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.

State of the Birds: Wildlife Project
Purple Finch, photo by Jason Lambert

Top Ten Things YOU can do to Help Conserve New Hampshire’s Birds (pdf download)

Early in 2010, NH Audubon and NH Fish and Game released a first of its kind report for New Hampshire. “The State of New Hampshire’s Birds” compiled data on the population trends for all 186 breeding bird species in the state, summarized information on the threats facing birds and their habitats, and proposed conservation actions that can both recover populations in trouble and ensure the continued presence of more common species.
Overall, roughly one third of NH’s breeding species are in decline, one third are increasing or stable, and data are lacking to determine the trends for the final third. While reasons for decline are many, an overarching issue continues to be habitat loss, particularly for shrubland and grassland birds, as well as for many forest species that migrate to the tropics during the winter months. Other threats include climate change, predation, pesticides, and human disturbance. Many of the increasing species with increasing or stable populations are the beneficiaries of previous conservation efforts (e.g., Wild Turkey, Bald Eagle, Common Tern, Common Loon) or are southern species that are expanding their ranges north. Although the former group of species are secure from a conservation standpoint, continued management is sometimes needed to prevent declines from resuming. For other species with stable or increasing populations, it is critical to recognize that an important goal of bird conservation is to “keep common species common.” In this context, keeping track of secure species serves as an early warning system for future conservation priorities, and hopefully we can address new threats before a species becomes threatened or endangered. It is for this reason that is it especially important to collect data birds whose population trends are not well documented, since doing so may identify new species in need to targeted conservation work.
In 2011 NH Audubon produced “The State of New Hampshire’s Birds: A Conservation Guide.” The Conservation Guide takes the information from the original report and presents it in a non-technical form that is colorful and easy to understand. It includes photos of birds and their habitat, information on how our state’s birds are doing, threats to their populations, and conservation strategies for each group of birds. You’ll also find a new section with a wide variety of actions that individuals, businesses, and communities can undertake to help our birds. The Conservation Guide is available at all NH Audubon Centers and can be downloaded here. The original report and supplementary materials are available at the NH Fish and Game website (
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 Science” section of the NH Audubon website.
Project Leader: Pam Hunt