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New Search for Lost Birds Aims to Find Some of the Rarest Birds on Earth

Worldwide effort will support expeditions to find 10 birds that haven’t had a confirmed sighting in a decade or more

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Pictured above are the top ten most wanted lost bird species, as designated by the collaboration that aims to find them. See below for an identification list. Artwork by Lynx Edicions

(Washington, D.C., December 17, 2021) A new global search effort is calling on researchers, conservationists, and the global birdwatching community to help find 10 rare bird species that have been lost to science. The Search for Lost Birds is a collaboration of Re:wild, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and BirdLife International, with data support from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its eBird platform used by birders around the world. It’s an extension of Re:wild’s Search for Lost Species program, which launched in 2017 and has since rediscovered eight of its top 25 most wanted lost plant and animal species. As its name suggests, however, the Search for Lost Birds focuses exclusively on rediscovering enigmas in ornithology.

“During the past five years, since we launched the Search for Lost Species, our list of species that could be considered lost has grown to more than 2,000,” said Barney Long, Director for Conservation Strategies for Re:wild. “We never planned to look for all of them alone, but to encourage others to search and develop partnerships to help. Through this new partnership we’ll be able to get more targeted expeditions in the field. If we can find these lost birds, conservationists can better protect them from the threats they face.” 

The Search for Lost Birds is hoping to harness the collective power of the global birdwatching community to help search for species on the top 10 most wanted lost birds list. Cornell’s eBird platform provides an example of what the global birding community can accomplish: eBird currently has more than 700,000 registered users who have collectively submitted more than 1 billion sightings of birds from around the world. However, none of those observations have included any of the top 10 most wanted lost birds.

None of the top 10 most wanted birds have had a documented sighting in the wild in at least 10 years, but they are not classified as “extinct” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The reasons behind their disappearances range from habitat destruction to invasive species. In a few cases, species may have gone missing simply because scientists don’t know where or how to look for them, or don’t have access to their habitats, which may be remote or in places that currently have travel restrictions. Many of the lost birds are native to areas that are rich in biodiversity, but also urgently need conservation efforts to protect their biodiversity.

“By working with partners and collaborators from around the world, the Search for Lost Birds hopes to engage the knowledge and expertise of the global birdwatching community to solve these conservation challenges,” said John C. Mittermeier, Director of Threatened Species Outreach at ABC. “By directly reporting sightings and information through eBird, birdwatchers and citizen scientists from anywhere in the world can help us find and learn more about these lost species.”

The 10 birds span five continents and a variety of groups of species, from hummingbirds to raptors. Some have recently been lost to science, while others have been lost for more than a century. Two species, the Siau Scops-Owl and the Negros Fruit-Dove, have only ever been documented once, when they were originally described in the mid-1800s and in 1953, respectively.

The top 10 most wanted lost birds are:  

  • Dusky Tetraka, last documented in 1999 in Madagascar
  • South Island Kōkako, last seen in 2007 in New Zealand
  • Jerdon’s Courser, last seen in 2009 in India
  • Itwombwe Nightjar (or Prigogine’s Nightjar), last seen in 1955 in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Cuban Kite, last seen in 2010 in Cuba
  • Negros Fruit-Dove, last seen in 1953 in the Philippines
  • Santa Marta Sabrewing, last seen in 2010 in Colombia
  • Vilcabamba Brushfinch, last seen in 1968 in Peru
  • Himalayan Quail, last seen in 1877 in India
  • Siau Scops-Owl, last seen in 1866 in Indonesia

Two expeditions, led by local and national partners and funded under the Search for Lost Birds partnership, are preparing to head into the field during the next year. The expeditions will focus on the Siau Scops-Owl in Indonesia and the Dusky Tetraka in Madagascar. Expeditions for other species are expected to be underway in the coming year as well.

The Siau Scops-Owl was last seen 155 years ago, when it was first described by science, but there have been unconfirmed reported sightings and calls of a bird that potentially matches the description of the owl during the past 20 years. Much of the forest where it was originally discovered has been destroyed, but given how challenging it can be to detect small forest owls, conservationists believe that there is a chance that a small and as-yet-overlooked population may still survive.

The Dusky Tetraka was last definitely seen in Madagascar 22 years ago; before that, there had been very few confirmed sightings of the species in the humid understory of the forests of eastern Madagascar.

One species on the list, the South Island Kōkako, has already been the focus of an on-going search. The South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust has been leading a community-driven search for the bird for the past 11 years, following up on possible sightings and reports of people hearing what sounds like the bird’s haunting call. They launched a public search campaign in 2017 that has drawn nearly 300 reports of possible encounters with a South Island Kōkako, which, in addition to historic reports, they have rated and mapped.

