Common bird numbers down in NC

Audubon cites decline in numbers of common bird species

New Bern, NC –
INTRO - A study released earlier this month by the National Audubon Society reveals a 54% decline in numbers of twenty common bird species in the United States over the past 40 years. That decline is affecting birds in North Carolina as well. George Olsen has more.

Nationally some bird populations were down as much as 80%, but the numbers on some species in North Carolina were even more striking.

21:44 In the case of the common tern, their numbers in NC are down 79%. The eastern meadowlark, their numbers are also down 79%. The field sparrow is down 59%. The loggerhead shrike is down 95%, and the northern bobwhite that most people know as the bobwhite quail, their numbers are down 96%.

Andy Wood is the education director for Audubon North Carolina. The overall numbers on common birds are still good, with none of the species looking at imminent listing as endangered.

23:46 We're still talking about 100s of thousands of birds, certainly 10s of thousands, not all in NC but nationally and globally, so we're drawing attention to these common birds in decline so you and I won't have this phone call in 5 years talking about the common tern being put on the endangered species list.

The tern has declined from 2761 nesting pairs at 35 sites in 1977 to 570 pairs at 25 sites in 2004. The biggest threat to all the birds in decline has been loss of habitat, and not necessarily from human incursion into once wild areas.

05:15 and then about 50 years ago or so our farming practices changed considerably to where we went into more of an industrial mode of growing food and producing timber. So we changed how we were using the land more efficiently, in a sense, and that removed what had been great edge habitat where you had large fields of hay and the farmer would harvest the hay that was easiest to get to and wouldn't worry so much about getting right to the fence line, so the fence line would get rank you'd have tall grasses and shrubs and other plants that would provide shelter for birds like the loggerhead shrike, field sparrow and the bobwhite.

With more efficient farming practices, farmers are now able to harvest fence-line to fence-line, taking that area which birds used for shelter and breeding purposes. Birds are building nests in now harvestable areas, and while the young may not be ready to leave the nest until mid-July, farmers may harvest in June. Audubon hasn't asked farmers to revert to older practices, but instead to harvest later and Andy Wood says in western North Carolina programs to get farmers to delay their harvest have been a complete success. They've also made strides in returning breeding habitat for the common tern in coastal areas, noting a recent Wrightsville Beach project.

16:33 As part of an inlet relocation project, we were basically able to secure a 3000 foot stretch of beach with dune habitat and post that off as part of the permit process for the inlet relocation, and common terns are nesting there right now along with least terns, American oyster catcher and shore birds, so what we've been able to do is show Wrightsville Beach they've got the entire beach to play on and enjoy, and all that we're asking to be set aside is this one little stretch of beach that's posted, nobody's access to the ocean is restricted.

Not impeding human progress will factor in to what Wood calls stopping the hemorrhaging. Restricting beach access could halt public support, and in the case of farmers, Wood says they need to harvest when they need to harvest to compete economically. Maintaining that balance with the bird's needs will be tricky.

26:35 But there are many interior forest species or field species like the meadowlark that require many square acres of contiguous acres of habitat in order to feel comfortable enough to reproduce, and when we go in and fragment habitat either with roads or subdivisions or alter the use of the land, because you've changed the face of the landscape, you've changed the profile of the habitat for the bird community within that habitat.

When asked if there's hope of returning these birds to their historic numbers, Wood wouldn't say yes or no but instead the habitat may just not be there. Andy Wood is the education director for Audubon North Carolina. I'm George Olsen.