The migratory songbirds that are returning in droves to backyards after spending the winter in the southern U.S. and Central and South America, bring welcome splashes of song and color to the 47 million U.S. residents who consider themselves birders.
Their long-distance twice-annual migration, though, is in peril. And the story is much the same along all the world's major migration routes, the United Nations Environment Program warned this week. The 522 waterbirds that migrate from Europe to Africa have seen a 41% decline, and many species migrating through the Americas are showing significant declines as forested habitat in breeding and wintering grounds is lost or foraging habitat along the migratory route is destroyed. Of the 178 continental bird species included on the American Bird Conservancy/Audubon WatchList of birds of highest conservation concern, over one-third 69 species are neotropical migrants. At least 29 species of these migratory birds are experiencing significant population declines. Surveys indicate that several species, such as the Cerulean Warbler and Olive-Sided Flycatcher, have declined by as much as 70% since the 1960s.
Migratory birds are some of the most extraordinary creatures on the planet and in many countries bird watching is an economically important leisure and tourism activity, said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. But migratory birds are more than this. Their dependence on healthy habitats and ecosystems makes them among the key indicators as to whether the international community is truly addressing the decline and erosion of the planets nature-based assets.
Migratory Bird Day is May 10, and will be recognized this weekend around the world. (Find an event near you.)
The good news is that everyone who enjoys birds can do something about the problem. The big choices involve use of wood-based products and meat, since the loss of forests in the Canadian boreal and rainforests of Central and South America are important reasons for the loss of birds. Use less paper, eat less meat. When buying paper and wood products, look for those certified by the Rainforest Alliance, the Forest Stewardship Council or other reputable third-party certifiers.
Then, turn your attention to your own backyard. Stop using pesticides and start choosing native plants that attract and feed birds, butterflies and other wildlife. The Audubon Society has good resources for improving your backyard habitat.
Finally, talk to your representatives in Congress. The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is up for reauthorization, and the House is considering a boost in funding of $4.5 million last year to $20 million by 2015. The act "supports partnership programs to conserve birds in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean, where approximately five billion birds of over 500 species, including some of the most endangered birds in North America, spend their winters," according to the American Bird Conservancy. "Projects include activities that benefit bird populations such as habitat restoration, research and monitoring, law enforcement, and outreach and education."
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