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The State of the Birds

The State of the Birds

Birds have long been recognized as environmental indicators. From the oft-repeated tale of miners’ canaries, to Silent Spring, to Spotted Owls in old-growth forest, we’ve relied on or pointed to birds to help us avoid environmental catastrophe. This need is just as crucial today, with recent estimates that North America has lost over three billion birds in the last 50 years spurring conservationists to new action. The actions needed are often broad in scale, sometimes spanning continents, but even these are ultimately implemented at a local scale. Right here in New Hampshire there are things you can do to help “our” birds, even if they don’t recognize our arbitrary political boundaries. In 2011, NH Audubon produced the first statewide overview of bird populations and conservation, and is proud to present this update to that information.

Roughly 190 species of birds breed in New Hampshire. Of these, roughly 80 are decreasing, 60 increasing, and 30 show stable populations (we lack data for another 20). Species showing the strongest declines are often those that nest in shrubby or grassland habitats, that migrate the longest distances, or that feed on insects in flight (e.g., swallows). While the reasons behind these declines are many, an overarching issue continues to be habitat loss, including during migration and winter when most of our birds are far from the Granite State. And no matter the time of year, they face mortality from cats and collisions, the often unknown effects of pesticides and other contaminants, and the pervasive influence of climate change.

But there is reason for hope. Increasing species such as waterfowl and raptors show us that populations can recover if we spend the time and resources needed to overcome known threats. Conservationists are working hard to better understand new threats and develop new strategies to help declining birds. In the meantime, there are many simple things you can do as an individual to make things that much better for our local birds. Birds killed by domestic cats or by flying into windows number in the billions each year, and yet these two sources of mortality are easily preventable. Climate change or tropical deforestation are harder threats to address, but even there individuals can make incremental differences through their actions – or by simply making their voices heard.

Resources & Links:

For the Press:

Note that many of NH Audubon’s other bird projects are tied in some way to threats and strategies identified in the “State of the Birds” report. You are encouraged to look more closely at these pages within the Conservation section of this website (navigation located in the green bar near the top of this page).

Project Leader: Pam Hunt


“You don’t publish a paper on the loss of 3 Billion birds and go back to your dayjob. We’re trying to re-imagine how we do bird conservation so we don’t wake up in 20 years and find out that we lost another billion birds or worse – that species have gone extinct. Doing this requires engaging new and broader audiences, and NH Audubon’s State of the Birds is a positive step in that direction.”

-Dr. Peter Marra of Georgetown University, internationally-recognized bird researcher and conservationist

“Over 60 species of birds are identified as ‘species of greatest conservation need’ in the NH Wildlife Action Plan. The State of the Birds report is an important tool in communicating the challenges birds face and the actions we can take to help them.”

-Michael Marchand, coordinator of NHFG’s Nongame Program

“This is a resource that we really value in our Extension outreach and education efforts. It’s our go-to guide for sharing research-based information on birds in New Hampshire with a variety of audiences – landowners, volunteers, community decision-makers, and natural resources professionals. We have and will continue to use it as one of the core handouts for the NH Coverts Project training each and every year.”

-Haley Andreozzi, Wildlife Outreach Program Manager at UNH Cooperative Extension

Photos, from the top: Winter Wren by Susan Wrisley, Purple Finch by Jason Lambert.