One hundred seventy-eight species in the continental U.S. and 39 in Hawaii have the dubious distinction of landing on WatchList 2007, the newest and most scientifically sound list of America's most imperiled birds, including 6 species found in Pennsylvania.
"All of us in Pennsylvania have an opportunity and responsibility to help protect our birds at greatest risk - including the golden-winged warbler, Henslow's sparrow, and the wood thrush," says Tim Schaeffer, Executive Director of Audubon Pennsylvania. "We need conservation action now, while there is still time - and WatchList helps focus that action where it is most needed."
"Habitat loss due to development, energy exploration and extraction, and the impact of global warming remain serious threats for the most imperiled species, along with others on both the red and yellow lists," said David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy's Director of Conservation Programs and co-author of the new list. "Concerted action will be needed to address these threats."
In Pennsylvania, species of highest national concern include:
∑ Golden-winged Warbler: The golden-winged warbler is suffering from loss of suitable successional habitat, dense shrubs and young saplings, due to reforestation and development. The species, down 98 percent in Pennsylvania, also faces competition from the closely-related blue-winged warbler, which is expanding its range to the north.
∑ Henslow's Sparrow: Between 1966 and 2005, Breeding Bird Survey data indicates an average range-wide decline in Henslow's sparrows of 7.9 percent each year. The species has declined by almost 70 percent in Pennsylvania over the past 40 years. Dependent on grassland habitat with standing dead stems, they are threatened by the loss of agricultural land to development and the intensified cropping of remaining farmland. Their highest densities in the Commonwealth now occur on former strip mines that are large, open, and grassy.
Pennsylvania species in the declining category include:
∑ Semipalmated Sandpiper: This tiny shorebird is a new addition to the WatchList. It depends on mudflats for stopover and staging areas while undertaking its remarkable migration between the Arctic tundra and South America. The loss of stopover habitat is an important factor in its population decline. At the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Audubon Pennsylvania has assisted with developing land management techniques to provide additional stopover habitat for semipalmated sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds.
∑ Short-eared Owl: This ground-nesting owl, which inhabits large open meadows and other open habitats, has declined drastically in Pennsylvania in recent decades due to loss of suitable habitat. Rampant development and changing agricultural practices have been the primary causes of habitat loss for this species, which is currently considered to be endangered in Pennsylvania.
∑ Wood Thrush: Wood thrushes rely on large interior forests and are threatened by habitat fragmentation, deforestation, and nest parasitism. Each year wood thrushes, down 62 percent in Pennsylvania over the past 40 years, migrate from Central America to the U.S., where Pennsylvania houses 8.5 percent of the world's breeding population. Audubon Pennsylvania is actively engaging landowners and helping them improve their deer management practices as well as advocating statewide improvement to deer management. A deer herd out of balance with Penn's Woods hinders healthy forest regeneration and serves as a contributing factor to habitat loss for forest-dwelling species, like the wood thrush, and other wildlife.
∑ Cerulean Warbler: The cerulean warbler is found in the forests of riparian valleys and ridge top habitats in the eastern United States. Over the past half century it has steadily declined in numbers primarily due habitat loss directly associated with numerous types of human activities on both breeding and wintering grounds. In more recent years large areas of both types of breeding habitat have been destroyed through a practice of coal extraction known as mountaintop removal mining. Audubon Pennsylvania supports alternate placement of wind power turbines, many of which are currently sited along ridge tops. Such placement further promotes fragmentation of ridge top habitats utilized by cerulean warblers.
WatchList 2007, a joint effort of Audubon and American Bird Conservancy, reflects a comprehensive analysis of population size and trends, distribution, and threats for 700 bird species in the U.S. It reveals those in greatest need of immediate conservation help simply to survive amid a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species and global warming.
"We call this a 'WatchList' but it is really a call to action, because the alternative is to watch these species slip ever closer to oblivion," said Audubon Bird Conservation Director and co-author of the new list, Greg Butcher. "Agreeing on which species are at the greatest risk is the first step in building the public policies, funding support, innovative conservation initiatives and public commitment needed to save them."
The new Audubon/American Bird Conservancy WatchList identifies 59 continental and 39 Hawaiian "red list" species of greatest concern, and 119 more in the "yellow" category of seriously declining or rare species.
It is based on the latest available research and assessment from the bird conservation community along with data from the Christmas Bird Count and the annual Breeding Bird Survey.
The data were analyzed and weighted according to methods developed through extensive peer review and revision, yielding an improved assessment of actual peril that can be used to determine bird conservation priorities and funding.
"Adoption of this list as the 'industry standard' will help to ensure that conservation resources are allocated to the most important conservation needs," said David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy's Director of Conservation Programs and co-author of the new list. "How quickly and effectively we act to protect and support the species on this list will determine their future; where we've taken aggressive action, we've seen improvement."
Despite ongoing challenges and their continued place on the list, the status of some WatchList species is improving, according to the new data, as broader awareness of their plight has spawned effective conservation action.
Several species have benefited from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act and now show stabilizing, or even increasing populations. Lacking an ESA designation or the political support needed to secure strong protective measures, others continue to decline.
To learn how you can help, visit the American Bird Conservancy webpage and sign up for Audubonís Christmas Bird Count Program.
NewsClip: More Than 25 Percent of U.S. Birds Need Help Study Says
Link: Important Bird Areas of Pennsylvania
Feature- Disappearing Habitat, Disappearing Common Birds