This was big news last week. The people at Cornell put it together.
Is There Really an “Aflockalypse?” It’s Not the One in the News.
Ever since blackbirds fell from the sky in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, the Cornell Lab has continued to receive numerous inquiries from the media and the concerned public about the significance of that event and other reports of dead birds at locations around the world. These isolated events, although dramatic, are not highly unusual in frequency or scale. Within the United States, for example, the USGS has recorded 188 events during the past 10 years involving more than 1,000 birds per incident–about 18 events per year on average, or more than one per month, attributed to disease and other causes. See summary from USGS.
Should we be worried about an “aflockalypse?” Yes, but not about the media coverage focusing on isolated events that affect only a few hundred or thousand birds at a time. It’s the constant, chronic losses from habitat destruction and other causes that should truly concern us. Consider that 100 million birds are estimated to die from window collisions in the United States alone each year. That’s more than 270,000 per day on average. Cats are estimated to kill another 100 million per year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; habitat loss and degradation are the largest causes of massive declines in the numbers of birds.
Although we cannot witness these declines on a given day, citizen-science participants have contributed decades of data that point to truly alarming declines. Data from the Breeding Bird Survey show that Rusty Blackbirds, for example, have declined by 95% since the 1960s, indicating a loss of tens of millions of birds. Data from Project FeederWatch show that Evening Grosbeaks have also declined rangewide since the 1980s.
Don’t underestimate the power of bird watchers to “witness” and document the large-scale declines that might otherwise go undetected until it’s too late. With your help, the Cornell Lab and other organizations are working hard to monitor bird species and address the root causes of decline. Send your data to eBird, Project FeederWatch, or the Great Backyard Bird Count. Join the “Rusty Blackbird Blitz” January 29-February 13 if you live in one of the targeted states. See map and find out more.