A number of the birds that Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) have identified as in need of top-priority conservation attention to ensure their continued survival spend at least part of their year in Pennsylvania. They have the dubious distinction of being included on WatchList 2007, the newest and most scientifically sound list of America’s birds at greatest risk. Unlike those on Audubon’s recent survey of Common Birds in Decline, these species are often rare and limited in range; consequently, they face a more imminent threat of extinction. For many of them, conservation efforts in Pennsylvania as well as nationally will play a critical role in determining their future health and survival.
The continental WatchList is based on a comprehensive analysis of population size and trends, distribution, and environmental threats, informed and improved by extensive scientific review. The 59 species on its “red list” are those of greatest concern, while the additional 119 merit their spots on the “yellow list” due to a combination of rarity and seriously declining numbers. Species found on either part of the WatchList demand immediate help while there is still time to save them.
“All of us in Pennsylvania have an opportunity and responsibility to help protect our birds at greatest risk – including the golden-winged warbler, Henslow’s sparrow, and the wood thrush,” says Tim Schaeffer, Executive Director of Audubon Pennsylvania. “We need conservation action now, while there is still time – and WatchList helps focus that action where it is most needed.”
Priority WatchList species found in Pennsylvania are:
Golden-winged Warbler – breeds in PA (Red List)
• The golden-winged warbler is suffering from loss of suitable successional habitat, dense shrubs and young saplings, due to reforestation and development. The species, down 98 percent in Pennsylvania, also faces competition from the closely-related blue-winged warbler, which is expanding its range to the north.
Henslow’s Sparrow – breeds in PA (Red List)
• Between 1966 and 2005, Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data indicates an average range-wide decline in Henslow’s sparrows of 7.9% each year. The species has declined by almost 70% in Pennsylvania over the past 40 years. Dependent on grassland habitat with standing dead stems, they are threatened by the loss of agricultural land to development and the intensified cropping of remaining farmland. Their highest densities in the Commonwealth now occur on former strip mines that are large, open, and grassy.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common migrant in PA (Yellow List)
• This tiny shorebird is a new addition to the WatchList. It depends on mudflats for stopover and staging areas while undertaking its remarkable migration between the Arctic tundra and South America. The loss of stopover habitat is an important factor in its population decline. At the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Audubon Pennsylvania has assisted with developing land management techniques to provide additional stopover habitat for semipalmated sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds.
Short-eared Owl – breeds & winters in PA (Yellow List)
• This ground-nesting owl, which inhabits large open meadows and other open habitats, has declined drastically in Pennsylvania in recent decades due to loss of suitable habitat. Rampant development and changing agricultural practices have been the primary causes of habitat loss for this species, which is currently considered to be endangered in Pennsylvania.
Wood Thrush – breeds in PA (Yellow List)
• Wood thrushes rely on large interior forests and are threatened by habitat fragmentation, deforestation, and nest parasitism. Each year wood thrushes, down 62 percent in Pennsylvania over the past 40 years, migrate from Central America to the U.S., where Pennsylvania houses 8.5 percent of the world’s breeding population. Audubon Pennsylvania is actively engaging landowners and helping them improve their deer management practices as well as advocating statewide improvement to deer management. A deer herd out of balance with Penn’s Woods hinders healthy forest regeneration and serves as a contributing factor to habitat loss for forest-dwelling species, like the wood thrush, and other wildlife.
Cerulean Warbler – breeds in PA (Yellow List)
• The cerulean warbler is found in the forests of riparian valleys and ridge top habitats in the eastern United States. Over the past half century it has steadily declined in numbers primarily due habitat loss directly associated with numerous types of human activities on both breeding and wintering grounds. In more recent years large areas of both types of breeding habitat have been destroyed through a practice of coal extraction known as mountaintop removal mining. Audubon Pennsylvania supports alternate placement of wind power turbines, many of which are currently sited along ridge tops. Such placement further promotes fragmentation of ridge top habitats utilized by cerulean warblers.
The new Audubon/ABC WatchList is based on the latest available data from the Christmas Bird Count and the annual Breeding Bird Survey along with other research and assessment from the bird conservation community. The data were analyzed and weighted according to methods developed through extensive peer review and revision, yielding an improved assessment of actual peril that can be used to determine bird conservation priorities and funding. Listed species may seem unfamiliar to many Americans. Unlike those on Audubon’s recent survey of Common Birds in Decline, these species are often rare and limited in range.
For the complete WatchList, and information on how to help, visit www.audubon.org. To view PA’s complete WatchList 2007 click here. For high-resolution photos of priority WatchList species, B-roll and other press resources, visit Audubon's WatchList Press Room.