Canada, Mexico, and the continental United States are home to 882 native landbird species, more than one-third of which depend substantially on habitats in more than one country.
Our abundant and diverse birdlife enriches the cultures of all three countries, provides immeasurable ecosystem services that benefit our economies, and serves as a sensitive barometer of changes to our environments.
We now face unprecedented loss of bird populations and the imminent threat of extinction of many species. Conserving our shared North American birds will require a continental, and ultimately hemispheric, perspective and a commitment to international cooperation.
Partners in Flight's first tri-national assessment identified 148 bird species in need of immediate conservation attention because of their highly threatened and declining populations. The most imperiled species include:
• 44 species with very limited distributions, mostly in Mexico, that are at greatest risk of extinction.
• 80 tropical residents dependent on deciduous, highland,and evergreen forests in Mexico.
• 24 species that breed in temperate-zone forests, grasslands, and aridland habitats.
Action is needed in each country, but the most urgent needs are in Mexico, where tropical forests important to many high-concern landbirds are threatened by continued clearing for agriculture, livestock production, timber, and urban
Many species are also threatened by unsustainable hunting or trapping for the cage-bird trade. Urban sprawl, intensified agriculture and grazing, and energy development threaten high-concern species in temperate forests, grasslands, and aridlands.
Steep declines in 42 common bird species over the past 40 years have resulted in the loss of 800 million birds from nearly all terrestrial habitats, with resulting effects on ecosystem services. The majority of steeply declining species breed in the northern United States and southern Canada; in winter these species are concentrated in the southern United States and Mexico.
Because we lack long-term monitoring data to fully assess many tropical-forest, boreal-forest, and arctic-tundra birds, the number of steeply declining species is probably much higher. Declining birds face a diversity of threats on their breeding grounds from land-use policies and practices relating to agriculture, livestock grazing, urbanization, energy development, and logging.
Migratory species also are highly threatened on their wintering grounds by loss of grasslands in northern Mexico and tropical forests in southern Mexico.
More than 200 species comprising 83% of individual landbirds rely on habitats in all three countries. Tropical forests in Mexico provide critical nonbreeding habitat for close to 100 substantially shared migratory species. These same forests provide year-round habitats for 70% of species that are of high tri-national concern.
Migrating birds depend on high-quality habitat for safe travel and refueling stopovers between distant breeding and wintering homes. The clear linkages among birds and habitats compel us to work internationally, to reinforce partnerships, and to develop new mechanisms for conserving both migrants and residents.
Partners in Flight / Companeros en Vuelo / Partenaires d'Envol was launched in 1990 in response to growing concerns about declines in the populations of many land bird species, and in order to emphasize the conservation of birds not covered by existing conservation initiatives.
The initial focus was on neotropical migrants, species that breed in the Nearctic (North America) and winter in the Neotropics (Central and South America), but the focus has spread to include most landbirds and other species requiring terrestrial habitats.
The central premise of Partners in Flight (PIF) has been that the resources of public and private organizations in North and South America must be combined, coordinated, and increased in order to achieve success in conserving bird populations in this hemisphere.
Partners in Flight is a cooperative effort involving partnerships among federal, state and local government agencies, philanthropic foundations, professional organizations, conservation groups, industry, the academic community, and private individuals. All Partners in Flight meetings at all levels are open to anyone interested in bird conservation and we eagerly seek your contribution.
The Partners in Flight mission is expressed in three related concepts:
• Helping Species at Risk - Species must be conserved before they become imperiled. Allowing species to become threatened or endangered results in long-term and costly recovery efforts whose success is far from guaranteed. Endangered species must not only be protected from extinction but must be recovered to once again play their roles in ensuring the future of healthy ecosystems.
• Keeping Common Birds Common - Common native birds, both resident and migratory, must remain common throughout their natural ranges. These species comprise the core of our avian diversity and are integral to the integrity of the ecosystems of which they are a part.
• Voluntary Partnerships for Birds, Habitats and People - Conservation of landbirds and their habitats is not a task that can be undertaken alone. Partnerships must be formed with others who are working for conservation on the same landscapes as well as those who depend on those landscapes for their economic and social well-being. The conservation of natural systems is fundamentally necessary for life on earth, including that of humans.
Partners in Flight goals:
• Ensure an active scientifically-based conservation design process that identifies and develops solutions to threats and risks to landbird populations.
• Create a coordinated network of conservation partners implementing the objectives of the landbird conservation plans at multiple scales.
• Secure sufficient commitment and resources to support vigorous implementation of landbird conservation objectives.
