Sep 15 2014
Last week I learned something new. Did you know that herring gulls are in steep decline?
On Thursday Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology published the 2014 State of the Birds Report in honor of Martha, the last living passenger pigeon who died 100 years ago this month. The report heralds the great conservation successes of the past 100 years — bald eagles, wood ducks, Kirtland’s warbler, brown pelicans — and warns of species currently in decline that need our attention.
Especially interesting is the list of 33 common birds in steep decline. According to the report, “These birds have lost more than half their global population. All of these species combined have lost hundreds of millions of breeding individuals over the past four decades.” We know from the passenger pigeon’s experience that steep decline can quickly lead to extinction so these birds are the ones to help right now.
Many are those I’ve written about in the past — common nighthawks, snow buntings, rusty blackbirds, common grackles — but the herring gull was a real surprise. How can this species be threatened when we see them everywhere at the shore and the mall?
It turns out that herring gulls nearly went extinct in the 1880’s because of market hunting but made a stunning comeback to 100,000 birds by the 1980’s, thanks in part to humans’ wasteful ways (coastal refuse dumps and fishing boat waste). Then the tide started to turn. 78% of the herring gull population has disappeared in the last 40 years. Who knew?
There are plenty of birds who need our help. Click here for the full report. We can do it!
And here’s the list of 33 Common Species in Steep Decline. You’ll find some surprises.
(photo by Shawn Collins)