Data show that since 1970, the U.S. and Canada have lost nearly 3 billion birds, a massive reduction in abundance involving hundreds of species, from beloved backyard songbirds to long-distance migrants.
Today our colleagues published a study in the journal Science revealing that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats — from iconic songsters such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows and backyard birds including sparrows. The study notes that birds are indicators of environmental health, signaling that natural systems across the U.S. and Canada are now being so severely impacted by human activities that they no longer support the same robust wildlife populations.
The authors emphasize that “The story is not over. There are so many ways to help save birds!” Their study documents promising rebounds resulting from galvanized human efforts including the recovery of waterfowl over the past 50 years and the spectacular comebacks that raptors, such as the Bald Eagle, have also made since the 1970s. Birds are telling us we must act now to ensure our planet can sustain wildlife and people and there are things we can all do to help make a bird-friendly planet.
To learn more about this paper see the complete press release at eBird Northwest.
Jaime Stephens, Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) Science Director, will be presenting at the September 10th Klamath Basin Audubon Society meeting. The presentation will include an overview of KBO’s long-term monitoring and applied ecology research. It will focus on current projects occurring in the Klamath Basin within the context of broader bird conservation. An overview of long-term monitoring will include KBO’s bird banding program, monitoring in the National Parks, and a new long-term monitoring program initiated this spring in shrub-steppe habitats. The presentation will also highlight species-specific studies examining Vesper Sparrow, Black-backed Woodpecker, Common Nighthawk, and Hermit Warbler. The Hermit Warbler research is a partnership with Oregon State University which aims to better understand migratory connectivity for this species, to elucidate potential causal factors in population trends and inform conservation actions. The Klamath Basin was one of nine study sites where Hermit Warblers were tagged with geolocators in spring of 2019. This project aligns closely with the KBO-led Western Warblers Initiative, which seeks to apply the latest technology (Motus) in expanding our knowledge of migratory movements and connectivity for warblers; research will begin on Hermit, Wilson’s, and Black-throated Gray warblers in spring of 2020. The presentation will include time for questions and discussion about these projects and broader bird conservation initiatives.
Klamath Bird Observatory continues to offer public visits to bird banding at our Upper Klamath Field Station near Fort Klamath in the Upper Klamath Lake area. The bird banding is scheduled on Thursday mornings through mid-October. Individual, family, and group visits can be arranged by emailing KBO’s Banding Program Coordinator Bob Frey (see below).
Nestled along Sevenmile Creek on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, this banding station has been operated each year during the nesting and fall migration seasons since 1997—one of the longest running bird monitoring sites in the region. In the fall, many songbird species migrate through the Klamath Basin and can be encountered here, especially large numbers of warblers and sparrows. The location is also a birding hotspot on the Klamath Basin Birding Trail.
And … KBO and Crater Lake National Park continue our bird ecology program series into the fall. These Ranger-led programs begin at the Park’s Steel Visitor Center and feature a visit to KBO’s banding station at the Park’s Munson Valley. These programs are scheduled on Friday mornings—please check the Crater Lake National Park series flyer below for upcoming dates and more details.
Don’t miss these opportunities to visit KBO’s biologists and the birds they are studying up close!
The programs are on Thursday mornings, but not every Thursday through August and Fridays in the fall—please check the Crater Lake National Park bird banding visit flyer below for scheduled dates and information on how to register for these special events . Don’t miss this opportunity to visit KBO’s biologists in the field, see the birds they are studying up close, guided by an expert Park Ranger!
Crater Lake National Park and Klamath Bird Observatory are again presenting a bird ecology program series this summer and into the fall. The popular Park Ranger-led programs feature a visit to KBO’s bird monitoring station within Crater Lake National Park, bringing park visitors, park birds, and researchers all together.
KBO is also offering public visits to another of our bird monitoring stations located at our Upper Klamath Field Station near Fort Klamath by arrangement. Email Bob Frey for more information.
