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Decline in Bird Populations Raising Concerns

Decline in Bird Populations Raising Concerns


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John Hollenhorst ReportingOne of the nation's best-known conservation groups is sounding the alarm about a drastic 40-year decline in some bird populations. The Audubon Society says most species are doing fine, but others are in deep trouble, nationally and right here in Utah.

In the Layton Marsh birds are thriving. That's why we went with veteran birdwatchers to the Nature Conservancy Shorelands Preserve.

Keith Evans, with the Wasatch Audubon Chapter, said, "Most of our bird populations are doing quite well."

They pointed out blackbirds and gulls, red-tail hawks and kestrels, are all doing fine in this marshy area. But in other areas, specifically grassy meadows and western rangelands, detailed bird counts over 40 years have documented drastic declines.

"You know it's really a way to be alarmed. We've got to level that out or they will be on the endangered species list sometime in the future," Evans said.

In Utah the troubled species include Rough-Legged Hawks, which are down 78 percent over the 40 years. The Horned Lark is down 91 percent in winter; Brewer's Blackbirds are off 79 percent; Sage Thrashers, down 66 percent; Loggerhead Shrikes are down at least 50 percent; and so are Western Scrub Jays.

Jack Rensel said, "And so all of those original grassland birds are in deep trouble."

On the good news side of the equation is the fact that many of the species you're familiar with are doing pretty well -- the one's that flutter around in your backyard, the robins and finches. They've adapted well to urban life so their numbers are not declining.

But as grasslands have been plowed and sprayed by farmers, bulldozed by urban developers, and ravaged by alien plants, some birds have not adapted.

"And you know, I think we have a responsibility to protect habitats for all those species that were created here on earth for some magnificent purpose," Rensel said.

It's the first long-term study of its type. These bird-watching enthusiasts hope everyone else will sit up and take notice.

One of the major causes of the decline is believed to be an invading species called Russian Cheatgrass. It has fueled bigger range fires in recent years and put pressure on birds by crowding out native vegetation.

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