specialists leverages huge forest restoration investments to ensure they pay off for birds and people.” — Dr. John Alexander, Executive Director, Klamath Bird Observatory
“By working together we can overcome the challenges many of our birds face. Through collaboration, state and federal agencies, tribes, and nonprofit organizations turned the tide for many waterfowl and iconic species like the Bald Eagle. Given sufficient resources, like the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, we can do the same for other species before it's too late.” — Ron Regan, Executive Director, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
“This year's State of the Birds Report makes clear that proactive, sustained investment in at-risk species conservation is vital to the future of North America's bird species. Congress must heed the warnings presented by the scientific community by passing proactive funding measures, such as the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, that will ensure species have a fighting chance against extinction.” — Caroline Murphy, Government Relations Manager, The Wildlife Society
“Investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Inflation Reduction Act, America the Beautiful, and the Recovering America's Wildlife Act may offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the 3 Billion Birds crisis.” — Dr. John Alexander, Executive Director, Klamath Bird Observatory
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).