Celebrating Birds and Their Habitats Conserved in 2023: Reversing Bird Population Declines

A Look Back at ABC’s Results in Reversing Bird Population Declines This Year

Reversing Bird Population Declines – United States

The massive loss of migratory birds requires a huge response, and that's what ABC accomplishes through our BirdScapes approach. Working with a network of partners across the United States and into Latin America and the Caribbean, ABC implements conservation across core breeding, stopover, and wintering areas for priority species. To date, we have defined 100 BirdScapes and undertaken conservation action in 45 of them. Working closely with the Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (JVs) and other partners, we have together positively impacted 9.3 million acres of habitat for declining bird species, including the Cerulean Warbler and Western Meadowlark

Central U.S.: Grassland birds have been disappearing for several decades as suitable habitats are lost to threats such as unsustainable grazing, fire suppression, and brush encroachment. The Northern Bobwhite, for example, has lost more than 90 percent of its population in Texas since 1965. To reverse these declines, ABC staff works through the Oaks and Prairie Joint Venture with private landowners to improve habitat for grassland birds. In 2023, we provided direct technical assistance to improve habitat on 19,397 acres, as well as participating in 23 prescribed burns – a necessary restoration technique for some bird habitats – totaling 2,230 acres. Our Northern Great Plains program improved habitat on an additional 32,205 acres.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is another iconic species at the top of ABC's priority list. We are helping to lead discussions and planning efforts to recover this fast-disappearing grassland bird. Working with the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Landowner Alliance and Prairie Grouse Partners, we have an ambitious goal to manage and restore 80 percent of the grasslands in ten 50,000-acre landscapes across the bird's range. Our hope is to stabilize and increase the population in a manner that creates growing, robust, and sustainable genetic links among the species' scattered populations. 

And, because we need to know where birds go in order to effectively conserve them, ABC's Northern Great Plains Program continued a project tracking Long-billed Curlews, following the birds in real time from their breeding grounds in the Dakotas to Texas wintering grounds and back. The Washington Post wrote about the work in September.

Great Lakes, U.S.: This year, ABC's Great Lakes team restored nearly 2,400 acres of early successional habitat on private lands. This mix of young trees, grasses, and wildflowers has become rare due to suppression of naturally occurring wildfires, but it's essential for habitat specialists like the Golden-winged Warbler and associated species such as the American Woodcock. The team restored 170 acres in Minnesota; an additional 2,200 acres will be completed soon. In addition, ABC staff worked with Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge to restore 218 acres with carefully applied prescribed fire, thanks to support from the Minnesota Expedited Regional Conservation Partners Program. 

Another habitat specialist – the Kirtland's Warbler – will benefit from 100 acres of improved Jack Pine habitat. This work was supported by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). 

Northwest U.S.: In locations from the Pacific Northwest to Central America, ABC is coordinating the expansion of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. We installed or improved 12 stations in 2023 and provided remote support on more than 31 other partner installations. These stations enable researchers to follow the movements of tagged migratory birds such as the Red Knot and Golden-winged Warbler across the continent, identifying critical areas for conservation.

Through the Crumb Clean program, our team in the Pacific Northwest continues its efforts for the Endangered Marbled Murrelet; these unique, tree-nesting seabirds are preyed upon by ravens, crows, and jays, which in turn are attracted to murrelet breeding areas by food refuse left by people who camp and picnic nearby. ABC staff are working with partners to educate the public in Oregon to help keep campsites and recreation areas clean. 

Southeast U.S.: The Prairie Warbler and Red-headed Woodpecker are among the declining species that rely on oak-hickory forests in Indiana. To ensure these habitats are optimized for birds, the ABC-supported Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV) completed Forest Stewardship Practices for Oak-Hickory Ecosystems in Indiana, a guide for landowners. The publication was produced through “Let the Sun Shine In,” an initiative launched in 2022 with more than a dozen public and private partners. Together with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Forestry Stewardship Plans, the guide will help ensure that the needs of birds are considered in forest management and restoration plans. 

Open pine forests vital to the Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, declining Common Nighthawk, and many other birds are the focus of ABC staff and partners working with the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture. Through a NRCS Resources Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) here, more than $1 million has been allocated to nearly 20 habitat restoration projects in the West Gulf Coastal Plain and Ouachitas. 

On the Gulf Coast, the SPLASh program – Stopping Plastics and Litter Along Shorelines – has passed the milestone of more than 30,000 pounds of plastic and trash removed from Texas beaches. In one of many events this year, SPLASh partnered with Houston Audubon Society for beach cleanups on Bolivar Island, removing 1,421 pounds of trash with the help of volunteers. Clean beaches make a difference for birds: Our partners at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory have documented a reduction in annual entanglements of American Oystercatchers from a high of six to zero for each of the past three years. The SPLASh team was honored this year with a 2023 Conservation Wrangler Award from Texan by Nature. 

