Smoking Guns in Bird Declines

In recognition of population declines in over 50% of North American bird species and a net loss of 3 billion individuals, we are discussing and convening a group of scientists, wildlife managers, and conservation practitioners to develop an approach for identifying the specific causes of declines—the smoking guns—across the species of highest concern and the key conservation science knowledge necessary for recovering bird populations. Although general threats to birds are well known (e.g., habitat loss, anthropogenic causes of mortality), we still cannot point to the specific limiting factors or causes of declines for most bird species. These need to be assessed on a species-by-species basis, even if solutions to reverse declines are implemented more broadly across habitats, geographies, or suites of species. Understanding species- and population-specific limiting factors (the “smoking guns”) across the full annual cycle, including knowledge of migratory connectivity for demographically distinct populations, will allow us to efficiently target and implement limited conservation resources to the highest-priority places.

Meadowlark artwork courtesy of David Zeig / Audubon Photography Awards.