State of NH Birds: 1/3 of the Species in Decline

Carpodacus purpureus (purple finch) on a branc...
Image via Wikipedia

The “State of New Hampshire’s Birds” report, released yesterday by New Hampshire Audubon and NH Fish and Game, is the first to summarize population trends for all of New Hampshire’s breeding birds — a total of 186 species. The findings show both troubling and hopeful information.

Authored by Pamela D. Hunt, Ph.D., the report says that one third of New Hampshire’s breeding bird species are experiencing long-term population declines, another third are stable or increasing, and the rest lack the data needed to determine what their population trends actually are.

The purple finch (shown), the official state bird, the whip-poor-will, barn swallow and eastern meadowlark are amongst the species in decline.

The report also looks at threats facing bird populations, and outlines strategies for addressing them. Visit www.wildnh.com/birds to download a copy of the full report.

The website also provides information about how one can help.

“Each of these groups of birds has a story to tell,” Hunt said. “The increasing species are in many cases our success stories — for example, the fact that bald eagles continue to increase shows what can be done when conservation entities work together to solve problems.” At the same time, she said, some populations — such as cardinals and merlins — are increasing without targeted conservation action.

The report names 65 species that are known to be in decline. “These are the species that need immediate conservation action and targeted research,” said John Kanter, Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Coordinator for NH Fish and Game. “We have a track record of bringing species back from the brink when we have the funds and the focus to make it happen.” Among the declining species are several shrubland and grassland birds; a whole suite of “aerial insectivores” — birds, like swallows, that feed on the wing; and many species that inhabit the state’s extensive forests.

Some possible reasons for population declines are habitat changes in breeding or wintering areas; increased predation from domestic cats, raccoons, and other wildlife that have proliferated as a result of human activity; and chemical contaminants. The report contains strategies to address these threats, and conservation groups and agencies will use them to ensure that the most rapidly declining species will not need “emergency room” services. Kanter said, “The report helps us prioritize — to put our time and conservation funds where they’ll make the most difference.”

In many cases, the causes for bird population declines are still unknown. “The decline that hurts the most is that of the purple finch,” said Michael Bartlett, President of NH Audubon. “Our state bird is only half as common as it was 40 years ago, and we’re not really sure why.” One long-term goal is to prevent species like the purple finch from being added to the federal threatened and endangered list — but efforts to protect bird habitat will have the added advantage of promoting clean air and water, and conserving land for future generations of wildlife and people alike. “When you preserve a piece of land, it’s good for everybody,” said Glenn Normandeau, Executive Director of NH Fish and Game.

In some ways, Hunt said, the needs are greatest for the 52 bird species whose population trends are either unknown or unclear. “Most of these are birds are found in wetlands and northern forests. Given that the threats to these habitats are sometimes significant, it is crucial to start gathering the needed data. Learning more about these poorly monitored species is key to successful conservation prioritization,” she said.

There are lots of ways that individuals can help New Hampshire’s birds — both while they’re here in the state and when they leave it for migration and winter. People can manage their property in a manner that is beneficial to birds, support land conservation that enhances bird habitat, minimize use of pesticides, keep cats indoors, volunteer on bird projects, and many other things.

New Hampshire Audubon, a non-profit membership organization, is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and habitat throughout the state. For more information, visit www.nhaudubon.org.

Read a related article via the Concord Monitor

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