Other ABC people and programs also were recognized with awards this year: Todd Fearer, an ABC staff member and the coordinator of the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, received the David Pashley Award in November from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). The award recognizes Todd's excellent work and honors one of ABC's early staff members, David Pashley, who served as the first NABCI coordinator and ABC's Vice President for U.S. Conservation Partnerships until his death in 2018. And, ABC's partnership with International Paper (IP) was honored with a 2023 Leadership in Sustainability Award from the American Forest and Paper Association, an industry trade group. ABC and IP were given the award in November in the “Resilient U.S. Forests” category, which recognizes projects or programs that enhance the “diverse values of forests, such as water, carbon, biodiversity, recreation, and forest products.” Read more.

ABC's work with forest landowners in the southeast U.S., which included tracking five Swallow-tailed Kites, led to the discovery of a pre-migration roost of 600 kites on the Altamaha River in Georgia — the first of its kind outside of Florida. We can now work with partners, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, to ensure availability of roost sites in the future. 

Southwest U.S.: ABC's team in the Southwest continues to enhance grassland habitat in west and south Texas, thanks to the Rio Grande Joint Venture's Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Partnership and the South Texas Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP). By working with land stewards and conservation partners, we're increasing the quantity, quality, and connectivity of habitat for the benefit of common grassland birds in steep decline, including the Chestnut-collared Longspur, Baird's Sparrow, Northern Bobwhite, and Eastern Meadowlark. In 2023, RGJV worked with private landowners to enhance over 4,880 acres using prescribed fire, brush management, fencing, and planting of native grass seed.

ABC's Southwest Regional Director, Aimee Roberson, is a founding member of the Indigenous Kinship Circle associated with the Central Grasslands Roadmap – a large collaborative effort to conserve the prairies and grasslands across North America. A cross-boundary community of practice for Indigenous people and allies working to advance the well-being of Indigenous Nations, communities, and people, the Indigenous Kinship Circle offers members an ethical space to elevate Indigenous voices, find support, connect with and recover Indigenous knowledge, share beneficial practices, and collaborate on projects. The group fosters connections to build understanding, respect, equity, and inclusion of Indigenous perspectives, lifeways, and ecological knowledge in bird and grassland conservation, environmental justice, science, and policy. Through ABC staff and ABC's Conservation and Justice Fellows program, we are supporting the activities and growth of this alliance, including equitable engagement of Indigenous communities in México.

ABC took action in 2023 to address a threat to one of the Southwest's most important areas for birds: the Great Salt Lake. With several partners, we filed suit against the State of Utah to prevent the Great Salt Lake from drying up. The state has allowed upstream water diversions for crops, industry, and development to jeopardize the integrity of the lake, which is one of the most important sites in the Americas for migratory birds. Roughly 10 million birds use the site each year — including most of the continent's Eared Grebes, as well as huge numbers of Red-necked and Wilson's Phalaropes, American White Pelicans, American Avocets, and other shorebirds.

Reversing Bird Population Declines – Latin America & the Caribbean

Our program for migratory birds in Latin America and the Caribbean helps to ensure that stopover and wintering habitats are available where priority birds, such as the Wood Thrush and Canada Warbler, need them most. This often involves helping to ensure that lands vital for people are also optimized for birds. For example, crops such as coffee and cacao can be planted and maintained in such a way that birds thrive there, too. 

In 2023, we saw our efforts to encourage sustainable cacao production pay off with the launch of the Smithsonian's Bird Friendly® cacao certification. ABC had worked to implement best management practices with partner Zorzal Cacao in the Dominican Republic, and saw 17 of the company's cacao-supplying farms become the first to receive the Smithsonian's new certification. Habitats for birds such as wintering Bicknell's Thrush are improving through these efforts.

ABC and partners also planted more than 200,000 native and fruit trees in agricultural and ranching landscapes in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. These tree plantings have been undertaken in and around croplands and cattle pastures to create more migratory bird habitat and corridors. While the shade trees help crops and birds, the fruit trees increase sources of income for producers. 

In addition, this year saw the launch of our BirdsPlus program, which brings a three-fold approach to maintaining and enhancing migratory bird habitat: Best Management Practices for working lands; the BirdsPlus Fund, to encourage investment; and the BirdsPlus Index, which will measure the biodiversity benefits of farms using birds as indicators. Read more.


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.orgFacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter (@ABCbirds).

Media Contact

Jordan Rutter
Director of Communications