The study of natural areas can improve our understanding of plants and animals that occupy different habitats. Land managers need this kind of information for making decisions about how best to manage, restore, or protect their lands. However, it is not possible to measure each aspect of biodiversity. Studying one or several species to better understand the natural area as a whole is a common, but relatively understudied, practice. In the Pacific Northwest, Partners in Flight – a broad partnership aimed at conserving bird populations – has been using birds as focal species for nearly 20 years. The premise is that a suite of songbird species that are closely tied to key habitat features will represent many other bird species and other elements of biodiversity.
New research examines the focal species approach
Scientists from Klamath Bird Observatory and the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service teamed up to think about how the focal species approach is being applied to six national parks in southern Oregon and northern California. Specifically, we examined whether the Partners in Flight focal species, which are derived from expert opinions and knowledge of birds and their habitats, did a good job at representing three additional management concerns: 1) vegetation, 2) other songbirds, and 3) more specifically, songbirds in decline. We then tested whether we could develop a focal species list from existing park-specific bird surveys that would do a better job at representing the other groups. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications in an article titled Established and Empirically Derived Landbird Focal Species Lists Correlate with Vegetation and Avian Metrics(CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PUBLICATION).
Why does this matter?
If focal species do a good job at representing other groups of birds or vegetation, then the list can help land managers make better decisions about natural areas. Deciding which correlations are most important will depend on the management question at hand. For example, with vegetation management, if focal species are highly correlated with other songbirds and vegetation, managers can confidently apply their knowledge about the focal species to planning needs, such as developing a restoration strategy.
What have we learned?
Partners in Flight focal species represented three other components of biodiversity (all songbirds combined, songbirds in decline, and vegetation) in some, but not all, instances. We found that the Partners in Flight focal species did a good job of representing other songbirds at four of the six national parks. For all parks combined, the focal species developed from park-specific bird surveys improved correlation, showing the most notable improvement at Crater Lake National Park, where the existing focal species did not correlate strongly with the other groups. In contrast to the close association with songbirds generally, the Partners in Flight focal species lists represented songbirds in decline at only two of the parks. It is likely that species in decline have different habitat needs or experience different threats than the focal species.
Partners in Flight focal species lists are based on breeding season habitat needs, but food and habitat outside of the breeding season are also critically important for birds. For example, understanding how seasonal habitat and food needs relate to songbird health and ability to produce young, and how climate interacts with those, may inform conservation of declining species. Adding focal species that can represent limitations or threats outside of the breeding season may expand the use of this approach in the context of widespread bird population declines. Further, continued long-term monitoring in the parks is critical to understanding both whether local bird populations show similar dynamics as the same species at regional and national scales, and if so, the reasons why.
Ashland, OR – A new study on songbirds in the Pacific Northwest, released on March 11th, empirically tests the use of focal species as indicators of ecosystem health.
Focal species are often monitored to understand overall ecosystem health and thereby inform and improve natural resource management. However, few studies have empirically tested how well this approach works. The new study, Established and empirically derived landbird focal species lists correlate with vegetation and avian metrics, published by scientists at Klamath Bird Observatory and the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service, tested the focal species approach against site-specific empirical data and found that a suite of bird focal species represented other birds and vegetation in some, but not all instances, and the application of focal species may be improved with more site-specific data.
In the Pacific Northwest, Partners in Flight (PIF) – a broad partnership aimed at conserving bird populations – has been using birds as focal species for nearly 20 years. The premise of the focal species approach is that a suite of songbird species that are closely tied to key habitat features will represent many other bird species and other elements of biodiversity. The study, published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PUBLICATION), used data from six national parks in southern Oregon and northern California to evaluate the focal species approach in the Pacific Northwest. Specifically, the study examined whether PIF focal species represented three broader ecosystem components of biodiversity: vegetation, other songbirds, and more specifically, songbirds in decline. The researchers then tested whether they could develop a focal species list from existing park-specific bird surveys that would do a better job at representing the broader suite of species and vegetation.
“If focal species do a good job at representing others aspects of biodiversity, then we can confidently apply them to decisions about managing natural areas. In this time of unprecedented human altered environments, ensuring that the best available science informs decision-making in an efficient manner is crucial,” explains Jaime Stephens, KBO’s Science Director and lead author of this paper. Jaime suggests that this study identifies not only how this approach can be useful to land managers, but importantly, also the limitations of the focal species approach.
