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Protecting the Western Hemisphere's Migratory Birds

Siberian gulls fly at Sangam, the confluence the Ganges and the mythical Saraswati in Prayagraj, India. The gulls fly thousands of miles to India to escape the Siberian winter. (File)

Birds, particularly long-distance migratory birds, are in trouble. Over the past 50 years, their numbers have been plummeting.

Protecting the Western Hemisphere's Migratory Birds
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What would the world be like without birds? Birds are not only beautiful, they are also crucial to agriculture and help in maintaining balance in the environment. Birds control pest populations, disperse seeds, and pollinate some crops. And because they are sensitive to changes in their habitat as well as to pollutants, ecologists watch for changes in bird populations as early indicators of environmental problems.

But birds, particularly long-distance migratory birds, are in trouble. Over the past 50 years, their numbers have been plummeting. Scientists estimate that we have lost approximately 3 billion birds since 1970. The many threats to migratory birds include disappearance and fragmentation of their habitats; collisions with buildings; poisoning by toxic chemicals; predation by invasive species; and global climate change.

Migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and the United States implements bilateral migratory bird treaties that it entered into with Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia. However, birds still needed additional protections. So, in the year 2000, Congress passed the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, or NMBCA, which conserves 341 species of neotropical migratory birds: those birds that breed in North America and over-winter in the tropical zones of North, Central and South America.

The NMBCA, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, establishes an annual, competitive grants program to support projects which promote the conservation of neotropical migratory birds and their habitats. The program is designed to send at least 75 percent of its funding to projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, where habitat loss and other threats to migratory birds are significant and conservation funding is scarce. Because the program works throughout the Western Hemisphere, it supports the full life cycle needs of the birds that migrate through this corridor.

NMBCA is a matching grant program, that attracts funding from numerous sources other than the government. This year, more than $4.8 million in federal funds has leveraged over $22.5 million in partner contributions. This money will go to 30 collaborative conservation projects in 23 countries across the Americas for programs to protect and manage bird populations and habitats.

“What happens in Latin America and the Caribbean affects the birds that visit our backyards every spring and summer,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “These grants will support cooperative conservation projects and research throughout the hemisphere.”