We are committed to maintaining the science and planning base for the hundreds of species of landbirds for which PIF is the advocate. However, partners are completely committed to the principles of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative and to working closely and efficiently with all bird conservation initiatives and, indeed, with all conservation initiatives in the broadest sense.
An inherent objective of each committee and working group is to coordinate and communicate at all appropriate levels with other initiatives to ensure that our conservation efforts are efficient and effective.
Our committees, working groups and other organizational structures also will continue to be flexible as bird conservation grows and evolves.
"Saving Our Shared Birds" is the latest effort by Partners in Flight to help species at risk and keep common birds common - our mission since 1990. Partners in Flight achieves success in conserving bird populations in the Western Hemisphere through combining resources of public and private organizations in North and South America.
To celebrate Partners in Flight's 20th Anniversary, Cornell Lab of Ornithology created a compelling movie highlighting Partners in Flight's mission and approach. Spectacular bird footage and vocalizations bring the message to life — we must continue to work together to effectively conserve the Western Hemisphere's amazing and diverse bird life. The video additionally showcases the International Migratory Bird Day 2010 artwork by Robert Petty that illustrates the theme "Power of Partnerships".
Our three nations (Canada, USA and Mexico) are connected by birds but also by the flow of trade and people across borders. PIF harnesses this connectivity by enabling communication, supporting science, and facilitating conservation among tri-national partners to save birds at risk and keep common birds common.
Building on our recommendations from 2004 for landbirds breeding in Canada and the United States, this first tri-national assessment shows the need for international collaboration to reverse steep declines of common birds in every terrestrial habitat of the continent and prevent the loss of 148 species in immediate danger.
Although we have common commitments to protect birds through legislation and policies, our concerns have changed little over the last 20 years. The international bird conservation community has grown, but loss of habitat still remains the most serious threat to birds throughout the continent. Declining bird populations are a clear indicator of ecosystem degradation, which is linked to reduced quality of life and the persistence of poverty in all three countries.
We must find new means to integrate conservation into the fabric of our society via sustainable land, resources and use policies. New approaches will necessitate increased cooperation, new partnerships, and new information.
We can still achieve our goals to protect and restore bird populations and habitats, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. One in six landbird species warrants the highest tri-national concern, including many widespread species.
Immediate measures are needed to protect habitats and preserve functioning ecosystems. Although conservation actions will occur at different scales, they must be enacted as part of a coordinated strategy. Each of us has an important role to play in bringing our shared vision to fruition.
We can achieve our goals to protect, restore, and enhance populations and habitats of North America's birds, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
To prevent further loss of bird diversity and abundance, we recommend six primary actions:
1. Protect and Recover Species at Greatest Risk
A strong network of protected areas, especially in tropical and pine-oak forests in Mexico, is necessary to support landbirds of high tri-national concern. Full implementation of national endangered species laws must ensure sufficient critical habitat for recovery of listed species.
2. Conserve Habitats and Ecosystem Functions
Relatively small policy changes can have dramatic cumulative benefits to birds in many habitats. Sustainable agriculture, forestry, and urban planning can protect core areas of habitat in working landscapes. Innovative incentives to communities
and businesses are essential to support the transition to more sustainable economies.
3. Reduce Bird Mortality
Providing alternative livelihoods can reduce unsustainable hunting and trapping for the cage-bird trade. Simple measures can effectively reduce other sources of mortality, such as collisions with windows and tall structures, pesticide poisoning, and predation by domestic cats.
4. Expand Our Knowledge Base for Conservation
Effective conservation programs require an increased understanding of distribution patterns, seasonal connectivity between locations, factors limiting bird survival and productivity throughout the year, and the human dimensions of bird conservation. We also need to better understand the response of populations to management practices and the cumulative effects of human-caused mortality.
5. Engage People in Conservation Action
A more engaged human society will be necessary to conserve habitats and reverse bird population declines. Shared products and programs can increase participation by bird enthusiasts in citizen science and promote economic gain for people who rely on birds or bird habitats for their livelihoods.
6. Increase the Power of International Partnerships
Regional Alliances, international Joint Ventures, and community-based partnerships represent successful models for communication, international collaboration, and expanded funding for conservation of shared species. New mechanisms for engaging business, industry, and nongovernmental sectors will be necessary to find economically viable conservation solutions.
What are you doing to help conserve birds in your country?
Saving our Shared Birds calls for immediate action to preserve the birds in our three nations. We would like to know what you are doing to further this goal.
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