The research team found that PIF focal species represented the broader suite of species and vegetation in some, but not all, instances. For example, Partners in Flight focal species did a good job of representing other songbirds at four of the six national parks included in the study. For all parks combined, the new focal species developed from the park-specific bird surveys were slightly better at representing other songbirds, with more improvement in some parks than others.
In contrast to the close association of focal species with the group of all songbirds combined, the PIF focal species represented songbirds in decline at only two of the parks. John Alexander, KBO Executive Director and a co-author of the study, highlights that “It is likely that the species in decline experience different threats than the focal species.” Alexander goes on to explain that these underrepresented declining species may face threats when they leave the parks during the migration – the focal species are chosen to help understand conditions in each park where the songbirds breed.
“I’ve worked through many uses of indicator and focal species approaches as a way for us to “see” and perhaps improve how a system works, and this is among the best approaches I know,” says PIF National Coordinator Bob Ford. He adds, “This approach provides a blueprint for how multi indicator species can be applied to advance conservation in other North American biomes.” He believes this is an important part of the PIF toolbox, adding value to the full lifecycle approaches that PIF applies to addressing conservation needs for priority and declining species.
This study, funded by the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program, takes advantage of the first decade of long-term bird monitoring in the six national parks of the Klamath Network. This monitoring program was designed to answer pressing questions for park managers and local conservation practitioners over the short-term, while monitoring long-term trends in bird populations over the long term. “Our long time partners at KBO provide valuable expertise that allows us to extend the value of our datasets and answer important questions that support natural resource stewardship in Klamath Network parks and beyond,” says Alice Chung-MacCoubrey, the NPS Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program Manager. Continued long-term monitoring in the parks is critical to understanding local bird population dynamics in comparison to trends for the same species at regional and national scales.
About Klamath Bird Observatory: Klamath Bird Observatory advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships. We achieve bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds of our region. We developed our award-winning conservation model in the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California. Emphasizing high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, we specialize in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. Also, recognizing that conservation occurs across many fronts, we nurture a conservation ethic in our communities through our outreach and educational programs. Visit Klamath Bird Observatory at www.KlamathBird.org.
About Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service: The Klamath Network tracks the ecological health of six national park units in southern Oregon and northern California. We inventory park natural resources and then regularly monitor the condition of a carefully selected subset, called “vital signs,” at Crater Lake NP, Lava Beds NM, Whiskeytown NRA, Lassen Volcanic NP, Redwood National and State Parks, and Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. Our small staff of scientists partners with park scientists and other organizations to monitor nine vital signs: cave environments and communities, rocky intertidal zone communities, landbird communities, land cover and use within and surrounding parks, lake water quality and aquatic communities, stream water quality and aquatic communities, vegetation communities, invasive plants, and whitebark pine trees. Learn more about the Klamath Network and browse the published results of our science at https://www.nps.gov/im/klmn/index.htm.
Riparian (or streamside) habitats are critical for water quality and wildlife. These habitats filter pollutants from runoff, stabilize soils, provide shade to cool water temperatures, and much more. They are also known for their biodiversity, supporting the most diverse bird communities of any habitat type in arid and semi-arid regions such as ours. This is even more pronounced in urban landscapes.
Some of our most at-risk bird species require riparian habitats for breeding. Many species also need healthy riparian habitats during the fall and winter seasons, when they complete important activities like refueling during migration, replacing worn feathers (molting), or building reserves for the next breeding season.
Most of our western riparian habitats have been lost or degraded due to human impacts. However, restoration efforts are helping to return these areas back to more functioning natural conditions. For nearly two decades Klamath Bird Observatory, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, and Ashland School District have partnered on a riparian restoration project at the Willow Wind Community Learning Center along Bear Creek in Ashland, Oregon.
