Bird Conservation has become an important issue as we realize the impact of various factors (for example, habitat encroachment from development) on bird populations. It is so important that it has become part of the science of Conservation Biology.
Many organizations from the international to the local level have been formed and have programs to help maintain healthy bird populations. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has established a ‘Red List‘ of animal species, including birds, that specifies the conservation status of the animal.
Another organization is Partners in Flight, which works toward bird conservation.
There are also many conservation projects as well. Aside from habitat loss, here are a few other examples of threats to birds:
For seabirds: fishing gear, oil spills, plastic in the ocean;
For ground-nesting birds: cats, dogs, rats, possums;
For native birds: introduced species;
For birds of prey: ammunition containing lead;
For migrating birds: poisoned bodies of water from pollution along their migratory routes; collisions with windows of high-rise buildings; collisions with aircraft;
For field birds: agricultural practices;
For various species: hunting for the birds’ feathers or their meat, sometimes to extinction; plain vandalism; garbage; pesticide poisoning.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Ocean currents rotate in ‘gyres‘, and one such gyre is located in the Northern Pacific Ocean with Hawaii just south of it. This garbage patch has now reached the size of Alaska. Many seabirds, fish, whales and dolphins mistakenly take floating pieces of plastic for food and fill up their stomachs with them, even feeding their chicks with that garbage in the case of birds. The animals then starve to death. A documentary has been made of Laysan Albatross on Midway Island dying from plastic.
Migratory Bird Collisions: There are now widespread ‘Lights Out’ programs in the USA and Canada to encourage, even mandate, cities to turn off building lights at night to prevent migratory bird collisions in the spring (numbers vary from 100 million to 1 billion migrating birds each year in North America). Small song birds are especially vulnerable.
Impact of climate change : a recently published study has established a link between climate change and the timing of some species of songbirds coming back to their breeding ranges in North America. This timing appears to no longer match the timing of their prey (insects) availability.
Habitat preservation initiatives : One example of a habitat preservation initiative in the wintering areas of North American songbirds is the modification of farming practices of coffee growers, mainly in Central America. Those species are called the ‘coffee bird’ group. Measures are now being taken to preserve the habitat of those species of birds with more sustainable coffee growing practices while still preserving profitability for the farmers.
COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is a federal government funded group of scientists who track Canadian wildlife for the health of their population. Their website is a precious source of information.
www.borealbirds.org is an initiative to protect the boreal forest for breeding birds.
Another example of habitat preservation is avoiding the trimming of trees when birds nest in them.
The ‘Recycling’ Osprey: As can be seen below, this osprey in Summerside, PEI, has gathered garbage pieces to build its nest – plastic bags, electrical wires are visible when zooming on the photo. What other garbage is there in that nest? What risk does that garbage pose to the chicks? There have been instances of osprey young tangled in fishing lines in their nests.
How many bird species, large and small, are picking pieces of garbage as part of the material they use to build their nests? It is reasonable to assume that birds will pick whatever they find suitable in their environment – whether it contains garbage or not – to build their nests. How is this impacting the bird populations?
Garbage at landfills: Gulls being scavengers, they are obviously following the food sources. Those are not always in their best interest. We are all familiar with those birds in cities around garbage bins or picking food scraps on the pavement. They are also very much present at landfills, and this study in Newfoundland has found around 25% of the birds’ stomach contained pieces of foam, 20% was glass and metal, along with all kinds of other inedible garbage.
Roadkill: All kinds of animals get killed by vehicles on the road, including birds. Birds of prey and scavengers will get killed because they feed on killed carcasses. Others get killed because they pick grit, etc. Here’s an artist rendition below of an American Crow killed on the road:
Bird rescue is an important part of conservation, for example following an oil spill.
Reporting of injured and dead birds in Canada: There is a Canadian (bilingual) organization about the health of wildlife which, among other useful information, provides instructions on how and where to report injured and dead wildlife, including birds. (For the Atlantic region, it would be the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island : 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PEI, C1A 4P3; Phone: 902-628-4314; Fax: 902-566-0871. By email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Puffin and Petrel Patrol program has been set up in Newfoundland to rescue fledglings coming out of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve at night. Normally the birds are supposed to fly towards the sea using the moon and stars, but on cloudy weather they confuse street lights for the stars and end up on roads and getting killed.
Bird sanctuaries or refuges offer sick, lost or injured birds the opportunity to recover in a protected environment and be released back in the wild when well.
There are also wildlife reserves such as the Kaena Point Coastal Reserve, in Hawaii, which protects vulnerable birds nesting on the ground such as the Laysan albatross and the wedge-tailed shearwater (photos below).