by Liam Campbell

Skies in North America are falling silent. No, airplanes haven’t been grounded yet, unfortunately. It’s the birds who are missing. Since 1970 bird populations in the United States and Canada have collapsed by 29% (that’s 2.9 billion fewer birds), according to a recent report published in the journal Science. David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audobon Society has declared a “full-blown crisis.” The results surveyed over 500 species and revealed that even historically abundant birds like robins and sparrows have begun to disappear at an alarming rate.

Healthy bird populations are critical. Without them, ecosystems become unbalanced, pollination rates diminish, seeds are not spread effectively, and forests become unhealthy. Although the public has focused on a few saving a few icononic species, like bald eagles and spotted owls, less popular species like sparrows can actually have a bigger impact; their disappearance may cause a cascade of devastating ecological failures. What’s staggering about this research is that it revealed that almost all bird populations, across the board, are plummeting at an alarming rate. Even starlings, an invasive species which are historically abundant and reproduce rapidly, have experienced a 49% decline.

These losses are not limited to North America. Europe is witnessing similar declines and, like in America, grasslands are worst hit. Modern agricultural practices and human development are the leading causes of plummeting populations, with neonicontinoid pesticides causing particular harm. In 1962 Rachel Carson predicted many of these outcomes in her book Silent Spring. When you step back and look at the situation, it’s obvious what’s really killing these birds: human overconsumption. The only way to save these birds, and the ecosystems which rely on them, is to protect their remaining habitats, stop the use of toxic chemicals, and reduce the footprint of humanity on the world.