Why are birds disappearing? After 40 years, scientists still don’t have a clear answer

NORFOLK, United Kingdom — The reasons behind a worrying 25-percent decline in the number of migratory birds over the last 40 years remains a mystery, a new study explains. Scientists in the United Kingdom say “time is running out” to find the answer and birds summering in Europe and wintering in Africa need more protection than ever before.

According to the findings, bad luck having babies and short lifespans are two factors that could be to blame. However, since this problem is on an intercontinental scale, scientists still have no definitive answers regarding the disappearance of birds. The issue is significantly more pressing for some species, including Cuckoos, Swifts, and Turtle Doves.

Researchers with RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) say understanding why this is happening is difficult due to the birds travelling such vast distances and depending on multiple locations at different times of the year. When they’re not breeding, birds spread out across a massive expanse, creating another hurdle in finding the cause.

As a result, researchers argue that site-specific conservation efforts at a small number of locations could be unhelpful. Instead, RSPB and BTO teams believe wintering and breeding habitats spanning Europe and Africa need improvement.

Resolutions may lie in planting and conserving native trees in African wintering regions, fixing-up significant locations where birds stop to refuel mid-migration, and protecting some species from hunting along the migration routes. The lack of answers comes despite conservationists working in the “golden age” of migrant research, with new tracking technology providing unprecedented insight into bird behavior.

“Although we have learnt a lot about migrant birds in the past seven years, we are still no closer to understanding what is driving the declines of most of these species,” says Dr. John Mallord, an RSPB senior conservation scientist, according to a statement provided by SWNS. “We need to shift the focus from species-specific diagnostic research and start to use what we do already know to inform conservation actions on the ground.”

BTO Chief Executive Professor Juliet Vickery, lead author of the paper published in IBIS, is calling for action.

“Our declining migrant birds need action,” Vickery says in a statement. “Although it remains important to continue some diagnostic research, particularly tagging and tracking birds, resources need to be focused on trialing solutions based on what we know already.”

“This is not just about the conservation of individual species but the preservation of a spectacular phenomenon that has inspired humans for generations,” the lead author continues.

“We must afford a higher priority to addressing the declines of widespread and relatively common birds, not least because these carry a stronger warning about the health of our natural world than is the case for of rare and threatened species.”

“The time has come to begin putting what we know into practice,” a BTO spokesperson adds, according to SWNS. “If we wait until our understanding of these birds’ declines is complete, it may already be too late.”

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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