Lomakatsi works to improve riparian habitat in our region by planting a wide diversity of native vegetation, removing invasive plants, and supporting the natural regeneration of native plant communities. As part of the project at Willow Wind, over 3,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted by Lomakatsi’s restoration workers, school groups, and community volunteers. This work has increased the size and health of riparian areas that cool and clean our water, while also providing important bird habitat.
KBO has studied birds as indicators of habitat quality at Willow Wind over the past 18 years to monitor the effectiveness of this streamside habitat restoration. The abundance of several bird species that use riparian habitats during the winter has increased over time in areas where Lomakatsi implemented restoration efforts. The abundance of these same species changed less in areas where no restoration occurred. Before restoration actions took place, the fall bird community at Willow Wind was substantially different than that of nearby mature riparian habitat. In the restored areas, the fall bird community is now becoming more similar to the bird communities in mature riparian habitat along Bear Creek, as a result of the regrowth of native plants. Restoration actions are improving riparian habitat quality in areas where it had previously been degraded.
CLICK HERE to see the full brochure describing results of this project, or to download a printable pdf version.
Interested in birdwatching in some of Ashland’s riparian habitats? Try Lithia Park, Ashland Ponds, Emigrant Lake, or North Mountain Park. CLICK HERE to learn about these and other biding hot spots in and around Ashland.
KBO’s new Decision Support Tool highlights recent studies from KBO scientists and partners and demonstrates how we used science and birds as indicators to inform an adaptive management process in the Monument. The Monument was created to protect biodiversity, including migratory birds that need protection to prevent or reverse recent population declines. The Monument’s establishment, and its expansion in 2017, provided increased protection for critical habitats that many priority migratory bird species need, including oaks and grasslands that are among the most at-risk habitats in the western United States. When the Monument was established KBO completed a study that demonstrated measurable impacts of livestock on the Monument’s migratory birds. Results from this and other studies informed a process to eliminate livestock grazing from most of the Monument. KBO then did a follow up study that showed the measurable benefits of removing cattle from the Monument for migratory birds in oak woodlands.
Like KBO’s other Decision Support tools, this new four-page document is intended for managers, conservation resource professionals, and anyone else that is interested in how science can be used to make natural resource management decisions and measure the effectiveness of management actions that incorporate bird and habitat conservation objectives. Click here to find the DST on Avian Knowledge Northwest!
KBO produces science that is relevant to pressing conservation issues. A recent report (see Frost 2018) identifies three objectives that are important for demonstrating the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion’s connectivity values and for identifying the locations of specific areas that most contribute to maintaining important ecological function across the area’s landscape. These objectives include identifying high-priority conservation areas, designing potential linkage zones between existing reserves or core habitat patches, and developing strategies for increasing resilience to climate change. Several data-rich products that have resulted from KBO’s conservation science collaborations relate to these three subjects of interest.
1. Identify high-priority conservation areas – A paper published in Conservation Biology, Improving Effectiveness of Systematic Conservation Planning with Density Data, presents a novel modeling approach that can be used to rank conservation areas. The approach involves modeling both bird distributions and densities (i.e., abundances). The paper shows high priority areas in the Pacific Northwest that are concentrated in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion.
2. Design potential linkage zones between existing reserves or core habitat patches for focal species – A paper titled Comparing Ecoregional Classifications for Natural Areas Management in the Klamath Region, USAdescribes patterns of plant, amphibian, mammal, and bird distribution that are commonly used to identify ecological boundaries in the Klamath region. More specific to ongoing connectivity discussions, the analyses provide spatially explicit insights into areas of connectivity within the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion.
3. Develop strategies for increasing resilience to climate change – The Pacific Northwest Climate Change Avian Vulnerability decision support tool uses our data-rich modeling approach to present current and future distributions of birds and their habitats and can be used to show areas of turnover and refugia. The tool is freely available and all of the spatially explicit data outputs are downloadable.
The data-rich products described above were created to help identify priority conservation areas, identify important connectivity linkage zones, and develop climate-smart conservation strategies. To insure that our science results in meaningful conservation outcomes KBO staff engage in various conservation forums to demonstrate the relevance of our work to scientists and managers who can use our science to inform and improve their efforts to conserve important ecosystems.
