Migratory Birds

Be The Voice For Birds

In conservation, citizen scientists shine

U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska
5 min readNov 24, 2021


“Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble”- Roger Tory Peterson, American naturalist, ornithologist, illustrator and educator

A bright yellow bird with a black head singing.
A male Wilson’s Warbler singing during early spring in southcentral Alaska. 📷 USFWS/Laura McDuffie
A small black and white bird standing on a coniferous tree branch.
An adult Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. 📷 USFWS/Zak Pohlen

Bring Birds Back

North America has lost 1 in 4 birds in less than a single human lifespan that’s nearly 3 billion birds! But it is not just the rare species that are in decline, but the common ones as well. Some of the most iconic birds at feeders, such as Dark-eyed Juncos, have decreased by the millions.

Why such a decline?

Environmental change through human-related behaviors is clearly impacting birds and the resources they rely on to survive and thrive. So what is behind this change? Habitat alteration (e.g. logging), resource depletion (e.g. insect declines), urbanization (e.g. window collisions) and climate change (e.g. warming ocean conditions; read Sea Change in the High North) are all potential threats that impact bird populations.

Six dead birds on a beach.
A seabird die-off caused by a warm, nutrient-poor “blob” of water in the Pacific Ocean. 📷 ADFG/Sara Germain

Be the Voice for Birds

It can be difficult to fathom what the loss of 3 billion birds looks like, so let’s consider the global human population, which is about 8 billion people. Now imagine if over ⅓ of those people disappeared. The magnitude of loss would be equivalent to the combined human population of India, China, and the United States. This clearly would be noticeable for humankind, yet for the birds, we see the headlines and typically choose to move on with our daily routine. But we don’t have to. There are many different ways to protect birds, such as involvement in community bird conservation projects as a citizen scientist (aka “Bird Hero”).

It’s your time to shine…

An illustration of two orange birds and one is falling apart into 1000 pieces.
Illustration of bird disappearance. 📷 Tim Kuhn, modified by American Bird Conservancy
A screen shot of a website showing a eBird checklist.
An example eBird checklist. 📷 Vermont Center for Ecostudies

Birding in the 21st Century: eBird

eBird was established in 2002 with a clear motive — gather data from citizen scientists all around the world, archive it, and share it with others to produce science-driven conservation, management and educational products focused on birds. eBird is a user-friendly, online database with more than 500,000 contributors. All you need is a note pad or cell phone, a pair of binoculars and a free eBird account and you too can help contribute to bird conservation. eBird even hosts fun events such as Global Big Day and October Big day, where birders from across the globe can compete to see who will spot the greatest number of bird species.

All I want for Christmas is…Birds!

Thanks to American naturalist Frank Chapman, the annual tradition of hunting birds on Christmas Day has evolved into a conservation-based bird census. For the past century, tens of thousands of enthusiastic birders have collected data for the “Christmas Bird Count” or CBC which is organized by the National Audubon Society. Similar to eBird, the data allows researchers and those interested in birds to interpret the long-term health of species and to develop conservation priorities. Becoming involved in the census is easy; just visit the CBC Audubon website to sign-up in your local region!

People standing in a group and smiling.
Area 11 Black Mountain Count Team, Point Reyes, California during the 120th Annual (2019) Christmas Bird Count. 📷 Daphne Hatch
A map of North America and red dots showing BBS route locations.
Established BBS routes across North America. Map published in Downes et al. (2016), The Breeding Bird Survey at 50: Scientists and birders working together for bird conservation

Let’s Go Road Trippin’

The North American Breeding Bird Survey is comprised of over 4,100 routes along the U.S., Canada, and Mexico road systems. In 1966 the program was established by American ornithologist Chandler Robbins as a way to monitor the long-term effects of pesticides, such as DDT, on bird population. Similar to other survey efforts, the data collected is used to assess bird conservation priorities and examine long-term population trends. The program depends almost exclusively on participation by amateur birders and is a great way to get involved in your local birding community. Visit the BBS website to check out vacant routes in your area!

Closer to Home

National survey efforts are essential for determining the long-term population status of birds across North America, but citizen science program in local communities are just as important. The Alaska Birds ’n’ Bogs program is volunteer-based and designed to collect information on boreal birds breeding in wetlands within Anchorage, the Matanuska Susitna Valley and Fairbanks, Alaska. The program helps local biologists monitor long-term bird population trends and identify important habitats. Programs like this one are common place in many communities, it just takes a simple internet search to find one in your neck of the woods.

Two black birds perched on a tree snag.
Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is just one of many avian wetland species that calls Alaska home during the summer. 📷 USFWS/Laura McDuffie

Everyday Conservation

We all lead busy lives and for some, participating in a citizen science program seems like a daunting task. Lucky there are several simple actions that anyone can adopt to help protect bird species for today, tomorrow and future generations:

1. Drink shade-grown coffee to protect migratory bird habitat and benefit farmers

2. Reduce, reuse, recycle by avoiding single-use plastics

3. Make windows visible by installing decals

4. Keep pets secured by using catios or a harness and leash

5. Use native plants in landscaping to add beauty to your yard and protection for native birds

6. Avoid pesticide use by purchasing organic food and eliminating the use of chemicals on your lawn

7. …participate in Citizen Science because it’s rewarding and fun!

Participate in Citizen Science! Video produced by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Want to learn more about the actions you can take to protect bird populations? Check out Arctic Birds on the Fly for additional ideas!

Laura McDuffie is a Communication Specialist for The Great Basin Institute and USFWS External Affairs in Alaska.

In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.

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U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service