“We are optimistic that the Search for Lost Birds will lead to exciting rediscoveries, but ultimately it’s about conservation,” said Roger Safford, Senior Program Manager for Preventing Extinctions at BirdLife International. “We know that with good conservation efforts, species can be rescued from the brink of extinction, but only if we know where the last populations are. We hope these expeditions will capture people’s imaginations and catalyze conservation.”

ABC supports field expeditions to search for these species and works with partners to conserve rediscovered birds. For example, ABC is supporting Brazilian partners’ efforts to recover the population of the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove, rediscovered in Brazil in 2015.

Other recent rediscoveries of bird species have fueled hope that expeditions for the top 10 most wanted lost birds will be successful. An expedition in Colombia in March 2021 seeking the Sinú Parakeet, one of Re:wild’s top 25 most wanted lost species, didn’t find the parakeet, but did document dozens of species that had never before been recorded in Cordóba Department. In Indonesia, the Black-browed Babbler, a bird that had only had one documented sighting, was rediscovered after 170 years in February 2021. The data that expeditions for the Search for Lost Birds collect will be shared with eBird.

The Search for Lost Birds may also help bring to light previously overlooked records of some of the birds on the top 10 most wanted list that have not been fully documented or confirmed. The Search for Lost Birds will work to follow up on records that may have remained in biologists’ field notebooks and memories, and attempt to collect photographic confirmation that the species still exist. If those sightings can be confirmed, it could help conservation efforts for those species.  

The rediscoveries of other lost birds have also led to conservation efforts that helped them recover from threats to their survival. The Madagascar Pochard in Madagascar is another example of a lost species that was once lost, but is now increasing in population thanks to conservation efforts following its rediscovery.

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Photo: Illustrations of the top 10 most wanted lost birds. Top row (left to right): Himalayan Quail, Negros Fruit-Dove, Itwombwe Nightjar, Santa Marta Sabrewing. Middle row (left to right): Vilacamba Brushfinch, Siau Scops-Owl. Bottom row (left to right): Jerdon’s Courser, Cuban Kite, Dusky Tetraka, South Island Kōkako. (Illustrations © Lynx Edicions)

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).   

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership: a global family of over 115 national NGOs covering all continents, landscapes and seascapes. BirdLife is driven by its belief that local people, working for nature in their own places but connected nationally and internationally through the global Partnership, are the key to sustaining all life on this planet. This unique local-to-global approach delivers high impact and long-term conservation for the benefit of nature and people.


Re:wild protects and restores the wild. We have a singular and powerful focus: the wild as the most effective solution to the interconnected climate, biodiversity and pandemic crises. Founded by a group of renowned conservation scientists together with Leonardo DiCaprio, Re:wild is a force multiplier that brings together Indigenous peoples, local communities, influential leaders, nongovernmental organizations, governments, companies and the public to protect and rewild at the scale and speed we need. Re:wild launched in 2021 combining more than three decades of conservation impact by Leonardo DiCaprio and Global Wildlife Conservation, leveraging expertise, partnerships and platforms to bring new attention, energy and voices together. Our vital work has protected and conserved over 12 million acres benefitting more than 16,000 species in the world’s most irreplaceable places for biodiversity. We don’t need to reinvent the planet. We just need to rewild it—for all wildkind. Learn more at rewild.org.

SpaceX Destroys Habitat of Endangered Species, Defies Federal Approval Process

Endangered birds and sensitive habitats at risk in Boca Chica, Texas

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The Piping Plover, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, is one of the many species being negatively impacted by the ongoing construction of the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy Project and launch site. Photo by Ray Hennessy

Additional photos, including of the debris that has fallen in wildlife protected areas, available upon request.

(Washington, D.C., October 22, 2021) While SpaceX is focusing on exploring distant planets, the company’s operations are taking a toll on planet Earth, specifically in Boca Chica, Texas. Here, the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy Project and launch site are being built and expanded, even though some of the infrastructure has yet to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is deeply concerned about the facility’s impacts on wildlife habitat and species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including the federally Threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot, and the Endangered Northern Aplomado Falcon.

“The ecological importance of this region cannot be overstated,” said EJ Williams, ABC’s Vice President for the Southeast Region. “It’s critically important to ensure impacts to its natural resources are minimized and mitigated.”

In addition to Threatened and Endangered birds, the area surrounding the Boca Chica SpaceX site provides sensitive habitat for other wildlife listed under the ESA — from the Ocelot and several species of sea turtle (Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green) to the Gulf Coast population of the Jaguarundi. This habitat has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as an aquatic resource of national importance (ARNI). It’s also home to some of the country’s most diverse communities of wind-tidal flats, mid-delta thorn forest, and mid-valley riparian woodlands.

