Back to back news this fall has rattled the birding community, not to mention environmentalists and concerned citizens everywhere. First, the news that North America has lost 3 billion birds over the past 50 years, according to a study by Cornell University, made headlines across the country.
And then, only weeks later, the National Audubon Society announced that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk for extinction due to global temperature rise. Even common birds such as the American robin and goldfinch are at risk.
The dangers to birds are many—climate change, habitat loss, and predation by cats. But all is not lost. When eagles and osprey were threatened, DDT use was banned and the populations recovered. When ducks and other waterfowl were threatened by widespread habitat loss, duck hunters banded together to preserve wetlands.
No bird in the continental United States has gone extinct since dusky seaside sparrows vanished from Florida’s marshes in 1987. But without quick action, many more birds might be at risk.
In light of this news, here are five birds that are at risk of extinction, and what you can do to save them.
1. Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
While the grasshopper sparrow is common in some parts of the country, the Florida subspecies is seriously endangered. A hard to spot bird, the grasshopper sparrow makes a sound like a grasshopper and lives in dry prairies. Currently, there are fewer than 80 left in the wild. Fortunately, scientists are working to release more captive-raised sparrows.
2. California Condor
The California condor is a member of the vulture family, and the largest bird in North America. It feasts on carrion and nests high on cliff faces, and is a dramatic sight for any birder. At one point, numbers dipped as low as 22 birds in the 1980s, due to threats from lead poisoning. Now more than 400 condors are alive, including 230 in the wild.
See also: A Beginner’s Guide to Birding
Also known as the Hawaiian goose, this bird is endemic to the Hawaiian islands. It is the only goose found outside of continental areas, and one of the most threatened of all waterfowl. Threats to the nene include scarcity of native plants, predation by introduced mammals, and habitat loss.
4. Greater Sage-Grouse
The sage-grouse is a striking bird, with its large chest, spiky feathers and distinctive strut. The greater sage-grouse is not actually an endangered species – in 2015 it was removed from the candidate list due to the extensive work of federal and state agencies and more than 1,100 private ranchers to help protect sagebrush habitat. But their habitat remains threatened by drilling and mining, putting the Sage-Grouse at risk of becoming endangered.
5. Golden Cheeked Warbler
This Central American bird only nests in the oak-juniper woodlands of Central Texas. About 27,000 warblers survive today, but their numbers are rapidly declining, and are down 25 percent in 28 years. Habitat loss is a primary threat to these warblers, with large areas of old juniper woodlands cleared away for livestock grazing.
Conservation Efforts You Can Start Today
The challenges these birds face are stark, but with help, it is possible they can be overcome. While scientists and conservationists work to protect these species, we can help ensure the protection of these and other endangered species through a few simple steps.
Pick Up Trash
California Condors have been known to feed trash to their babies, unfortunately causing some to choke and die. Picking up bits of microplastic can help prevent this from occurring, and can also help improve the overall health of ecosystems.
Join a Conservation Organization
Join a conservation organization like the Audubon Society. Conservation organizations can help increase the power of individuals through collective action. Local chapters also participate in regular bird counts, helping gather data for scientists. They can use this information to track changes in bird populations.
Keep Cats Indoors
Cats are one of the largest dangers to birds. While most feline-caused bird deaths are due to feral cats, domestic cats also kill millions of birds every year. While cats are best left indoors, cat owners can also outfit their cat with a bird-safe collar to help their prey notice them and escape in time.
Buy a Duck Stamp
The funds raised by the federal Duck Stamp are responsible for the restoration of wetlands across America, and for the rebounding populations of ducks and geese. While hunters purchase most duck stamps, anyone can buy one for $25 to support wetland protection.
Eat Responsibly Raised Meat
Reducing your beef intake is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Still, many of us want to enjoy the occasional hamburger. Audubon works with ranchers to protect grassland bird habitat, helping to protect birds like the sage-grouse and the golden cheeked warbler. You can purchase Audubon-certified beef from retailers to support these conservation efforts.
Birders are not powerless to stop more species from disappearing. By protecting and preserving habits, reducing carbon emissions, and supporting conservation efforts, we can help ensure that no more birds go extinct. For more tips on protecting our wild birds, read the 7 Simple Actions to Help Birds recommended by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.