3 Birds in the Northeast That Need Our Help

The most recent report by Partners in Flight paints a bleak picture for bird conservation: 20% of landbird species in North America are on a path towards extinction. A separate report indicates shorebirds are facing an equally dire outlook: Of the nearly 50 species of shorebirds that regularly occur in North America, almost 90% are predicted to experience an increased risk of extinction due to climate-driven threats.

The call to action is now clearer than ever, and a new sense of urgency is required. Working together, we must take bold steps to protect critical habitats and help reverse the precipitous decline of bird populations throughout the United States.

Below are three species here in the Northeast that are declining rapidly and need our help.

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Saltmarsh Sparrow (right) and Nelson's Sparrow (left). Photo by Chris Elphick / USFWS WordPress
Saltmarsh sparrow (right) and Nelson’s sparrow (left). Photo by Chris Elphick / USFWS

Cool Fact: Saltmarsh sparrows build domed nests that are partially closed at the top – likely to help prevent eggs from washing away even if the nest is partially flooded.

It is perhaps one of the drabbest looking birds in the Northeast, but it’s also one of the most imperiled. Current projections indicate this species will lose more than 90% of its population within 50 years, setting the species on a path towards extinction. Aptly named, the saltmarsh sparrow nests only in low-lying saltmarshes – a habitat that is ground zero for the effects of climate change.

Saltmarsh Sparrow nest. Photo by Jeanna Mielcarek/UConn/SHARP
Saltmarsh sparrow nest. Photo by Jeanna Mielcarek/UConn/SHARP

Sea level rise and increased storm surge are flooding nests, leaving the population in freefall and pushing this species to the brink of disaster. The National Wildlife Federation and other organizations are working hard to protect this species by advocating for the removal of hard infrastructure along marsh edges thereby allowing marshes to migrate inland as sea level rises. NWF’s Northeast Regional Center is also leading a massive restoration project in the Great Marsh, a key breeding location for this species in the Northeast.


Cool Fact: A Bobolink’s song sounds strikingly similar to R2-D2 from Star Wars! Listen to their call here.

Bobolink. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.
Bobolink. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux

Bobolinks are a grassland species that nest throughout New England. Hay fields provide prime nesting habitat for this species, but bobolink nests are no match for combine harvesters collecting hay. According to scientists, the decline of this species has been hastened by the intensification of farming practices. Many fields are now being mowed earlier and more frequently than they were in the past. This means bobolinks don’t have enough time to lay their eggs and raise their young before their nest is destroyed.

Haying practices aren’t the only threat to this species. According to some estimates, bobolinks will lose almost 80% of their current summer range due to climate change. As the temperature warms, their habitat may shift north, but there’s no way to be certain the habitat will migrate or the birds will follow. Slowing or stopping climate change is the best way to ensure this species continues nesting in the Northeast.

Red Knot

Cool Fact: Nicknamed the “Moonbird,” a particular red knot that was banded in 1995 is now the oldest known individual of its species. Amazingly, this bird is still alive and making the annual migration from the Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America. Flying approximately 20,000 miles every year, this red knot has flown the equivalent of a trip to the moon and half way back

Red Knots in flight. Photo by Caudio Dias Timm/ Flickr
Red knots in flight. Photo by Caudio Dias Timm/ Flickr

The red knot is an iconic shorebird species familiar to many in Southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Every spring, tens of thousands of red knots pause their long migration to feast upon horseshoe crab eggs along the Delaware and New Jersey Bay Shore. It’s described as “one of the world’s most magnificent wildlife spectacles – and one of the most imperiled.” It is estimated that nearly 90% of the entire population of North American Red Knots can be present along the Delaware Bay in a single day. Due in part to overharvesting of horseshoe crab eggs in the bay, this species has suffered a staggering decline of 80% over the past ten years. It’s now listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Red Knots Feeding. Photo by GA Wildlife Resource Division/ Flickr
Red knots feeding. Photo by GA Wildlife Resource Division/ Flickr

New Jersey Audubon, NWF’s affiliate organization, is helping lead the charge to protect this species. Scientists at New Jersey Audubon are conducting research projects to better understand how we can protect this species during its migration, and policy experts are advocating for common sense protections to prevent this species from disappearing from North America entirely.

What We Can Accomplish Together

These three species, along with a variety of other wildlife here in the Northeast, face a host of threats, many exacerbated by climate change. There is no one solution to bring all these species back from the teetering brink of collapse. With that understanding, staff in NWF’s Northeast Regional Center work on a wide variety of projects to safeguard America’s wildlife and wild places.

We are working to reduce carbon emissions and develop clean offshore wind energy, educate the next generation of conservationists, restore critical coastal habitats, and make transportation infrastructure more wildlife-friendly. Yet, we recognize that our staff can’t do it all. NWF’s mission is to unite all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world.

So we want to hear from you! Please comment below and tell us what you do to help protect wildlife and their habitats!

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