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Washington State of the Birds Report 2004

Washington State of the Birds Report 2004

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Published by: Washington Audubon Society on Sep 29, 2010
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11/24/2011

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StateotheBirds
Our Birds in 1805
 Lewis and Clark found a wealth of  birds all across the Pacific Northwest.
Our Birds Today
One-third of Washington’s 317 common birds are at risk.
Why BirdsMatter
 Birds bring us many benefits – but time is running out for many of our native species.
Birds on the Brink
We’re losing our birds becausewe’re altering critical habitat – and Important Bird Areas can help save them.
OurVulnerable Birds
 Now disappearing at a location near you: These birds and habitats are vulnerable in Washington state.
What You Can Do
We can take many actions to help protect our birds and, ultimately, ourselves.
 
Our Birds in 1805
As Captains Lewis and Clark led the Corps of Discovery downthe Snake and Columbia rivers in October 1805, they found amultitude of birds in great abundance, including one speciesof plump game bird they called a “prairie hen.” Having sub-sisted for weeks on salmon and desperate for variety in their diets,the explorers ate prairie hens at every opportunity. The birds wereparticularly numerous in the brushy meadows and grasslands bor-dering streams in what is now eastern Washington. Later, settlersmoved into the dry Columbia Basin and viewed prairie hens as animportant source of meat. As late as the 1890s, homesteaders andranchers reported harvesting entire wagonloads of the birdsin a single day’s hunting.Today we know the prairie hen as the Sharp-tailed Grouse,a threatened species in Washington. By 1998 the populationin Washington was estimated at a mere 1,000 birds, and theirrange – which once extended from Oregon to the Canadian bor-der and from Idaho to the Cascade foothills – had shrunk to afew isolated pockets in Douglas, Lincoln, and Okanogan counties.The decline of the Sharp-tailed Grouse in Washington, despite de-cades of intense hunting pressure, is attributed primarily to the loss of habitat. Conversion of grasslands tocrops, livestock grazing, herbicides, and the use of fire to control brush have nearly eliminated the nativehabitat the sharp-tails need to survive.As we approach the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery expedition, it is time to inventory theimpact we humans have had on the landscape documented by Lewis and Clark. And, with results in hand,it is also time to reflect on changes since then and ask ourselves, “Two hundred years from now, what floraand fauna will still live along this famous route?”
Our Birds Today
This report examines the conservation status of 317 species of birds that live in or migrate through Wash-ington every year. While more than 400 species of birds visit the state, only these 317 have populations largeenough for management actions taken here to affect the regional, continental, or global conservation statusof these birds.Audubon Washington worked with a team of ornithologists and wildlife management experts to examineexisting but widely dispersed data from government wildlife agencies, national bird conservation organi-zations, and independent scientific analyses. The goal was to determine whether each bird species is secureor faces risks to its continued existence in our state.
The team found that 93 species and four subspecies are at risk. This means that almostone-third of our birds are vulnerable to drastic population declines.
Clark’s Nutcracker 
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Why are we losing our birds? Pollution, pesticides, chemical and oil spills, invasive nonnative plant andanimal species, collisions with man-made structures, and predation by uncontrolled cats and dogs – allthese are threats to birds in North America and Washington state.
But by far the greatest threat to birds isthe loss of their habitat from human population growth and alteration of the landscape.
Washington’s human population has more than doubled in the past 50 years, increasing from 2.4 millionpeople in 1950 to 6 million in 2000.
In the next 50 years, our population is expected to double again – theequivalent of adding 29 more cities the size of Tacoma or Spokane.
It is not just that people want houses and roads, businesses and parking lots – orthat structures and pavement and crops are replacing the forests, grasslands,and wetlands needed by our birds. It is also that our patterns of developmentare extremely destructive, as humanity sprawls across the landscape using upland at a rate faster than our population growth.Such sprawl fragments natural landscapes so that birds and otherwildlife have only small “islands” suitable for their needs. Thesetiny remnants of native lands and waters often are not sufficientto sustain viable populations of some species, because food sourcesare limited, breeding habitat is scarce, and a single natural disaster canwipe out a critical “island.” And so we lose more of our birds.
Important Bird Areas
The Important Bird Areas, or IBA, program is a worldwide effort to identify key places thatprovide essential habitat for birds and focus conservation action on protecting these sites.More than 150 countries participate in the IBA program, and Audubon is the lead organizationin the United States. We work with scientists and local volunteers to identify the sites and definethe conservation strategies, and we add the information to both the International World BirdDatabase and a national register that Audubon is constructing to help advocates and landown-ers with local conservation planning.Audubon Washington is continuing to identify sites in the state while moving into the monitor-ing and conservation-planning phase. The first 53 sites are catalogued in
 Important Bird Areas of Washington
, and another 50 sites are currently being researched. In 2004 the Washington StateLegislature approved the use of recognized Important Bird Areas as part of the criteria for man-aging public land and water. IBA data are also available to private landowners so they will knowmore about their properties’ significance to birds.The IBA program helps us make decisions today that will safeguard the habitat vital to ourbirds’ future.
Birds on the Brink
 Passenger Pigeon(now extinct)
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