Birds are a valuable part of our ecosystem. They are not only a good source, but they also eat unwanted pests, remove dead animal carcasses, and help to get rid of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Studies have shown that spending time in nature bird watching can significantly improve a person’s mental health. There are even some bird species that help with pollinating flowers and other plants. The world would surely be a different place without birds.
Did you know that there are more than 10,000 distinct bird species in the world? Experts estimate that there used to be far more, but we’ve lost them due to extinction. Human activity has caused close to 130 species of birds to become extinct since the 17th century. Hundreds of more species were most likely wiped out before then as well. Right now, roughly 1,200 bird species are at risk of going extinct. Luckily there are organizations in place dedicated to the preservation of these rare birds. To learn more about the crisis surrounding lost birds and the birds that have gone extinct, keep reading.
1. 3 Billion Fewer Birds
It’s alarming how much the bird population in North America has dwindled. More than 3 billion birds have died in the past five decades. Scientists have referred to this as an ecological crisis, and they’re exactly right.
Birds are essential to our ecosystem. Without them, the world would not function in the way that it needs to. So many species of birds have gone extinct, many of which were in North America when the first humans were. If we don’t change the way birds are treated and work hard to protect their habitats, we will continue to lose them in increasing numbers.
Nearly 1 in 3 birds, or 29 percent of the avian population, has been lost in North America since the 1970s. This is due to not only habitat destruction and predators, but human interference as well. This crisis is affecting rare birds as well as more common species.
Experts are beginning to study certain individual bird species to determine how and why so many are being lost. They are tracking how rare birds are disappearing and the occurrence of more common birds taking their place. It’s possible that common birds could help keep ecosystems thriving and unwanted pests at bay.
In recent years, humans have been responsible for a lot of the destruction of bird habitats. The leading cause of this is residential development. The number of new homes and buildings being built each year is staggering. As more areas are being purchased for land development, more bird species are being pushed out.
Many real estate developers are targeting attractive natural areas, have a low population density, and have large lot sizes. Development in these areas can lead to disruption of avian migration patterns, habitat fragmentation, and changes in the behavior of the surrounding ecosystem. Some bird species are more vulnerable than others and will be affected more by human interference.
Aside from residential building projects destroying avian habitats, other factors are driving the loss of birds in North America. One factor is an increase in the use of pesticides. Farmlands are being sprayed continuously with toxic chemicals that can seriously harm birds.
When birds eat the seeds of plants that have been sprayed with certain pesticides, they lose weight. That can inhibit them during their migration periods. Another reason for the loss of birds is house cats. Cats capture and kill between 1 and 4 billion birds annually. Additionally, 600 million birds are killed in collisions with glass windows.
Birds are essential for humans and the environment. The ways in which birds help the environment are known as ecosystem services. They help to disperse seeds, control pests, and much more.
There are species of birds like the mallard duck that work hard to get rid of unwanted mosquitos. The Clark’s nutcracker is responsible for eating and spreading the seeds of the whitebark pine tree. Over 900 bird species help to pollinate plants. Some birds like the Canarian chiffchaff are accountable for pollinating fruit like the durian munjit. Even some militaries during World War I used birds for communication, detecting missiles, and saving crews.
Because of environmental threats, many bird species have become endangered. These rare breeds are at risk of becoming extinct in the next few years. At this time, nearly 13 percent of the birds on Earth is in danger of becoming extinct.
Just a few years ago, 40 additional bird species were added to the list of at-risk birds. These birds are considered vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. If land development, pollution, excessive hunting, and deforestation continues, we will lose even more rare and unique bird populations. In just the last decade alone, ten species of birds have most likely gone extinct. These numbers are incredibly alarming.
Many bird species migrate each year. Birds tend to migrate north and south between the area where they breed and the area where they reside during the winter. Migration is driven by the availability of food and is mostly impacted by humans that hunt.
Birds use cues from the sun and stars, as well as the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate their way around the globe. Scientists estimate that dramatic climate changes are mainly affecting the timing of migration for birds. This is also contributing to the decline in bird populations as well as breeding. Several conservationist groups have worked hard to protect the movement of birds in North America.
The grasslands are the areas of the country that have been the most altered by human interference. Of all the types of birds that have been lost in the past few decades, grassland birds have been hit the hardest. Across 31 distinct species, more than 700 million birds have disappeared. That’s a 53 percent drop in the grassland bird population.
