Habitat destruction from overpopulation harming bird population, ecosystems

illustration by Sofia Eneqvist

North America has lost 29 percent of its overall bird population since 1970 according to a new study released in Science magazine out on Oct. 19, called “Decline of the North American Avifauna.”

That is a loss of nearly 3 billion birds in approximately 50 years. Several factors seem to be causes of the dramatic decrease in the population.

Some of those causes include pesticides, climate change and agricultural and urban expansion destroying the natural habitats of birds.

Ed Pearson, who worked in agriculture and specialized in fertilizer, said the loss of the birds’ natural habitat is the main cause.

“I know of a few instances of pesticide misuse, but the biggest issue in the decline of all species is habitat destruction,” Pearson said.

The study states North America is not the only place with declining bird populations. There is also a loss of farmland birds throughout Europe and elsewhere that echoes the decline in the U.S. population.

Elizabeth Dionne, ecological resource specialist with the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority, talked about how a single species’ decline could be an indicator of a broader loss. Dionne said losing birds throws ecosystems off balance, which could harm other species, as well.

“It’s always good to have high biodiversity,” Dionne said. “You hear the saying ‘the canary in the coal mine.’ If you’re having those species in decline, there’s a good chance there can be other species that are also in decline. The birds are showing just more of a bigger problem.”

Dionne emphasized the importance of having a variety of species in each biome.

“We want to have as many species on the landscape as we can for biodiversity. Over time, it’s important to keep those species around,” Dionne said.

Monica Velasco, senior environmental science major, said she was not surprised the bird population is declining because of all the pollution and urban expansion that destroys their habitats.

“(We should make) our urban areas more bird-friendly and also (decrease) the amount of habitat we’re destroying,”  Velasco said.

The study calls on people to take action to help the birds across the continent with increased conservation and legislation efforts.

“History shows conservation action and legislation works,” the study said in its conclusion.

Organizations such as the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority can help maintain suitable habitats for species impacted by massive expansion efforts.

Leave a Reply