Data from Southern Oregon birdwatchers and scientists contributed to a first-of-its-kind State of the Birds government report, released Thursday by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Southern Oregon's Klamath Bird Observatory was one of many conservation groups and wildlife agencies that contributed to the report, which examined 40 years of bird-monitoring data.
The results were somewhat dire — showing that U.S. bird populations are dropping, with almost a third of the nation's 800 bird species endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to environmental factors including habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and pollution.
At the same time, the report found evidence that birds — such as some waterfowl species, peregrine falcons and bald eagles — have responded well when conservation efforts are made.
"This report should be a call to action, but it is action that is within our reach," Salazar said at a Washington D.C. press conference.
This is the first time the U.S. government has officially embraced the idea that birds are a barometer of the environment, John Fitzpatrick, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said at the press conference.
This idea that birds are indicators of the health of the environment — nature's own canary in the coal mine — reflects the Klamath Bird Observatory's work, Ashley Dayer, KBO's education and outreach director, said Thursday in a phone interview from Washington D.C.
"It really epitomizes what KBO does," Dayer said. "We look at birds as indicators."
Not only does this help scientists understand the status of bird populations, but it helps agencies decide where to direct funding to best help birds, Dayer said.
The report held significance for the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, Dayer said, with the hermit warbler listed as one of "Many western forest birds ... at risk because of their small geographic range or small and threatened populations." Cassin's finch and Lewis' woodpecker were also called out as birds that depend on mature pine forests.
"The forest birds are good indicators of how the forests are doing," Dayer said.
Since humans moved into Southern Oregon and began fighting wildfires, the landscape has changed, resulting in less habitat variance for birds, she said.
At the same time, ongoing fire suppression creates fuel for more devastating fires; whereas historically natural fires were less intense and helped keep forests healthy, the report states.
KBO works with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to mimic the effects of natural fires and to develop sustainable forest management practices that coincide with bird conservation, Dayer said.
Invasive species also alter habitat, and nonnative predators like feral cats contribute to bird population declines, she said. Climate change is another factor KBO is studying.
"We are already starting to see changes in abundance of birds, distribution of birds, when they arrive," Dayer said. "We certainly will see birds as early indicators of the effects of climate change."
KBO hopes the government continues to issue State of the Birds reports to better understand how actions on the land affect birds and the environment, Dayer said.
"We hope that it draws attention to the importance of bird monitoring," she said.
Citizens can help contribute to future studies by participating in programs like the Klamath-Siskiyou eBird database, accessible online at ebird.org/content/klamath-siskiyou.
"It can be anything from watching birds in your backyard to talking a walk and watching birds," Dayer said.
As well as KBO research, including their annual breeding bird surveys, Dayer said the State of the Bird report included data from the national Christmas Bird Count — organized locally by the Rogue Valley Audubon Society.
"They're one of the many points of data," she said. "We're really excited to be part of it."
To read the State of the Birds report, visit www.stateofthebirds.org.
Reach Kira Rubenthaler at 482-3456 ext. 225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.