An Alberta bird expert says a report this week warning of dramatic declines in bird populations reaffirms what Alberta birdwatchers are seeing in the field. The “Partners in Flight” report says bird populations in North America are 1.5 billion fewer than expected.
Chris Fisher, author of Birds of Alberta, says the report paints a bleak picture for many species by using the phrase “half-life” to examine population declines. “When will half the population be gone. For some of those species that are found breeding in Alberta–those grassland specialists or the boreal forest specialists–those half-lifes are under 20 years. To consider that we could lose half the population of the bird in 20 years is pretty dire news indeed.”
The report cites “the usual suspects” for the population drops: habitat destruction from logging and agriculture and climate change. Fisher says the report also shows domestic and feral cats kill 2-billion birds a year, more than other individual human-related causes of bird deaths such as pesticides, windows and vehicles. “It is not an insignificant thing and it is a very controversial, very emotional topic, but really one that, if we’re concerned about bird conservation in North America, we’re going to have to start doing things to address.”
Fisher says Albertans might never see many of the birds that are of concern because they are in areas like old growth forests, spruce or poplar forests in northern wild lands or on some of the untamed native pasture and grasslands. Still he says like the mountains, trees, rivers and grasslands, birds are part of the natural landscape that Albertans treasure. “These things add to the experience and to the character not only of people but of a community. That’s ultimately what we’re evolving into here in western Canada is a community of caring conservationists, a community of people who care for the land and birds really are a great metaphor for what’s going on in the land.”
The report cites 86 species threatened by plummeting populations. Those species include the Canada warbler and the snowy owl populations of which have declined by almost two-thirds since 1970. Evening grosbeak poulations have crashed by over 90 per cent during that same time period.