More people and fewer birds mean dire consequences for both local and global ecosystems. With rising bird declines, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is tackling the global issue through research and conservation techniques.
An October 2022 study conducted by the Lab featuring scientists from multiple institutions, including Cornell, found that almost half of known bird species are declining worldwide.
An earlier study in 2019 found that nearly three billion birds have disappeared from breeding populations in North America alone. Most of these losses have been seen in common bird species, such as the Eastern Meadowlark and the Loggerhead Shrike.
According to the 2019 study, these staggering declines are a direct result of climate change. Habitat loss or degradation, such as the disappearance of grasslands from agricultural runoff, makes it harder for bird populations to thrive.
“Birds are highly visible and sensitive indicators of environmental health,” said retired conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in a University press release. “We know their loss signals a much wider loss of biodiversity and threats to human health and well-being.”
The Cornell community is doing its part to become involved in bird conservation efforts. Students, like Grace Guo ’25, are participating in research to prevent global bird declines. This past summer, Guo and other students took part in Common and Roseate Tern research at the Shoals Marine Lab in New Hampshire.
The research focuses on the long-term study on the diets of terns and shifting populations of fish species. This helps inform conservation and fishery practices of what prey items are important to sustaining seabird populations, as well as how terns are being affected by the movement of fish caused by warming oceans.
“Being surrounded by a community of scientists and people who care about the environment and wildlife expanded my view of the different research that’s being done to advance bird conservation efforts,” Guo said. “This has made me feel more determined to pursue a career in wildlife biology that will help protect birds.”
In addition to conducting research on bird conservation, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosts outreach events, such as their upcoming Migration Celebration on Sept. 17, where the Lab aims to educate the public about how they can help birds on their long migratory journeys.
The Lab of Ornithology has recommended a few ways the public can help protect birds, such as keeping cats indoors, planting native plant species in your backyard and turning off bright lights at night.
With increased conservation efforts, some birds, such as raptors and ducks, have seen a rise in population. With the help of researchers and the public, the Lab says that more of these success stories will become possible.