Those little brown birds that are commonly seen flying through your yard are American sparrows. This bird’s population has dwindled considerably. Almost one-quarter of the American sparrow population has been lost since the 1970s. That’s over 750 million birds!
American sparrows are perching birds and belong to the Passerellidae family. These birds eat seeds and are typically grey or brown in color. Many species of American sparrows have unique head patterns.
American sparrows are more closely related to Old World buntings than they are to Old World sparrows. They used to be classified as finches because they have similar markings and habits. These tiny birds hop on the ground while searching for seeds and grass. They have a soft song that they use to call back and forth to one another. American sparrows like to perch on stalks, shrubs, and low tree branches.
Invasive birds are species that cause issues for human health, agriculture, and wildlife. Typically, an invasive species is one that is not native to a particular area and is threatening its balanced ecosystem. Not all birds that are non-native are invasive; many can adapt well to new environments without causing damage.
When an area has become drastically impacted by a bird species, that species is labeled invasive. It’s possible for a species to be in basics in one region and not in another. At that point, it would be simply called non-native. Common examples of invasive bird species include the European starling, mallard, mute swan, Canada goose, and house sparrow.
Another extremely invasive bird species is the starling. Starlings are small perching birds that are native to Africa, Europe, Asia, and northern Australia. They have been introduced to North America, New Zealand, and Hawaii, where they are considered to be invasive species.
Starlings prefer to live in open country areas and are quite social. They live and move around in large groups. These birds feed on fruit and insects, and many types of starlings search for prey like grubs. Their calls are pretty unique and have even been known to include imitations of car alarms and human speech. Starlings have been declining in massive numbers, with nearly 63 percent of the population being lost.
A new, unusual way of monitoring bird behavior is weather radar. Scientists track how clouds move across the state, and with this technology, they can also trace patterns of other large masses like flocks of birds. In addition to seeing how the weather will be on any given day, we can also see what birds will be flying in the sky.
With weather radar, a Doppler Radar sends our radio waves. These waves bounce off raindrops as well as birds; then they return a signal to the Doppler Radar. To distinguish whether what is presented on the map is a flock of birds or something else, experts look for growing concentric circles at certain times of the day like sunset and sunrise. With this method, researchers found a 14 percent drop in bird migration over the course of a decade.
A recent study found that although there was a steady decline in the bird population of North America, there has been a considerable increase in the amount of waterfowl. Since 1979, the waterfowl population has increased by more than 56 percent. Birds like Canada geese and mallard ducks are thriving.
This is in large part due to hard-working conservationists. Ecologists have worked tirelessly for years to preserve habitats for waterfowl and protect them from humans and environmental dangers. Many years and billions of dollars have been spent trying to protect these essential animals. Hopefully, these efforts will be recognized, and the same can be done to protect other avian species.
Waterfowl is the category of birds that live and thrive in water. Birds like swans, geese, and ducks belong to this family, and all of them are characterized by webbed feet. These birds can be found in both seawater and freshwater environments.
Most waterfowl feed on fish, small mollusks, worms, aquatic plants, grasses, and small amphibians. Many waterfowl dive deep under the water to hunt for food. Those that plunged deep are heavier than most other waterfowl. Waterfowl tend to thrive in a wide variety of areas and climates. Luckily the waterfowl population in North America is steadily on the rise.
In addition to many new species of birds being diminished recently, there are many types of fowl that have been rendered extinct. Whether by natural selection or human interference, nearly 40 species of avians have been eliminated in North America. Unfortunately, it seems like, with the way things are going, even more, bird species will be wiped out in the future.
Many of the bird species that are now extinct roamed the Earth millions of years ago. They most likely survived the great Ice Age and were eventually hunted by the early humans. It’s fascinating to think about all of the first birds that were the genetic basis of the modern birds we have now.
Also known as a poc, giant grebe, and enormous, pied-billed grebe, the Atitlan grebe is a type of water bird that has been extinct in North America since the early 1990s. This bird originated in Guatemala and began to decline about 25 years before it became entirely extinct. The Atitlan grebe reached lengths close to 24 inches and had large white or brown bills.
After largemouth and smallmouth bass were introduced to Lake Atitlan, the Atitlan grebe population began to decline. The fish not only ate their food source of crabs and fish, but they also killed Atitlan grebe chicks. The community began to increase in the 1970s, but problems with the lake bed led to it becoming extinct.
