Have you noticed there are fewer birds in the world and wondered what is happening?
Scientists have been counting. They’ve noticed a serious decline in bird populations and have been studying possible causes of this crisis.
Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension agent, will discuss this phenomenon Thursday at the Smoky Hills Audubon Society meeting. The program is free to the public and starts at 7:30 p.m. in room 229 in Peters Science Hall at Kansas Wesleyan University.
In its climate report, "Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink," the National Audubon Society reports, “Two-thirds of America’s birds are threatened with extinction from climate change.”
Does it seem like there are fewer Meadowlarks in Kansas? Have you seen fewer robins? It’s estimated that Meadowlarks have declined 37%.
“People want a smoking gun for a specific cause," Otte said, "but it’s a complex issue."
Potential causes for the decline in bird populations include pesticides, loss of habitat, changing landscapes, climate change and cats.
“Cats kill 2.6 billion birds per year,” Otte said.
Mark Neubrand, with the Smoky Hills Audubon Society, said his group participates in the annual Christmas Day bird count. All data is sent in to the Audubon Society.
“Without the right conditions, these birds cannot thrive,” Neubrand said. “Birds are an important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be broken for people too,” said Brooke Bateman, Ph.D., senior climate scientist for the National Audubon Society, in an October Audubon report.
The loss of bird populations certainly means fewer songs for children in future generations to experience and enjoy, but birds are also pollinators. And, birds eat insects. Otte, an avid birder for over 50 years, said that “since 1970, a quarter of songbirds are gone.” Grassland birds are down 53%, according to the Audubon Society.
When asked if the average person is starting to notice fewer birds in Kansas, Otte responded: “Absolutely! People are concerned. They call the extension office and ask if there is a disease or some reason there are less birds visiting their backyards.”
While this decline is being studied, scientists who count birds report that waterfowl are thriving and turkeys have increased their population by 200%. Groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever are dedicated to conservation and improved habitat for these birds.
The Smoky Hills Audubon Society anticipates a lively discussion and encourages the public to come early, meet the speaker and learn more about the serious loss of bird populations and potential solutions.