What’s Up With The Birds?

The Audubon Society got a lot of media traction last week with its report on Birds in Decline. But Michael Tobis has sussed out a problem:

The number of species increasing in abundance exceeds the number in decline!!!

As Michael pointed out in a followup post:

Reason requires fair attention to evidence. It is necessary to resist pressures to skew what your data means, regardless of who butters your bread.


  1. I think you need to actually go and read some of the reports on the Audubon site. (left a comment at Michael’s on this with links.) There are real problems, one of the apparent causes are changes in climate which are pushing bird populations around. Some are moving into niches that others are being evicted from. These are major changes.

    In this case, I don’t think that Michael actually followed the evidence, and part of the problem is that he probably does not have the information (knowledge) to do so. I don’t really either, but from poking about on the Audubon site it becomes clear in a few minutes that the birds are telling us something and that something may not be pleasant

  2. “it becomes clear in a few minutes that the birds are telling us something and that something may not be pleasant”

    I have no argument with that. I am certain that many bird species are in trouble for many reasons having to do with anthropogenic influences. It may also be the case that the increases we see are high frequency variability imposed on a long term decline. Perhaps as a layperson I would otherwise misinterpret such increases. That doesn’t justify the pretense that the increases don’t exist.

    I have a concern about reporting a broad survey that shows that a larger proportion of common species are increasing than are decreasing without even mentioning that some species are increasing. In fact the plurality of common species show increases, and this is surely the most striking result of the survey.

    I am sure the Drudges and Limbaughs of the world will be happy to make hay out of this if they get wind of it, but that is a disastrous reason to pretend it isn’t happening. Capitulating to that pressure makes us into what they accuse us of. I for one won’t have it.

    It is one thing to say the news is bad. It is another thing to leave the impression that it is much worse than it is. That is cherry picking. If we don’t want the Idsos to do it there is no reason we should let Audubon off the hook when it does the same.

  3. One must distinguish between synanthropic spp and ones that shy away from human development. We can rail about Michael’s point all we wish, but until we clarify, the numbers are IMHO meaningless.

    E.g.: we have, by dint of our agricultural land use practices, increased the crow population but decreased other native bird spp that were dependent upon the eliminated ecosystem that was replaced by ag.

    And, having just returned from the CO woods, I can say I was reminded that our songbirds are in decline due to deforestation in MX and Central America. Get out in the woods and listen.



Comments are closed.