Birds | Earth Day Network

What You Need to Know About Birds and Why We Need to Protect Them

Facts About Birds

  • Of the roughly 11,000 different species of birds, nearly 40% are facing a significant decline.[1]
  • Seabird populations have dropped by approximately 70% between 1950 and 2015 due to human activities, including plastic and oil pollution, food shortages from overfishing, and climate change.[2]
  • There are numerous federal laws and treaties that afford protections to birds, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, Wild Bird Conservation Act, Ramsar Convention, and CITES.[3]
  • Despite current law, millions of exotic and wild birds are exploited and sold as part of the illegal wildlife trade. Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion in revenue.
  • At least 25 bird species have been brought back from the brink of extinction in this century.[4]

Why We Need to Protect Birds

  • Role in the Ecosystem: Birds often have numerous roles in their ecosystems. While some birds move within a small range, many species undertake extraordinary migrations. This constant movement helps to disperse seeds[5] and transfer nutrients[6] along the way. Pollinators are less common, but research indicates that birds pollinate between three and five percent of more than 1,500 species of crop or medicinal plants in certain regions of the world.[7] Birds are also one of nature’s best scavengers, helping to eliminate waste and hazardous remains and reducing the spread of disease to humans and other animals.[8]They also play an important part in agricultural production by eating unwanted pests, which helps protect commercially viable crops and guard livestock against harmful diseases.[9]
  • Economic Contribution: Birds provide cultural services, exemplified through various roles in art, religion, and bird-watching. In the United States alone, bird-watching brings in annual revenue of $40 billion and supports around 860,000 jobs.[10]Avitourism is one of the largest markets in places like Europe and contributes to the nearly $600 billion generated each year from visitors to the world’s national parks and nature reserves.[11]
  • Uniqueness: In addition to being social creatures, birds have been observed to exhibit intelligent behavior.[12] For instance, carrion crows in Japan have been seen placing nuts on roadways and waiting for car tires to crush them open to eat. Even more remarkably, the African grey parrot has been observed to use its speech to make and deny requests for food.[13]

Threats to Birds

  • Habitat Loss: Agriculture has the biggest negative impact of all human activities on birds, threatening 74% of the 1,469 species at risk of extinction. In North America, nearly 290 million acres of grassland habitat has been converted for agricultural use, displacing and threatening the survival of a variety of bird species.[14]
  • Deforestation: Deforestation caused by logging impacts 50% of the threatened species of birds. In Latin America, for instance, approximately 85% of endangered birds have been negatively impacted by large-scale logging operations.[15]
  • Invasive Species: Invasive species, such as cats and rats, have driven 70 species of birds to extinction. More generally, invasive species have played a role in the decline of 50% of all threatened bird species.[16]
  • Climate Change and Severe Weather: Over the course of this century, climate change will become one of the biggest threats to the well-being of birds. For example, reductions in rainfall will limit the food available for birds.[17] Oceanic birds are by far the most threatened group of birds, due in large part to the fact that rising sea levels is expected to submerge their nests and habitat.[18]
  • Plastic and Pesticide Pollution: Birds are threatened by plastic pollution on both land and sea,[19] as they mistake indigestible plastic for small bits of food. Even worse, pesticide pollution[20] is the leading cause of grassland bird decline.[21]
  • Illegal Trafficking and Pet Trade: A total of 13 species of birds are at risk of extinction because of poaching.[22] One species of bird, the African gray parrot, was one of the most trafficked birds in the world with more than 1.3 million exported between 1975 and 2013. As a result of the species’ decline, a global ban was put in place to protect the endangered species.[23]

What You Can Do to Help Protect Birds

  • Urge Congress to pass the Bird-Safe Buildings Act: This bill would require that new or significantly altered buildings incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features in their construction in order to reduce bird collisions and mortality. Take Action!
  • Sign Earth Day Network’s Pesticide Pledge to help reduce the amount of pesticides that are killing pollinators and birds. Birds can ingest these harmful chemicals through seeds or consumption of small insects that have ingested pesticides themselves.
  • Turn off the lights in your home or office to prevent birds from colliding into windows.
  • Keep cats inside to prevent them from hunting birds.
  • Advocate for additional land protection for birds under the Endangered Species Act in the United States.
  • Do not litter. Properly dispose of garbage and waste including recyclable materials.
  • Reduce plastic waste and help prevent birds from ingesting litter by participating in a local or citywide cleanup event.
  • Take personal steps to End Plastic Pollution.
  • Test your knowledge about threats to ocean ecosystems with our Oceans Plastic Pollution Quiz.