Saturday, February 4, 2023

Birds in Crisis Around the World; You Can Help – Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count 

Dark-eyed Junco

North Americans share an amazing diversity of birds. More than 1,000 species can be found in the United States alone. They come in an astonishing variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and behaviors. You could live a lifetime and never see every variety of bird that it’s possible to see in our state, or even in your neighborhood.

    For a serious birder, spotting a rare bird is tremendously exciting, but for everyone else, seeing a quick flash of red, yellow, or orange on the trail can be just as exhilarating. And watching birds at home has been proven to reduce stress.

The Great Backyard Bird Count 

    The 26th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC); a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada, is an opportunity to discover birding in a way that you may never have imagined. It’s also a chance for non-specialists; people like you and me; to be part of an international team of citizen scientists who, using specified scientific protocols and the power of the internet, provide vital data to professional environment and wildlife researchers and the scientific and educational institutions they represent.

    It’s a monumental task. And you can help!

    Every year, tens of thousands of participating citizen scientists from around the world record information about birds observed at their homes, in schoolyards, and at local parks or wildlife refuges, and enter their tallies at the GBBC web site. Every entry helps researchers better understand and protect birds around the world and the environment they (and we) share.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee. Photo Credit: Donald Kantola; Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project Feederwatch.

    During last year’s event, people from 192 countries reported sightings of 7,099 species of birds; approximately 3/4 of the world’s known bird species; creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded. Amazing!

    This year, from February 17–20, people of all ages, whether beginners or experts, are invited to support bird conservation by counting the number of birds, separated by species, seen during any outing or observational sitting. It’s fun. It’s easy. And it’s free.

    To find out more, visit and click on the ‘How to Participate’ link. Check out the latest educational and promotional resources, too.

A Startling Decline in Bird Populations 

    Information gathered during the GBBC will help researchers track changes in bird populations on a massive scale. The data couldn’t possibly be more important.

    Since the 1970s, North America has lost 3-billion birds, nearly 30% of the total population. More than half of U.S. bird species have declined. A recently released ‘State of the Birds’ report for the United States, published by 33 leading science and conservation organizations and agencies, reveals that birds in the United States are declining in forest, grassland, desert, and ocean habitats, with grassland birds declining fastest. Even common birds such as sparrows and blackbirds are in decline.

    Waterbird population have increased however, by 18%. And duck populations have increased by 34%. This is widely-believed to be the result of investments in wetland conservation, which have improved conditions for both birds and people.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings form flocks in winter and are often seen foraging in barren fields and along lakeshores. Photo Credit: Sally Chisholm; Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library.

    According to Corina Newsome, an Associate Conservation Scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, “The State of the Birds report is a clarion call for us all to help address the wildlife crisis and equip our State, Tribal, and territorial wildlife managers with the tools and funds they need to strengthen our shared stewardship of birds and the diversity of life that depends on them… America’s wildlife are in crisis with one-third of species at heightened risk of extinction. People and wildlife face many of the same threats, and we know that when we invest in conserving and restoring birds and other species, we also are investing in clean water, clean air, thriving ecosystems, and vibrant parks and public lands.”

    Perhaps the most disturbing conclusion in the report is that of 70 newly-identified ‘tipping-point’ species. Each has lost 50% or more of their population over the past 50 years. In the words of Dr. Peter Marra, the Director of the Earth Commons; Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability; “Despite best hopes and efforts, 70 tipping-point bird species … will lose half their already dwindling populations in the next 50 years unless we take action.”

    “It’s staggering,” says the 2022 report’s first author Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. And Dr. Scott Sillett, Head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center believes that, “Birds are in trouble, but we all can help bring them back. Living bird-friendly makes your home and lifestyle better for birds and the planet.”

    A downloadable copy of the 2022 State of the Birds Report (a 32-page PDF document, formatted for 8.5″ x 11″ paper), is available from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Committee and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Supplemental material is available as well, as an Excel spread sheet. Visit

    Established in 1999, the U.S. NABCI Committee is a coalition of state and federal government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives in the United States working to ensure the long-term health of North America’s native bird populations.


Photo at top: Dark-eyed Juncos are among the most abundant forest birds of North America. Look for them on woodland walks as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them. Photo Credit: Bob Vuxinic – Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

15 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    most of the bird species are completely gone or very rare compared to the 70’s and 80’s around my home and the numbers have dwindled from 100’s at the feeders at once and all day long. Now it’s usually a dozen birds at best and occasionally during the day. mostly a few junco’s, occassional few pairs of doves, a pair of cardinals. Long gone are the days with 40-60 doves on the ground, dozen cardinals, even chicadee’s and woodpeckers are pretty much gone. Dozens of species i never even see anymore, like cedar waxwings, oriols, buntings, partridge, pheasants, ect. i used to walk in winter woods and see mixed flocks of birds moving through the woods all the time. now sometimes i can sit for hours in woods and not even see a single bird. sadly i think between enviromental change and the huge amounts hit by cars that decline is inevitable. “Silent Spring” is fast approaching, too little too late. we were warned by Racheal Carson over 50 years ago, yet we spray more than ever, even the adirondacks the road crews spray along the roads with herbicide. There is no such thing as safe herbicides,fungicides, insecticides that are man made. today’s spray becomes tomorrows ddt or roundup!

