CT Audubon report looks at decline of insect-catching birds

Feb 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: Birding, Top Story, Wildlife

Saying its research did not turn up a “magic bullet,” the Connecticut Audubon Society (CAS)?hopes to use its 2013 State of the Birds report as a springboard for further research into why birds that catch insects on the wing are declining precipitously.

Tree Swallows are among the aerial insectivores that breed more successfully in areas with man-made next boxes. Photo by Melissa Groo, Melissagroo.com.

Tree Swallows are among the aerial insectivores that breed more successfully in areas with man-made next boxes. Photo by Melissa Groo, Melissagroo.com.

“This has been a challenge. In previous State of the Birds reports we came out with concrete recommendations,” Robert Martinez, president of CAS, said. “This one’s not quite as easy. We’ve recognized there is a decline. Now what?”

For more on this story, visit: CT Audubon report looks at decline of insect-catching birds – Thehour.com: Outdoor.\


From the Fairfield Minuteman:

This year the Connecticut Audubon Society admitted they were a bit stumped for a title for their annual State of the Birds report. They like to have a name that will resound with the public. We imagine they might have considered “Wings wide open, beaks apart,” or “Gone with the Wind,” but being more factually minded, they ended up with “The Seventh Habitat: The Decline of Our Aerial Insectivores,” leaving it to intrepid reporters to explain.

For more on this story, visit: Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 – Fairfield – Minuteman News Center.



Concerned with the dramatic decline of 17 species of birds that nest in Connecticut and eat only insects caught while flying, Connecticut Audubon Society today called for a multi-agency program of research and assessment along with immediate remedies such as cuts in pesticide use and the creation of man-made nesting sites.

The recommendations and action plan are contained in the Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 report, “The Seventh Habitat and the Decline of Our Aerial Insectivores.” Released annually since 2006 by Connecticut Audubon Society, Connecticut State of the Birds has become the leading research-based assessment of conservation conditions in the state.

The 17 species – known as aerial insectivores because they eat bugs on the wing – include beautiful and well-known birds such as Barn Swallows, Whip-poor-wills, Common Nighthawks, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins and Tree Swallows.

They are suffering from a long-term population decline that, if unchecked, threatens their survival. The report also contains an article about a similar decline in Connecticut’s bat population, which is also entirely reliant on aerial insects.

Aerial insectivores forage in the “seventh habitat” – the relatively unstudied expanse of air above the earth. Billions of insects, arthropods and other bugs inhabit that space in a shifting mass sometimes referred to as aerial plankton (beaches and offshore islands, tidal marshes, shrublands, grasslands, inland wetlands and forests are the other six.)

Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 notes, in an article by Jon McCracken, director of national programs for Bird Studies Canada, that aerial insectivores are still common enough that extinction is unlikely over the next couple of decades.

“But as Jon reports, unless we reverse the trend, population collapse is something of a mathematical certainty,” said Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for Connecticut Audubon Society. “The implications will be even more profound if it turns out that the main cause of the collapse is related to changes in aerial plankton.”

Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 was conceived and edited by Bull and by Stephen B. Oresman, chairman emeritus of Connecticut Audubon Society’s Board of Directors.

Read the report here.

You can also read a list of authors and excerpts here.

CAS released the report at a news conference in Fairfield on Friday, February 22. CAS staff were joined by Susan Whalen, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Kathy Van Der Aue, incoming vice president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association. Former television host Phil Donahue, who has successful established Purple Martin colonies on his Westport property, also participated.

Causes of the Decline of Aerial Insectivores
Research on aerial insectivores and on the air-borne insects they rely on is sparse. Possible causes of the population decline include:

  • fewer man-made nesting sites such as barns, open chimneys and gravel roof tops;
  • loss of open-country foraging habitat;
  • changes in the availability of insects, perhaps because of climate change;
  • exposure to environmental contaminants including pesticides;
  • reduced availability of dietary calcium because of acid rain.

“Our earlier Connecticut State of the Birds reports were based on well-established research, and we were able to make specific recommendations about protecting forest birds or prioritizing conservation strategies,” said Robert Martinez, president of Connecticut Audubon Society. “But the lack of research on aerial insectivores means those kinds of recommendations are harder to make this year.”

Recommendations and Actions
Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 calls on government agencies such as the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, academic institutions and conservation organizations to collaborate on a comprehensive assessment of the status of aerial insectivores.

Because the population decline is most severe throughout northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada, the assessment should be undertaken on an interstate and international basis.

In addition, Connecticut Audubon Society is calling for an increase in aeroecology research, and greater sharing of research and data through workshops and conferences to understand the research being conducted, by whom, and what still needs to be accomplished.

In the shorter term, Connecticut Audubon Society will work with other conservation organizations to help pass pesticide reduction bills in Hartford. In particular, CAS will support a bill to ban the use of pesticides in municipal parks.

Connecticut Audubon Society will also work with four to six local organizations to create new Purple Martin colonies, a proven method of increasing the number of nest sites. CAS maintains a successful martin colony at its Milford Point Coastal Center and is attempting to establish another at its Stratford Point coastal restoration site.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, significant population declines in the eastern United states have been observed since 1966 in Bank Swallows, Common Nighthawks, Olive-sided Flycatchers, Whip-poor-wills, Chimney Swifts, Eastern Kingbirds, Least Flycatchers, Barn Swallows, Willow-Alder Flycatchers, Purple Martins and Acadian Flycatchers.

Whip-poor-will, Common Nighthawk, Alder Flycatcher and Purple Martin are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern in Connecticut.

For more on this story, visit: News Release: Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 – Long-term Population Decline is Decimating Aerial Insectivores | Connecticut Audubon Society.



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