The threats facing migratory birds are especially severe because the distance they travel each year increases their exposure to a wide range of human-caused hazards.
North America alone has lost about 3 billion birds – about 30% of the total population – in the last 50 years.
But don’t lose hope! We can still reverse the decline of migratory bird populations, but only if everybody cooperates – scientists, governments, businesses, and citizens. Explore the sections below to learn how you can help.
As habitats become increasingly fragmented by human activities and native vegetation is rapidly replaced by invasive species, birds are finding it harder to feed themselves. Disturbed landscapes in North America are also making it harder for birds to find adequate nesting spots but easier for predators to find nests.
Luckily, we can all help create better habitats! Some things you might consider:
Native plants encourage a wide variety of animals–not just birds! Native plants provide much needed food, nesting, and cover for migrants, and are often easy to grow because they are already adapted to local climate, pests, and soil conditions. These plants also help in other ways like reducing pollution, stabilizing soil, and protecting an area’s natural heritage.
Nestboxes are a great way to support migratory birds if you live where they breed. Many birds used to use cavities and holes in dead trees, so we need to provide other nesting options if we are going to continue removing dead vegetation in urban areas. Smart birdhouse designs, such as proper sizing of entry holes, can even support native migrants while keeping invasive species away.
Bird Feeders can be incredibly important food sources. Because Neotropical migrants fly great distances each year, they are heavily impacted by food shortages, and often rely on feeders more than resident birds. Remember, however, that not all birds eat seeds: consider offering a variety of meals, including fruits and insects (the two most important foods for migrants).
©Ivan Radic on Flickr
Cats make good pets, but they are also predators. Even well-fed cats will hunt wild animals if given the opportunity. Owners of outdoor cats probably know this already since cats are well known to “gift” their owners with dead animals such as rodents, birds, and reptiles.
Cats kill an estimated 100,000,000 birds annually in the United States alone.
Many conservationists consider cats to be a major threat to wildlife, especially for migratory birds that are already in decline. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) includes them in the list of the top 100 invasive species in the world.
What can you do? Keep your cats inside. Although this idea is unpopular with many owners, outdoor cats are more likely to:
- Kill endangered wildife
- Become injured from fighting
- Die from road collisions or wild predators
- Catch parasites and diseases
If you want your cat to spend time outdoors, consider building an enclosed outdoor play area to keep both your cat and the birds safe.
It’s important to control pest populations, but we are overusing pesticides. These chemicals, even those considered “safe”, are often deadly for wildlife. Migratory birds are especially exposed to this danger as they travel through a variety of ecosystems.
Currently, there are a few particularly damaging pesticides being used throughout the Americas:
Neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, are the most common pesticides in agricultural areas used to keep insects off of crops. Unfortunately, insects are the most important food source for Neotropical migrants! Even worse, plants often absorb these highly toxic chemicals–and even a single neonic-coated seed can be deadly.
Rat Poisons are a leading cause of raptor declines. When birds such as howks and owls die after eatened poisoned rodents, we are removing important predators from the ecosystem. One Barn Owl (Tyto alba), for example, can catch an average of 1,000 rodents per year! Their absence can lead to an unexpected increase in rodent populations, the exact opposite intent of using these chemicals.
What are the alternatives? If you are concerned about pests, try biodegradable pesticides or organic gardening practices. For rodents, we support the use of quick-kill traps such as snap traps. Please don’t use glue traps because they are very likely to accidentally kill other wildlife.
Most birds travel at night, often using the moon and stars for navigation. However, artificial lights confuse migrants and lure them to urban areas. When surrounded by buildings, birds have a high possibility of running into windows either because they do not perceive glass as a solid object or they are tricked by reflections of vegetation.
Over 1 billion birds die from collisions with buildings every year in North America.
You can help by incorporating clear visual cues for birds to avoid such as:
- Shade structures
- High-contrast patterns
For more information or to check how safe your own building is for birds, visit BirdSafe