Category Archives: Conservation

Fewer Birds – Follow-up

NOTE: This post is a bit of a downer. If that’s not your thing today, feel free to look at the photos and move on. But if you’re interested in nature, wildlife, and conservation – please read.

Back in March, I wrote this post about using eBird.org to try to figure out whether there are fewer American Avocets at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge now than there used to be.

Good MorningGood Morning*

I enjoyed doing the research and learning more about how to use eBird. But my conclusion at the time was:

“Is there a way to determine the accurate numbers? Sorry – I couldn’t find one. But I’ll keep looking and let you know.”

Well I kept looking and I’ve found some things to share. A while back, MK told me about a report she heard on NPR’s Fresh Air – Dave Davies interviewing Scott Weidensaul about his new book A World On the Wing. It sounded interesting and I was excited when MK got me a copy of the book for my birthday. I’m about a third of the way through it now. I like the book and the writing, although much of the data it presents is disturbing.

Starting on page 146, Weidensaul describes finding out about a blockbuster analysis published in the September 2019 issue of Science magazine: Decline of the North American avifauna (the article is paywalled, but if you sign up for a free account you can read it). I’ll quote here from the abstract:

“Using multiple and independent monitoring networks, we report population losses across much of the North American avi- fauna over 48 years, including once-common species and from most biomes. Integration of range-wide population trajectories and size estimates indicates a net loss approaching 3 billion birds, or 29% of 1970 abundance.”

Abstract, Decline of the North American avifauna, Science, Vol. 366, No. 6461, 19 Sep 2019, pages 120 – 124

The article doesn’t speak specifically of Avocets, but does say that shorebirds “are experiencing consistent, steep population loss.” So I think that probably answers my original question.

Clouds over Gator CreekClouds over Gator Creek*

And it raises many more questions. These losses are massive and the causes are varied and complex. They range from climate change impacts along migration routes, to land development. What can we do about it? I hope we’ll figure that out and make sure all of our decisions account for future impacts. Then maybe someday our grandchildren will see at least as many Avocets as we do.

*These two photos don’t have much to do with the subject. But since this is a photo blog I try to always have some in each post. I guess you could say they do illustrate the idea though – there are no birds in them.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are always welcome and a big motivator for me. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And support conservation efforts, so we can still make some bird photos in the future.

Fewer birds?

I was browsing through my photo archives last week and came across an unprocessed RAW image of an American Avocet and its reflection. I thought it had potential so I went ahead and worked on it.

American AvocetAmerican Avocet

I made this in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on March 3, 2015. It got me thinking – I know, proceed with caution, right?

The last time I was over there, I spent a few minutes talking to someone and he mentioned that there are fewer birds there now than there used to be. I hear comments like that a lot when when I’m out photographing. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen an Avocet but I knew it’d been a while. Maybe there are fewer of them around. When I went back into my archives in Lightroom, it turned out my most recent photo of one is from January of 2021.

I don’t see too many of them, and they’re distinctive enough that I’m sure I’d notice them if they were there. But my data is sparse and can’t really say if these birds are getting less frequent around here. So how can I tell?

I’ve mentioned eBird.org before. It’s managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and collects data on bird sightings from all over the world to “document distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends”. Maybe if we look there we can see if there are fewer Avocets now at MINWR.

There’s a tremendous amount of data and science resources on eBird. But I couldn’t find specific information on year to year trends. So I looked at the specific page for MINWR bird observations: https://ebird.org/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2022&bmo=1&emo=12&r=L123565. If you search for American Avocet on that page and click on the little graph symbol next to the name, it opens this page: https://ebird.org/barchart?r=L123565&bmo=1&emo=12&byr=1900&eyr=2022&spp=ameavo

Then you can select different metrics and date ranges. I chose to look at the “Totals” tab, which is the “sum total of all counts from all observations for a species within a specified date range and region”. I picked two date ranges: 2007 – 2014, and 2015 – 2022 to compare and see if I could tell if there are fewer avocets now than when I first started going over to MINWR.

American Avocets: Total observations by month at MINWR, 2007 – 2014. Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 3/26/22.
American Avocets: Total observations by month at MINWR, 2015 – 2022. Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 3/26/22

This seems to say there are about twice as many American Avocets seen at MINWR recently than there used to be. But… it isn’t normalized to account for the increased reporting by more birders as time goes on. So I don’t think these numbers are an accurate representation of the number of Avocets actually there. Is there a way to determine the accurate numbers? Sorry – I couldn’t find one. But I’ll keep looking and let you know.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are always very welcome and a big motivator for me. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some bird photos now – in case their are fewer opportunities in the future.

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Bird population loss

A study released last week in Science Journal reports that the North American wild bird population is in steep decline.  About 29%  of the breeding population (2.9 billion) vanished since 1970.  This includes species we see here in Central Florida.  There are 92 million fewer Red-winged Blackbirds:

Red-winged Blackbird in flightRed-winged Blackbird in flight, Viera Wetlands

And Eastern Meadowlarks declined by ~70% (73 million):

A Messy Molting MeadowlarkA Messy Molting Meadowlark – Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County

The study is based on multiple independent data sources including bird counts and radar information.  This particular study didn’t investigate causes, but habitat loss and degradation are seen as the biggest overall drivers of the decline.

The news isn’t all bleak.  Raptors have increased by 15 million since 1970 due to  banning some pesticides, and waterfowl gained 35 million because of wetland regeneration.  This shows we can make a difference.

Bald Eagle in flightBald Eagle in flight – Kenansville, Fl.

The loss of birds is consistent with other data showing massive declines in insects and amphibians.  These are symptoms that our environment is not healthy and they should be a tremendous wake up call.

We must do everything we can to help keep our only planet healthy .  How will you answer your children and grandchildren when they ask you what you did about this?

Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go support conservation.  And make some photos.  Before it’s too late.

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

#BringBirdsBack