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Nov. 29, 2007
More than 25% of U.S. birds need help, new report says
By Sandy Bauers
Inquirer Staff Writer
Faced with habitat destruction, the threat of global warming, and the
encroachment of invasive species, more than a quarter of the nation's
birds are in urgent need of help, according to a report released
The National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy jointly
released a watch list identifying 59 species in the continental United
States that are on a "red list" of greatest concern and 119 more that are
either seriously declining or rare.
The list updates a similar one issued in 2002.
Since then, although species including the peregrine falcon have recovered
and been removed, the overall list has grown about 10 percent - to 178
"Unfortunately, things haven't gotten better," said Greg Butcher,
Audubon's bird-conservation director.
Listed birds in Pennsylvania include the short-eared owl, which used to
breed south of Philadelphia International Airport but has not been seen
there since some industrial development took place in its habitat, said
Keith Russell, Audubon's outreach coordinator for Fairmount Park.
New Jersey birds on the list include the piping plover, a beach-nester.
Despite conservation efforts, only a little more than 100 breeding pairs
remain in the state.
Butcher said that habitat destruction - including suburban sprawl - had
continued, and "our awareness of threats posed by global warming is much
sharper now than . . . five years ago."
For instance, birds such as wood thrushes, 10 percent of which depend on
Pennsylvania's forests for nesting habitat, could decline as climate
change prompts a change in forest-tree species.
Both groups said the list could be considered a call to action, especially
for 50 million U.S. bird enthusiasts, whom American Bird Conservancy
president George H. Fenwick dubbed the nation's "largest untapped
"The clock is ticking," Audubon president John Flicker said. "Many species
will not survive unless we act now to save them."
Of the 59 "red list" species in the report, only 20 are considered
threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Given the success stories of protected species such as the California
condor and the bald eagle, "it's astounding to us that several species on
our new red list have not been offered the safety net that the Endangered
Species Act provides," Butcher said.
He said the service's list "has gotten out of date" and urged that it be
"kept free of political manipulation."
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Valerie Fellows said that since President
Bush took office, one bird species had been listed, but it was not from
the continental United States.
She also said the Audubon and conservancy list did not include about 15
species the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed.
The ornithologists said their latest watch list showed more clearly than
ever that birds' fates were determined more by human activity than by any
Humans can push birds toward the brink or, through conservation efforts
such as captive-breeding programs and habitat conservation, bring them
William Y. Brown, president of the Academy of Natural Sciences, said it
was no surprise that the two organizations found more birds in trouble.
However, "the good news in America," he said, "is that land trusts and the
like have many ardent heroes."
Indeed, Pennsylvania is a leader in Audubon's program to designate and
protect "important bird areas." One of the most recent, announced earlier
this month, is 42,000 acres in Chester County south of Coatesville that
host several species of grassland-nesting birds whose populations are
In addition to the short-eared owl, another Pennsylvania species making
the list is the cerulean warbler, which breeds in deciduous forests and
used to be found along the Wissahickon in Fairmount Park, along the
Delaware River in Bucks County, and at Ridley Creek State Park. No more.
Despite the warbler's disappearance locally, people here can still harm
the bird, noted Jeffrey Wells, author of the recently published Birders'
Conservation Handbook, which outlines threats and the conservation needs
of 100 North American birds.
If area residents use electricity generated by coal mined from
mountaintops in West Virginia - a prime habitat for the warbler - they are
hurting the species in the Appalachians, he said.
Eric Stiles, vice president for conservation and stewardship of New Jersey
Audubon, which is not affiliated with the national group, said the piping
plover was an example of how many conservation efforts could help both
humans and birds.
Beach-fill projects "that are critical to tourism are also critical to
piping plovers," he said.
Yet others worry that with rises in sea level, who will get dibs on
shrinking beaches - humans or birds?
The saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, which lives in the salt marshes of
places such as the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge outside Atlantic
City, is at risk from rising sea levels.
The ornithologists said several federal legislative initiatives, including
the farm and energy bills being considered by Congress this fall and
winter, include measures that would help birds.
The researchers said individuals could take action ranging from contacting
public officials to yanking invasive weeds at parks. They also can plant
native species in their yards and limit their contribution to global
warming, they said.
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