Just one poorly protected stopover can doom a migrating bird

hjhipster/Flickr/Creative Commons

Just one poorly protected stopover can doom a migrating bird

When a forensic chemist switched fields because of her fascination with migrating birds, she wanted to understand why half of these avian species were declining, despite conservation efforts. So she and her colleagues compared BirdLife International maps of breeding, migration, and nonbreeding ranges of about 10,000 species with maps of the more than 450,000 government-designated protected areas that lie under these birds’ paths. Because there has been such a strong push to protect birds, they didn’t expect to find many vulnerable migrants, so they were surprised to learn that more than 91% of the birds lack safe havens throughout their range. In contrast, only 55% of nonmigrating birds lack sufficient protected habitat, the researchers report online today in Science. Conservation efforts tend to be country-based, with the assumption the species stays in one place. But that’s not really working. Although Germany has set aside areas for 98% of its migratory bird species, less than 13% of those birds are adequately protected throughout their range. Likewise, the piping plover (pictured above) has just gained a safe stopover in the Bahamas, but still needs a protected area in Mexico. The researchers call for more international cooperation to deal with the migrators’ declines.