Big Valley, SK (Photo by Jill Cameron)

Big Valley, SK (Photo by Jill Cameron)

One Third of Species in Decline: The Important Role of Habitat Protection in Conserving North America's Birds

May 18, 2016
Regina, SK


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is sharing the concerns of a continent-wide partnership of scientists, non-government organizations and governments regarding serious and widespread declines of birds in North America, including many species that are well known to Canadians.

The most comprehensive report of its kind, the State of the North America's Birds Report 2016, was released today in Ottawa and Washington, and sounds the alarm that a full one third of bird species in Canada, the US and Mexico are now of "major conservation concern." The report is based on the first-ever conservation vulnerability assessment for all 1,154 native bird species that occur in these countries.

Dan Kraus, senior director of conservation program development with NCC, said the report reinforces the need for habitat conservation.

"This report should both give us hope and be a call for more action," says Kraus. "Many places NCC has protected are critical to maintain healthy bird populations. Unfortunately there is a long list of Canadian species that are continuing to decline. We clearly need to do more to protect their habitat. Canada has a unique role to play in bird conservation because so many species migrate here to breed. Protecting bird habitats here in Canada will have an impact on the biology and health of ecosystems across North America."

The report highlights many trends:

  • More than half of North America's seabirds are on the Watch List, as they are most at risk of extinction without significant action.
  • Steep population declines also threaten birds in coastal and grassland habitats.
  • Migratory shorebird populations have declined by almost 70 per cent since 1973.
  • One third of North America's grassland breeding birds are on the Watch List due to steep population declines and habitat threats.
  • Wetland habitat conservation efforts are helping the populations of waterfowl and other waterbirds. Continued investment in wetlands conservation is needed to ensure that waterbirds will continue to thrive.
  • Conservation works; when we protect their habitats, birds do well.

“This report will allow us to base conservation actions on the best available science on the status of birds and their habitats in North America,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Catherine McKenna. “It is an unprecedented continental analysis, drawing on the efforts of tens of thousands of citizen-scientists from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.”

"Birds don't recognize provincial or national borders so we must continue to conserve habitat across the continent to help protect these migratory populations," says Mark Wartman, regional vice president, NCC Saskatchewan Region. "NCC is proud to work with Environment and Climate Change Canada, provincial governments, private industries, and a host of other conservation organizations to protect these vital natural spaces."

The report was developed by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the result of collaborative efforts among scientists, governments, non-government organizations like NCC, and citizen scientists in Canada, the United States and Mexico. The report highlights the North American Waterfowl Management Plan in which NCC is a key partner, as "a model for continent-wide conservation."

The State of North America's Birds Report is being released during the 100 year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada that promised collaborative conservation to protect the migratory birds of North America. In 1936, 20 years after the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty, Mexico and the United States committed to a similar treaty, connecting all of North America in its efforts to protect our shared species.

Benefits of Bird Conservation:

  • Bird conservation means conserving habitat. Healthy bird habitat is also healthy for people.
  • Migratory birds contribute to environmental benefits such as pollination, insect and rodent control, and seed dispersal.
  • Birds are estimated to consume up to 98% of certain insect pests, which reduces the need for pesticides in agriculture.
  • Communities economically benefit through nature-based tourism with birdwatchers, travel writers, photographers, nature enthusiasts and others who visit conserved areas.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada is the nation's leading land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962 NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 2.8 million acres (over 1.1 million hectaries) coast to coast, with over 150,000 acres (60,700 ha) of ecologically significant lands conserved through land donations, purchases and agreements in Saskatchewan.

NCC's partners and supporters in Saskatchewan include landowners, community pasture patrons, the Government of Saskatchewan, Government of Canada, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and others. SaskEnergy provides NCC Saskatchewan with subsidized office space and helps support its programs, including NCC's Conservation Volunteers.

Learn More:

For more information and to read the full report, visit

Learn more about the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial celebration at

NCC's work in Saskatchewan: .

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Tiffany Cassidy
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