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North America’s bird population is seeing quick declines

The golden winged warbler is one bird species in Virginia that's part of the population declines. (Photo by The US Fish And Wildlife Service)
The golden winged warbler is one bird species in Virginia that's part of the population declines. (Photo by The US Fish And Wildlife Service)

Recent data shows North America has lost a large part of its bird population, about one in every four birds, since 1970 – or about 2.9 billon total.

A Virginia Tech professor says that trend will continue without efforts to tackle climate change, and suggests simpler mitigation efforts that many can try.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

Up to one billion birds die each year after hitting windows.  Ashley Dayer, an associate professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, says that problem is more prevalent than people might think.

She says many monitors around their birdfeeders are finding dead birds, apparently from window collisions. Dayer and some of her students have similar reports from campus.

“They do find that buildings, particularly those with nice, big, beautiful windows, can have a heavy impact on birds,” Dayer explained. “That impact can also be worse in times like migration, and in particular, with big skyscrapers, and buildings with their lights left on at night.”

She recommends  installing screens or using film or paint to break up reflections. She also recommends keeping cats indoors, saying more feral cats, but even pets have a natural instinct to hunt and kill birds.

When doing research in Hawaii a few years back, Dayer saw a species go extinct (the Po’ouli), and says there are others in Virginia that are of concern: the golden winged warbler and the piping plover, which is best known on the East Coast.

She says some of species of the plover are endangered, and are particularly vulnerable on beaches, where the birds may encounter dogs that aren’t on a leash.

Dayer also suggests placing native plants in yards to draw birds, and to drink bird-friendly coffee, organic brands, that are cultivated to maintain bird habitats.

Dayer's work also shows there are healthy benefits to hearing the sounds of birds, and that feeding birds impacts human well-being. She is the lead author on an article in  People and Nature on this topic.

“We have reason to believe, that in particular, in times of social isolation, like in the times of COVID, or folks who might be older, or need to stay at home for some health reason, that those interactions with nature can be even more important,” she said. “They can even stand in for the loss of social interactions.”   Dayer encourages participation in programs like  Project Feederwatch and  eBird, that allows people to track their activity, playing a role in scientific research.