TOP 20 DECLINING COMMON BIRDS
Over the past 40 years, North America's bird fauna has changed remarkably. It includes several species like the Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica – above) that didn't appear on pre-1967 checklists. Some species have increased in numbers while others have decreased. Thanks to Rob at Birdchaser for alerting me to the Audubon Society's new webpage of the top 20 declining common birds of North America, complete with entries describing problems and potential solutions. The list is surprising to me; it contradicts much of what I see in my unique area: a big city in the center of the least densely populated part of the lower 48. Having lived in the same part of the country for practically all of the past half-century, I've watched local trends with interest. Anyway, here's the Audubon list, the estimated decline in the United States since 1967, and how that compares to what I've seen locally.
20. RUFFED GROUSE (Bonasa umbellus) 54% This is one of two common forest grouse in my area, the other being the Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus). Populations of both appear to be healthy and steady here, and about equal in number, although I seem to recall Ruffeds being the more numerous prior to about 1970.
19. LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea) 54% I have no long-term experience with this bird.
18. HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris - above) 56% Throughout the year, this bird has always been the most conspicuous avian resident of the open plains of my area. At the age of 16, I was involved in an automobile accident while watching a group of these birds instead of the road. I've noticed no decline.
17. WHIP-POOR-WILL (Caprimulgus vociferus) 57% I have no long-term experience with this bird. It appears very similar to its rather distant relative, the Poor-will (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) which occurs here, and appears to be far less common in Northern Utah than it was before 1980. It's still plentiful in the southwest part of the state.
16. RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus) 58% Once every three Augusts or so, I see one of these birds on passage here—not frequently enough to make a judgment concerning any trends.
15. AMERICAN BITTERN (Botaurus lentiginosus) 59% This bird occurs in my area, but I'm too lame to see it enough to know how common it is.
14. COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscala) 61% This bird is accidental in my area. I've seen three, one in 1984, one in the late '90s, and one last year.
13. LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus) 63% If anything, this handsome little sparrow is more common in open parts of my area than it was 30 years ago.
12. BLACK THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata - right) 63% Another handsome sparrow whose numbers seem to have remained steady in southern Utah, where it has always been fairly common.
11. SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis) 64% I don't even know that I've seen one of these.
10. GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum) 65% I have no long-term experience with this bird.
9. FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla) 68% Another sparrow I have no long-term knowledge of.
8. LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus) 71% This has never been a common bird around here. It's probably even less common now than 30 years ago.
7. COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo) 71% This bird is occasionally seen here on transit, where I would be likely to mistake it for the common Forster's Tern (S. forsteri).
6. EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna) 72% I have no long-term experience with this bird. The Western Meadowlark (S. neglecta) continues to be abundant in open plains and agricultural areas.
5. BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonica) 73% I have no long-term familiarity with this bird.
4. GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila) 75% I have no long term experience with this bird.
3. NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta) 77% From the late '70s through the early '90s, I did a lot of duck hawking in northern Utah, and sought out this challenging quarry, which became common towards the end of the season (late January). Today it is still common, though probably less so.
2. EVENING GROSBEAK (Hesperiphona vespertina) 78% This bird occurs here in the winter, where transient flocks may turn up for a few days. Most years I don't see any, some years I see several flocks. I can't make much sense of my observations.
1.BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus) 82% I have no long-term knowledge of this bird.
Here is my own list, complete with built-in bias, of birds that appear to have declined markedly in my location.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
SAGE GROUSE (Centocercus urophasianus)
FRANKLIN'S GULL (Larus pipixcan)
BURROWING OWL (Speotyto cunicularia)
FLAMMULATED OWL (Otus flammeolus)
LONG-EARED OWL (Asio otus)
POOR-WILL (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)
BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus)
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia familiaris)
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
upper: BLUETHROAT (2002) acrylic 8" a 10"
photographs by CPBvK