    • Mike says:

      Unfortunately the drop bird population has less to do with chemicals. Its mostly habitat destruction and light pollution. Peoples current love for saving the environment by adding extra LED lights everywhere is decimating the insect population. Its only going to get worse.

      • Dana says:


        This is news to me – please explain. I am well aware of the decline of insects, but haven’t heard LED lights were implicated.

          • Boreas says:


            Somehow these links showed up late to the party, but I am glad I got to review them. Two of the three links speak primarily to light pollution in general having negative effects on insect populations, which is hard to argue. However, the following link


            is quite misleading. The alarming title states “LED streetlights reduce insect populations by 50%”. In reading the article, they then go on to say that 51% fewer caterpillars are found in hedgerows illuminated by LED street lights vs. 42% fewer found under sodium vapor lights. While neither type of light proves direct causation in the study, what it tells me is that BOTH types of lighting show fewer caterpillars under their influence – and does not address insect populations in general – just nocturnal moths.

            This basically goes back to implicating artificial light in general in the decline of insects. Perhaps “LED lighting” is worse on some nocturnal species in this test, perhaps not. Obviously it needs to be researched in more detail with many more types of lighting, intensities of lighting, and spectral profiles of the lighting. Interesting research, to be sure, but someone needs to step forward with sufficient funding soon, or the opportunity to mitigate the insect “apocalypse” may be lost, if it hasn’t already.

        • Mike says:

          I dont think I will be able to post links. You can do a search. One alarming thing you can observe is the new UHAUL on the Northway I87 in Clifton Park. You CANT miss it. Its placed directly across the Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve. I cant prove it will have a negative effect on the insects in the preserve, but then again most people wont care anyway.

          • Boreas says:


            All I have seen is that these artificial lights do not ATTRACT as many insects. I dunno – should we be depending on artificial night lighting to attract insects – perhaps artificially bolstering populations, or would this actually be disruptive to healthy populations? Artificial lighting in general seems to be disruptive to natural environments. Perhaps more research should be performed that included microwave, radio, cellular, and other artificial emissions that permeate our entire atmosphere. Just because they have been deemed “safe”(?) for humans, doesn’t mean it they are safe for our littlest creatures.

            • Mike says:

              Thanks, your casual observation that LEDs dont attract insects has convinced me otherwise.

              • Boreas says:

                Sorry if I misled you. It was not MY observation, but just a couple random Google hits when I did the search you recommended. Whether it is true or not, I cannot say, but it would make sense because of the wavelengths of light generated my most outdoor LED lighting. Also, more and more modern outdoor lighting tends to point straight down to minimize light pollution.

  2. Bill D. says:

    Although I share your general concerns, I’m happy to say that here on the east side of Lake George, we still see chickadees and woodpeckers around our feeders.

    • Boreas says:

      Feeder birds are not indicative of the overall health and population of Aves. My “feeder birds” have not changed dramatically over the last 20 years, but springtime around here now is nearly silent. If I had to guesstimate, probably 70% fewer nesting bird species on my wooded property over those years. And I do everything I can do to support birds, insects, and other wildlife – except deer. I see overbrowsing deer as part of the problem in my area.

  3. Andrew Mills says:

    I built a large bird feeder and have seen a lot of common birds, chics, titmouse, blue jays, finches and others. I have put out suet and dowdies come and sometimes Pilated wood comes that made me feel good. I do want to know if it is still safe to put out seed because of the bird flu going around and I don’t want to propagate the issue for them, I can’t get any straight answers on that. Please help…

    • Boreas says:


      There are no straight answers because there is no “right” answer. There is no type of artificial feeding that is without risk. Food contaminants, disease spread, and nutritional deficiencies and metabolic disorders by overeating poor-quality and unnatural foods in the wrong proportions are all considerations on just the feeders. Another problem is bird concentrations attracting predators – both mammalian and avian. Yet another issue is feeding in breeding/summer seasons that could affect non-feeder breeding birds because of territory, population, and habitat disputes and pressures. Encouraging feeder species in summer can have a detrimental effect on “wilder” birds that are rarely, if ever, seen at feeders.

      So, with all of these variables, how does one state unequivocally whether backyard feeders are “safe”? Birds certainly don’t NEED our help but will take it if offered. Is this good for them long term? Probably a wash. But if you choose to feed birds, keep all of the above problems in mind and do what you can do to minimize them.

  4. Boreas says:


    I should include my approach to feeding. I fill feeders sporadically during winter, offering a variety of food. I tend to feed more heavily during times of heavy snow cover or extreme cold. But then I may go a week or two without filling the feeders. This discourages attraction of predators, and helps minimize the risk of disease spread. I feed hummingbirds only in spring and fall when they need the extra calories. I am not saying this approach is ideal, but it works for me. So far, the birds haven’t complained.

    In the last 10 years I have put considerable effort into providing natural foods with planting native species of fruit, nut, and pollinator plants. Most birds rely on insects, and the widespread use of insecticides should be discouraged. Insects are also in serious decline, and we should be paying at least as much attention to that!

    • Nathan says:

      I’m with you Boreus on the planting of wildlife friendly plants for animals, i planted an acre of wildflower mix a few years ago and the increase of birds foraging there went way up, this years goal is 4 acres of wildflower instead of hayfield and 1/2 acre of rotilled field and toss 100 pounds of mixed bird seed and roll for birds. each year adding 10 new varities of trees. just slowly build variety each year and hope.

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