Commonly referred to as the walking eagle or the Daggett’s eagle, the Buteogallus dagetti is a now-extinct member of the long-legged hawk family. It lived during the Pleistocene era in southwest North America. This bird closely resembled the modern savanna hawk.
The Buteogallus dagetti used its long legs to hunt small reptiles like snakes. Its body was roughly 35 inches long with a 12-inch tail. The wingspan measured around 77 inches long. It has been extinct for 13,000 years. This bird resided mostly in grasslands, ponds, marshlands, and brushy savannas. Experts believe that the female birds were larger than the males.
Like the Buteogallus dagetti, the Californian turkey lived in North America during the Pleistocene era. It also remained here in the early Holocene period in California. This bird went extinct approximately 10,000 years ago.
According to fossil evidence, the Californian turkey was much stockier than the wild turkeys found on the East Coast of the United States. It had a shorter, more full beak, but otherwise was pretty close to the modern-day turkey. The fossils of the Californian turkey are commonly found in the La Brea tar pits. Scientists initially compared the California turkey to a peacock, but after further research, they decided it was closer to a turkey.
Fossils were found in California’s Channel Islands in 200. Researchers named this seabird the Dow’s puffin. This bird lived in North America during the Late Pleistocene eolianite horizon. They mostly populated the islands of San Miguel and San Nicolas.
The Dow’s puffin looked very similar to the modern puffin. It had black feathers and a white belly, but its beak was striped black and orange like a tiger’s fur. Dow’s puffins roamed the Earth until about 12,000 years ago. This bird was named after Ronald J. Dow, who did a lot of crucial paleontological work on San Nicolas Island.
This tiny bird lived more than 50 million years ago during the Eocene epoch. The Eocypselus rowei was related to the modern swifts and hummingbirds. Paleontologists first discovered this bird in 2013.
Eocypselus rowei fossils were found in Wyoming’s Green River Formation. Experts believe that it was small, only about 5 inches long, and had black feathers. This bird most likely did not hover while it flew like a hummingbird. It also was not as fast of a flyer as the swift. The Eocypselus rowei’s feathers take up over half if its wingspan. In addition to black feathers, this bird may have had an iridescent sheen and dined on insects.
The eostrix bird is a member of the Protostrigidae family. This is a species of extinct primitive owl. These owls are from the early Eocene era and primarily lived in Wyoming and the London Clay of England.
Paleontologists have identified two different species of eostrix. The first is the E. martinelli, which was discovered in 1972 in Cottonwood Creek, Wyoming. It was named after the researcher who saw it. The second species, the E. mimica, is much smaller and has unique claws and feet that differ significantly from modern owls. Its size is similar to the long-eared owl that lives in Asia, Europe, and North America.
The prehistoric bird Graculavus was discovered in the late 19th century. Paleontologists estimate that it lived roughly 68 to 62 million years ago in the Western and northwestern Atlantic Interior Seaway. It’s possible that the Graculavus lived all the way through the first stage of the Paleocene Epoch. Remains of the Graculavus were found in Texas and Wyoming.
Two different species of the Graculavus have been discovered: the Graculavus Augustus and the Graculavus velox. This bird is most closely related to seagulls and modern shorebirds. Experts believe the Graculavus was a critical species in the evolution of transitional shorebirds. Since 1872, paleontologists have been studying the fascinating Graculavus.
The great auk is a type of flightless bird related to the alcid. It became extinct in the middle of the 19th century. Although it looks similar to a penguin or a puffin, it is not related to either type of bird.
In fact, when the penguins were discovered later on, sailors named it after the great auk’s binomial name Pinguinus impennis. The Great Auk was an important animal for quite a few Native American cultures who saw it as a vital food source and a symbolic figure. The last two living great auks were killed in Iceland in 1844.
Also known as the mourning caracara, the Guadalupe caracara is an extinct bird belonging to the falcon family. This bird of prey is closely related to the southern and crested caracara. Until the 20th century, this bird lived on Guadalupe Island in Mexico.
The Guadalupe caracara was common on the island until the late 1800s. Residents of Guadalupe Island considered the bird to be vicious and evil, leading them to organize a hunting and poisoning expedition. By 1906, the entire species of Guadalupe caracara had been wiped out. This makes this bird one of the few species of animals that was purposely driven to extinction by humans.
