Illinois Ornithologist Responds To National Bird Population Decline

Oct 7, 2019

Nearly 3 billion birds have been lost in North America since 1970. That’s according to a report published last month in Science Magazine. The finding has disturbed bird lovers across the globe.

Dr. James Marshall, a biologist and ornithologist with Rockford University, says the report confirms what professional and backyard birders have been saying for decades.

He spoke pragmatically about the 30% decline in the bird population. "It's not 90% but it's also not 10%. It's a dramatic decrease, and in a world with increasing habitat fragmentation, this gives us a baseline number for where we are, and a place to measure from as we move forward in this century."

He explained habitat fragmentation. "If you have a patch of forest, for example, it doesn't just shrink. Pieces of it get taken out. Little bits, little pieces. And instead of leaving behind a smaller forest, you're left with bits and pieces that are disconnected."

Marshall attributes the national bird population decline to habitat fragmentation and loss throughout North America. He offers a suggestion to those who want to help increase the bird population:

"One of the things you can do in your own backyard is focus on native plants. Don't plant Kentucky bluegrass. It doesn't belong here. Plant more shrubs, grasses, and plants that are native to Illinois."

To help bring the bird population back up, James says, "Don't plant Kentucky bluestem. It doesn't belong here. Plant shrubs, grasses and plants that are native to Illinois."
Credit Connie Kuntz

He acknowledged the appeal of chemically fertilized grass, but he recommends cultivating an authentic lawn that is diverse in its native species.

"It's a better habitat for the animals, plants, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators." He continued, "It invites more nature in. It's not a threat to you, your pet, or anyone. It's just a healthier environment."

For Marshall, the national bird loss is serious and personal. "There are fewer chances to see some of the things I used to see on a regular basis — things I looked forward to seeing. For those of us who are older — you look forward to the small set of weeks, maybe even a small set of days to see them." Marshall recommends visiting local nurseries for specific advice on purchasing and planting native species.