Steve Gillam, Starved Rock volunteer Tom Williams and Starved Rock State Park natural resource coordinator Lisa Sons exchanged jokes and friendly chitchat as they trudged over a muddy path along a field edge, wetland and woods at Matthiessen State Park. They were not seeing many birds, despite sunny, breezy conditions and diverse habitat, during their after-lunch hike over their territory in the Starved Rock Audubon Society Christmas bird count. And they said they had not seen many birds in the morning among the oak trees and canyons in the Matthiessen Dells area.
A recent study concludes that the birds of Canada and the United States have taken a substantial hit in the last 49 years. Researchers from several institutions in the U.S. and Canada, including the American Bird Conservancy, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and Environment and Climate Change Canada, joined forces for the study.
The North American Bird Conservation Initiative in Canada released the second State of Canada’s Birds report last week. The report, a joint project of Environment Canada and numerous government and conservation organizations, looks at the status of Canada’s bird populations going back to 1970.The study found that shorebirds, grassland birds, and aerial insectivores were in rapid decline across Canada, with numbers down 40, 57, and 59 per cent since 1970.
Prairie chicken numbers in Grand Forks County are dwindling. From a peak of more than 300 males in the early 2000s, prairie chickens in the county have declined to about 25 males, which gather on mating grounds called leks and produce an eerie “booming” sound by inflating air sacs on their necks to attract a mate. The prairie chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) that remain west of Grand Forks are remnants of an intensive translocation effort in the 1990s to re-establish the birds in Grand Forks County, where the grouse had all but disappeared.
The state pheasant population has dropped by 45 percent since 2016 — 65 percent lower than the 10-year average. Results from hunting have mirrored the decline. In 2007, the estimated pheasant bag was more than 2 million birds. In 2017, it was just more than 1 million, according to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “Looking at the weather right now, we’re off to a record cold April,” said Travis Runia, senior upland game biologist for Game Fish and Parks. Many factors contribute to the last decade of pheasant decline, Runia said.
Striking, widespread and widely recognised, thanks in part to the Harry Potter books, the Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus was previously listed as Least Concern, the lowest threat category of the IUCN Red List. However, this assessment was based on earlier figures that estimated the global population to number around 200,000 individuals, and the absence of evidence of significant declines.
Despite $1 million worth of conservation efforts, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say Florida grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) are facing challenges in growing its population both in the wild and in captivity. The sparrow is largely endangered because of its dependence on its natural habitat: the dry prairies of central Florida. The subspecies was first discovered in 1902. However, it faced a population decline in the 1970s as prairie grasslands were converted to improve cattle pastures, sod production and other agricultural purposes.
Wyoming is home to about 40 percent of the sage grouse population in the West, though birds are found in 11 other states and across the Canadian border. The state has taken a central role in protecting the species, both to preserve the larger habitat that sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and other species depend on, and to avoid a federal endangered species listing. Sage grouse numbers are likely to decline next year, part of a downswing in the bird’s population that happens about every decade, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied a petition to put the Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) on the federal list of endangered species. The Bicknell’s is a medium-size (6-7.5 inches) thrush—brown on the back with a white, spotted underside—that dwells in dense balsam-fir forests in high elevations in the Adirondacks. Following is a primer on other wildlife in trouble in the Adirondack Park.