The heath hen is a small bird that is closely related to the greater prairie chicken. This bird is a member of the grouse family and became extinct in 1932. Heath hens were primarily found in coastal areas of North America.
They lived in areas of Florida, New Hampshire, and northern Virginia. Heath hens were very common during colonial times, and their heavy-bodied nature made them ideal for hunting by settlers. Many historians believe that the pilgrims enjoyed eating heath hen on the first Thanksgiving instead of wild turkey. Beginning in the 18th century, heath hens were so easy to find and cheap that they became known as a poor man’s food.
The Labrador duck was a North American bird that lived in the New England area. It is distinct in that it is the first bird native to North America to become extinct after the Columbia Exchange, which was the period of time where human populations, plants, animals, culture, and ideas were transferred among the Americas, the Old World, and West Africa beginning in the 15th century. The last known Labrador duck was seen in Elmira, New York, in 1878.
The Labrador duck was a sea duck that migrated every year from colder climates like New Jersey and New England for warm, sandy shores in Canada. These birds had small bodies and oblong heads with tiny, beady eyes. Typically the Labrador duck fed on small mollusks and mussels.
The Lonchodytes was an aquatic bird that lived on the shores of the Western Interior Seaway. Paleontologists estimate that it lived approximately 70 million years ago during the Maastrichtian era. Fossils were found in Wyoming’s Lance Creek Formation.
This species is an original ancestor for many types of modern birds. The Lonchodytes are related to loons, albatrosses, and pelicans. Additionally, they are ancestors to the contemporary penguins. This bird was known to be a diving bird, as that is how it would dive into the water to grab fish to feed on. The only evidence of the Lonchodytes is a single portion of a foot.
Discovered in 1913, the neanis is a bird species that not much is known about. Paleontologists believe that it is an ancestor of the toucan and the woodpecker. It’s estimated it lived from the Late Wasatchian period to the Early Eocene era.
The neanis was found in the Green River Formation located in areas of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Just one complete but not well-preserved skeleton was found in the early 20th century. Experts estimate that the neanis was related to the woodpecker and toucan because of the shape of its foot and the placement of its toes. The neanis has the ability to turn its outer toe backward.
The palaeotringa is a prehistoric bird that was discovered during the late 19th century during a time known as the bone wars. In this era, paleontologists were in competition to find as many fossils as possible in order to make history. Palaeotringa was found in the Hornerstown Formation of New Jersey.
Experts have not been able to determine if the palaeotringa was present before or after the extinction event of the Cretaceous-Paleogene era. The palaeotringa was a wading bird that lived on the coasts of the northwestern Atlantic. There are two species of this type of bird: the Palaeotringa vagans and the Palaeotringa littoralis.
The Carolina parakeet, also known as the Carolina conure, is a now-extinct species of parrot. This bird was a small New World parrot that has a pale beak, bright yellow head, and red-orange face. Carolina parakeets lived primarily in the Midwest, eastern, and plains states in the United States.
This bird is one of just two parrots native to the United States. Evidence of the Carolina parakeet was found in Wisconsin, southern New York, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Gulf of Mexico. It resided mainly in along swamps and rivers in old-growth forests. The last known Carolina parakeet was seen in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. By 1939, this species was declared extinct.
Pelagornis sandersi is a flying bird that went extinct more than 25 million years ago. It lived in North America during the Oligocene epoch’s Chattian age. Only one specimen of Pelagornis sandersi has been discovered.
This bird had a wingspan of more than 24 feet, giving it the largest wingspan of any flying bird that has ever been discovered. Its wingspan is twice the length of a wandering albatross’. The Pelagornis sandersi was quite heavy, weighing up to 88 pounds. Many scientists were surprised to discover that because generally, birds of that size cannot fly. Because of its reasonably small body and long wingspan, it was able to fly.
Like the Guadalupe caracara, this bird was a native of Guadalupe Island in Mexico. It’s closely related to the Leach’s storm petrel, but is slightly larger and has paler feathers under its wings. Guadalupe storm petrels laid their eggs in 15 inch deep burrows and left them to incubate for around 42 days.
In the late 19th century, cats were introduced to Guadalupe Island, leading to the population of Guadalupe storm petrels being practically decimated. Around 1906, there was still considered to be an abundant amount of the birds on the island. The final two Guadalupe storm petrels were collected in 1911, and no other birds of this kind have been seen since.
