Most US birds are facing extinction unless we take action
© Getty

Like the canary in the coal mine, birds foreshadow danger to humans. Our nation’s birds are facing more and greater threats to their survival than ever before.

A study published in September in the journal Science documented that since 1970, North America has lost about 3 billion birds, more than one in four birds on the continent. The National Audubon Society just released a report, Survival by Degrees, finding that 389 bird species in North America are at risk of extinction due to climate change, and more vulnerable than ever from rising temperatures and climate-related events.

These reports are a one-two punch that outline decades of decline and a highly uncertain future for birds. A devastating combination of habitat destruction, and climate change magnify ongoing threats to birds and the places they need to survive.

ADVERTISEMENT

Birds not only bring joy to millions of people but they play a critical role in the functioning of our ecosystems, provide significant economic benefits through the birdwatching and bird-feeding industries, benefit our agricultural and forestry industries by consuming vast numbers of insect pests, and have deep cultural value to many communities. Birds also have an intrinsic value like any living thing on our planet. We have a duty to be responsible co-habitant of our shared ecosystem.

Birds are an indicator of the health of our planet. They are telling us that the quality of our lands and waters are in serious danger -- the same landscapes and ecosystems that all of us depend on for survival.

The good news is that there is still time to act but we must act now.

For one, we have to address the top sources of bird mortality. Every year hundreds of millions of birds die needless deaths due to human activity. That includes up to 1 billion birds per year that are killed from collisions with buildings, which is why we must pass the Bird-Safe Buildings Act, to ensure that our federal government is leading by example to make our public buildings bird-friendly and inspire further action nationwide.

Additionally, we must uphold our environmental laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which helps reduce avoidable mortality from industrial hazards such as oil waste pits and transmission line electrocutions.

ADVERTISEMENT

Next, we must advance habitat conservation and restoration. This includes the nesting, migratory, and wintering grounds that birds require. We need to fully fund programs that advance the protection and restoration of bird habitats and invest in landscape-scale programs that are vital for birds, such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and restore other important places like the Everglades, Colorado River Basin and more.

And finally, we must tackle climate change with the urgency that this crisis demands. Audubon’s report found that if we act now, we can still improve the chances for more than 3 out of 4 species that are threatened by climate change.

We must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in line with scientific recommendations by ensuring we make available as many emissions reduction tools as possible. This includes continuing to make significant investments in research in renewable energy and energy storage technologies. We must also recognize the impacts of climate change that we can no longer avoid and quickly advance adaptation solutions for birds and other wildlife, and people, including natural infrastructure to make our country more resilient in the face of climate change.

There’s no single solution to this crisis, but we can and must step up to tackle it. We heard the warning calls in the 20th century that led to stronger environmental laws and the recovery of Bald Eagles and other species. We have a moral obligation to heed these calls once again.

Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats vow court victories won't slow impeachment timeline Most US birds are facing extinction unless we take action Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE serves Illinois’ 5th District. David O’Neill is the chief conservation officer for the National Audubon Society