THE IMPORTANCE OF BIRDS
Canaries in the Coal Mine
Birds are excellent natural indicators of the health of many ecosystems. They are the literal canary in the coalmine--when birds disappear from an area, it normally signals the deteriorating health of the entire ecosystem. Rachel Carson’s 1962 groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, was no accident. Her book introduced to the American public the idea that if the birds were disappearing, the entire ecosystem, including humans, would be in peril.
Birds and People
Bird-related activities create jobs, enrich communities and sustain cultures. People love birds and participate in bird photography, bird-watching, study, and hunting. Bird watching is the fastest growing outdoor activity in the U.S. More than 46 million people participate in birding, generating over $32 billion in annual retail sales, $13 billion in state and Federal income taxes, and over 863,000 U.S. jobs.
For many urban dwellers, bird watching and photography are keys to experiencing nature. This often leads to an interest in science and overall support for natural resource conservation.
Birds Beyond Borders
Bird populations are significantly declining. Of the over 850 wild bird species in the United States, the US Fish and Wildlife Service lists 90 birds as endangered. More than 200 are at risk. These declines are due primarily to habitat loss from urbanization, loss of wetlands, fragmentation and loss of forests, invasive species, and other causes in the United States and in other nations. Loss of habitat throughout the hemisphere directly affects birds in the United States .
Many birds fly thousands of miles each year and some spend much of the year outside the US . Certain species of warblers and swallows, for example, spend summers in the pristine wilderness of Alaska and Northern Canada and travel to South America during the North American winters. Thus, protecting migratory birds and conserving their habitats must be addressed domestically and internationally.