Also known as a wild pigeon, the passenger pigeon was a native species to North America. Its closest relative is the mourning dove, which has many similar characteristics. At one time, there were more than 3 billion and even possibly 5 billion passenger pigeons in North America.
The Native Americans hunted passenger pigeons, but their numbers especially began to dwindle when the Europeans arrived in North America in the 19th century. Pigeon meat started being marketed as a cheap food source, so hunting intensified on a massive scale for decades. Intense deforestation also contributed to the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The last type of this bird was killed in 1901.
The San Benedicto rock wren was a subspecies of the rock wren bird. It was a small perching bird that was a native of the San Benedicto Island, located off the coast of Mexico. San Benedicto Island is a volcano.
The San Benedicto rock wren became extinct when the volcano erupted in August 1952. After two weeks, the whole island was covered in ash and pumice, and in some areas, it was piled over 10 feet high. The habitat of the San Benedicto rock wren was destroyed, and none of the birds were even seen again. This is one of the only birds who has not become extinct because of human involvement.
Another wren that has gone extinct in the past century is the San Clemente wren. This bird is a subspecies of the Bewick’s wren. It mainly lived on San Clemente Island, which is off the southern coast of California.
The San Clemente wren was about five and a half inches long and had a wingspan of just over two inches. They had brown and grey plumage and a white stripe above their eyes. The underside of the San Clemente wren was a mixture of white and grey. This bird was common in San Clemente island up until the early 20th century. After goats destroyed the habitat, they began to disappear. The last San Clemente wren was seen in 1941.
The slender-billed grackle was a bird that was native to central Mexico. It was closely related to the great-tailed grackle. This bird lived primarily in the Toluca Valley and the Valley of Mexico.
This bird went extinct near the turn of the 20th century. No slender-billed grackles have been seen since 1910. They typically lived in borders of lakes and marshes. These birds used aquatic vegetation for nest building. Once the population of Mexico began to grow, they adapted to be able to live in towns and around people. They ate a varied diet of plants, animals, and fruit. Its primary food source was maize, worms, and flies.
The dusky seaside sparrow was a subspecies of the seaside sparrow. It lived in Florida along the St. Johns River and the natural salt marshes of Merritt Island. The last known dusky seaside sparrow died on June 1987. This bird was officially marked extinct in December 1990.
The dusky seaside sparrow was first discovered in 1872. It is separate from other seaside sparrows because of its distinct song and dark coloring. Conservationists tried to save the unique species by breeding it with Scott’s seaside sparrows, but the project was unsuccessful due to them only having male dusky seaside sparrows to work with.
Not much is known about the Tytthostonyx bird. It was a prehistoric seabird that lived approximately 66 million years ago. This bird was found in the Hornerstown Formation of New Jersey, which is on the border of the Cretaceous-Paleocene boundary.
Paleontologists believe that the Tytthostonyx was closely related to the modern-day pelicans, petrels, and albatrosses. Tytthostonyx is the single species in the Tytthostonygidae family. It was a seabird, so it most likely dined in fish and dove for them in the ocean like its descendants the pelican. This bird is considered to be one of the oldest members of the major seabird group.
The Bachman’s warbler is a small migratory bird that scientists believe is extinct. It breeds in the swampy cane and blackberry thickets located in the southeast. During the winter, Bachman’s warbler migrates to warm Cuba.
The estimated last sighting of the Bachman’s warbler was in Louisiana in August 1988. This bird was discovered in 1832 in Charleston, South Carolina. Experts believe that it is distantly related to the golden-winged and blue-winged warblers. Bachman’s warblers breed mostly in the Gulf Coast states along the Mississippi River as well as the southern Atlantic coastal plain. This bird fed on mostly spiders, caterpillars, and other types of arthropods.
The imperial woodpecker is a member of the Picidae woodpecker family. It is considered a tropical species. This bird is critically endangered and is most likely extinct.
If there is a chance that this bird is not extinct, it would be the largest species of woodpecker. It measures between 22 and 24 inches long. Compared to other woodpeckers, the imperial woodpecker has a faster wing flap rate as well as slower climbing strides. They are all black except for a red crest on the top of their heads. Some people refer to this bird as the Mexican ivory-billed woodpecker. They were mostly inhabitants of Mexico.
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