A conservation planning framework that applies what we know about birds as indicators of forest structure and composition can inform landscape level planning and stand level restoration. Such planning strives to achieve restoration goals that benefit entire forests and the animals that inhabit them. We selected focal bird species that are representative of old growth forest conditions, and then, within the focal species framework we included the needs of priority wildlife and plant species. By cross-walking a focal and priority species approach, we identify current and desired conditions, recommend prescription components, and implement monitoring to measure treatment effectiveness. Klamath Bird Observatory has partnered with the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, and Puget Sound Bird Observatory to form a technical advisory team which is working side by side with the Regional Forest Service Avian Conservation Program Manager and USDA Forest Service Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staff to inform restoration planning. Collectively, this team has integrated focal species needs into planning for the South Fork Stillaguamish Vegetation Project and designed a robust monitoring strategy to measure ecological outcomes.
This vegetation project is occurring in densely stocked Late Successional Reserves (areas set aside to provide old growth habitat). The Forest has identified ~3000 acres where commercial thinning of trees <80 years of age would be both feasible and beneficial to old growth dependent species within a project area of 65,000 acres. Restoration goals are to promote stand development and characteristics of old forests, e.g. broadleaf plants, structural diversity, standing dead trees, and coarse woody debris on the ground. Thus, thinning is designed to promote tree species diversity, structural complexity, and understory cover at the treatment site and contribute to landscape scale goals for Late Successional Reserve habitat diversity over the long-term.
KBO staff discuss current forest conditions with Forest Service foresters and biologists and additional partners working together to design this restoration project.
Prioritizing where restoration would have the largest impact
At the onset of the partnership, the technical advisory team looked at areas that the Forest had assessed for potential restoration and identified the upper South Fork Stillaguamish drainage as a conservation priority. The area is designated as a Late Successional Reserve and is currently comprised largely of second growth stands that are adjacent to large contiguous stands of mature and old growth forest. Forest restoration treatments that accelerate the development of older forest characteristics will have added value in this landscape by reducing fragmentation and creating larger blocks of priority forest age structure. Klamath Bird Observatory applied avian climate models and determined that this area is a good candidate for climate smart restoration — that is, the desired conditions align with what climate models project for the area over the next 50-100 years. The upper South Fork Stillaguamish drainage also lends itself well to monitoring — it has good road access, a reasonable number of replicates for treatment and control stands with similar vegetation and age structure, and is a reasonable size to implement both stand and landscape level monitoring.
Integrating the Partners in Flight Conservation Planning Framework
The technical advisory team worked with the forest planning team to inform restoration planning, including stand level treatment prescriptions. Klamath Bird Observatory, working closely with the Regional Forest Service Avian Conservation Program Manager, applied focal species information from applicable Partners in Flight conservation plans. We identified current and desired conditions based on a suite of focal landbird species indicative of specific stand attributes, structure, and condition. Tribal partners identified additional plant and wildlife species that are management and/or cultural priorities in the planning area. Collectively, working within the sideboards of the Forest Service environmental assessment, we established measurable habitat objectives to achieve desired habitat conditions based on the habitat needs of focal species.
Because focal species informed planning, we applied the same approach to develop a short and long term monitoring strategy that will measure treatment effectiveness and inform adaptive management. Klamath Bird Observatory worked with the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians to design site and landscape scale monitoring. By measuring changes in bird communities and vegetation we will be able to assess whether restoration treatments have the desired result, and because a suite of birds serve as indicators of various forest components, we will be able to assess whether the forest is on a trajectory toward older forest conditions over the next 20-50 years. The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians in partnership with the Puget Sound Bird Observatory are completing bird and vegetation monitoring, in part, through citizen science. Achieving long-term monitoring goals is dependent on partnerships, and this project provides a great example of how various organizations can bring expertise to the table to accomplish goals in a cost effective manner. Data are being contributed to Avian Knowledge Northwest, a regional node of the Avian Knowledge Network and thus, also contributing to this larger avian data collaboration with the potential to inform regional management challenges and conservation planning at even broader scales.