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3 Billion Birds: Where did they go?

Posted on November 28, 2019

Three billion North American birds have vanished in the last 50 years.

The troubling results were discovered by a research team who pooled their data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl surveys, and ten other datasets. 

These results showed that 1 in 4 birds have disappeared from our ecosystems.

Ninety percent of affected birds came from 12 families, including warblers, sparrows, blackbirds and finches -- birds we see here at FortWhyte Alive, known and loved by our birding community. Other populations experiencing declines are Barn Swallows and Baltimore Orioles, mistakenly still considered common as we watch them fly by during Birding and Breakfast sessions in spring.

Out of context, this information may not seem significant -- besides, there are still birds when you look out your window, right? But the smaller numbers and limited diversity of birds have wide-reaching impacts. Roles played by birds in our ecosystems include the distribution of plant seeds and control of insect outbreaks, which can cause problems in agriculture and forestry. Without birds, humans and our environment face the consequences.

Several factors play into declining bird numbers, including habitat degradation, climate change impact, pesticide use, and deaths due to window collisions and domestic cats. While these are large issues, the good news is there’s hope.

We’re already experiencing the benefits of people who have taken action in the past. Thanks to wetland conservation efforts, the waterfowl population has increased by 34 million in the last 50 years. It goes to show how improving habitat for wildlife can have incredible impact. 

Here at FortWhyte Alive, our lakes and ponds play a role in Winnipeg’s waterfowl migration, where thousands of geese practice their flight pattern in the fall. As bystanders, the show is spectacular.

As an individual, you can make a difference with small actions like installing bird-safe windows in your own home or providing backyard habitat. We quickly noticed the reduction in bird collisions after making our own windows bird-safe.   

FortWhyte Alive is the best place to go birding within the city. Throughout the year, over 150 species of birds can be spotted here at FortWhyte. Our forests, grasslands, marshes, wetlands, lakes, and positioning along the Mississippi Flyway make us a great spot to pull out binoculars. Join us on the trail!