“Boca Chica is incredibly important to birds,” said Williams. “The SpaceX facility in Boca Chica is surrounded by federal and state public lands used by hundreds of thousands of individual birds of many different species throughout the year. It's an especially vital place for migratory birds that pass through here each spring and fall to rest and refuel so they can successfully continue and complete their migratory journeys.”

SpaceX operations in Boca Chica have changed significantly since the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the site was published by the FAA in 2014. For example, the 2014 EIS made no mention of the natural gas facility now being developed to extract and deliver fuel to the site. While a new EIS is warranted to account for ongoing major changes, the FAA has instead released a draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) — a faster, less comprehensive environmental review. The PEA does not fully address environmental, habitat, or wildlife concerns, nor does it outline alternatives for the public to consider during the comment period that closes on November 1, 2021.

And, despite the fact that the PEA is not yet finalized, SpaceX has proceeded with construction activities. The FAA has warned that SpaceX is building “at its own risk.”

Since 2014, rocket debris, fires, and construction activities have damaged federal and state public lands surrounding the Boca Chica site. Increased traffic on State Highway 4 has led to mortality of wildlife, with carcasses of Snowy Plover, Common Nighthawk, Harris’s Hawk, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Eastern Meadowlark found over the past two years. All of these species are designated as Birds of Conservation Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Piping Plovers winter in the habitat surrounding the Boca Chica SpaceX facility. According to an analysis by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, the Piping Plover population in the Boca Chica region has decreased by 54 percent over the past 3 years (2018-2021) since SpaceX set up operations testing and launching rockets — indicating the declining health of the bird's habitat.

“Human disturbances, such as highly developed beaches with large numbers of people and associated coastal recreation, have been proven to lead to decreased health and survival of Piping Plovers,” said Kacy Ray, ABC’s Gulf Coastal Program Manager. “If activities like beach recreation can impact a species’ overall survival, imagine how the impacts of rocket testing, launching, and explosions could threaten the health and survival of the same species, let alone the habitat it depends on.”

“Like most people, I’m a fan of space exploration,” said Williams. “The issue is the destruction of sensitive and unique habitats that birds depend on for survival. It is critical that the FAA conduct a full-scale environmental impact study that presents multiple alternatives so the public and stakeholders can better understand and evaluate how SpaceX operations are going to impact Boca Chica and its wildlife.”

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).   

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission declares the Marbled Murrelet Endangered

   
 
 

Washington, D.C., July 9, 2021) Oregon joined Washington and California to protect Marbled Murrelets as Endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4 to 3 to reclassify the murrelet from Threatened to Endangered. These protections come at a critical time for this species, which depends on marine areas for feeding and old-growth forest for nesting. Both of its habitats face uncertain futures with respect to the impact of climate change.  

“We are relieved the Commission has voted in favor of uplisting the Marbled Murrelet to Endangered status,” says Jennifer Davis, ABC’s Northwestern Regional Director. “This elusive species is extremely vulnerable to a host of threats, and without additional protections, it is at real risk of irreversible decline. We thank the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for this vote in favor of the murrelet.”

The Marbled Murrelet is Federally listed as Threatened, but this state declaration will provide much needed additional protections on Oregon State lands.

ABC will continue to work with partners and stakeholders in the region to ensure that this species is able to persist in the Pacific Northwest for generations to come.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).   

 

Expeditions Planned This Year Will Help Scientists Learn More About the Species

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A black-browed babbler accidentally caught in Kalimantan, Borneo. It was the first confirmed sighting of the species in more than 170 years. The bird was released unharmed back to the forest after the photo was taken. Photo courtesy of Birdpacker

(Washington, D.C., February 25, 2021) After more than 170 years, locals in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, have helped rediscover the lost Black-browed Babbler. The bird has been missing since it was first described and collected by scientists around 1848. Since then, the trail to find the Black-browed Babbler has gone cold, despite several attempts to find it, leaving scientists in the dark about its ecology, population, and behavior. Many feared the species might have been extinct. The rediscovery was published in Oriental Bird Club’s journal BirdingASIA today, Feb. 25.

“Globally, there are more than 150 bird species that are currently ‘lost,’ with no confirmed observations in the past 10 years,” said John C. Mittermeier, Director of Threatened Species Outreach at American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “ABC, Global Wildlife Conservation, BirdLife International, and eBird are working together to help find these species. Hopefully, the rediscovery of the Black-browed Babbler will spark interest in finding other lost bird species in Asia and around the world.”

Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan rediscovered the elusive Black-browed Babbler in October 2020 during a weekly trip to gather forest products in Southern Kalimantan Province, Borneo. After accidentally capturing a bird, which neither recognized, they took some photos and then released it unharmed back to the forest. They sent the photos to the local birdwatching group BW Galeatus in hopes that they would be able to identify it.

The group suspected it might be the Black-browed Babbler, and immediately contacted ornithologists Panji Gusti Akbar, Teguh Willy Nugroho, and Ding Li Yong, who compared the photos taken in southern Kalimantan to a current field guide description and photos of the only known specimen of the species, at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands.

“It was a bit like a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” said Gusti Akbar, of the Indonesian bird conservation group Birdpacker and lead author of the paper. “This bird is often called ‘the biggest enigma in Indonesian ornithology.’ It’s mind-blowing to think that it’s not extinct and it’s still living in these lowland forests, but it’s also a little scary because we don’t know if the birds are safe or how much longer they may survive.”

The new photos of a live Black-browed Babbler immediately yielded new information about the species. Scientists now have a better understanding of the species’ true coloration. The babbler’s iris, bill, and legs were slightly different colors than that of the original specimen, but the difference was not surprising to scientists, since those areas often lose their tint and are artificially colored during the taxidermy process. 

The rediscovery is helping scientists and conservationists answer questions that have been swirling for more than a century. Scientists had never been sure where the bird lived in the wild. The original and only specimen collected by German geologist and naturalist Carl A.L.M. Schwaner between 1843 and 1848, and described by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1850, was initially mislabeled and described as being from Java. In 1895, naturalist Johann Büttikofer found that the specimen could not have been from Java because Schwaner had not collected any birds on the island. After reviewing and scrutinizing records of Schwaner’s travel in Indonesia, scientists speculated that he may have found the bird near the city of Martapura or Banjarmasin in Borneo.

“I think it is amazing that we managed to document one of the most remarkable zoological discoveries in Indonesia, largely through online communication, in the midst of the pandemic, which has hampered us from visiting the site,” said Teguh Willy Nugroho, who works in Sebangau National Park in Kalimantan and is one of the coauthors on the paper.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, scientists have not been able to travel to the area where the Black-browed Babbler was found, but they are working on a second paper to document its ecology and are hoping to work with local government agencies to plan expeditions later this year.

“When the species was first discovered, now-extinct birds like the Great Auk and Passenger Pigeon were still alive,” said Yong, a co-author on the paper and a Singapore-based conservationist with BirdLife International. “There is now a critical window of opportunity for conservationists to secure these forests to protect the babbler and other species.”

Scientists know very little about the Black-browed Babbler, but the Indonesian authors of the paper are hoping to work with local government agencies to quickly change that. They plan to travel to Borneo to identify exactly where the species lives, interview locals, study the babbler’s behavior, and assess the population — information that could be used to recommend a new status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The bird is currently listed as Data Deficient and scientists are hoping to determine if and to what extent the species is threatened with extinction.

“Discoveries like this are incredible and give us so much hope that it’s possible to find other species that have been lost to science for decades or longer,” said Barney Long, Global Wildlife Conservation’s (GWC’s) Senior Director of Species Conservation and a lead on GWC’s Search for Lost Species program. “Collaborations between conservationists, local communities, and Indigenous peoples are crucial to learning about and saving these elusive species.”

There are more than 1,600 species of birds that live across the Indonesian archipelago. Scientists are hoping that the discovery may rekindle interest in surveying birds in under-researched areas. GWC and ABC, BirdLife International, and eBird are working to mount searches for lost birds around the world.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).   

Global Wildlife Conservation conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at https://globalwildlife.org

Lawsuit Filed to Restore Bird Protections

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Kentucky Warblers are among the hundreds of bird species that benefit from a strong Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Frode Jacobsen

(Washington, D.C., January 19, 2021) A coalition of national environmental groups filed litigation (Case Number: 1:21-cv-00448) today challenging the current Administration's move to eliminate longstanding protections for waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The litigants include American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The move challenges a new rule by the outgoing Administration that greatly weakens essential protections provided by the MBTA. This rule comes at a time when scientists have raised alarm over the loss of 3 billion North American birds during the past 50 years. It would end enforcement against “incidental take” of birds ― the predictable and preventable killing of birds by industrial practices. The Administration seeks to codify this in spite of the fact that last August, a federal judge struck down this opinion.

“We urge President-elect Biden to quickly eliminate this threat to migratory birds and act to establish a permitting system to reduce preventable mortality,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Government Relations for American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “Congress can support this effort by passing the Migratory Bird Protection Act.

“Last fall, a federal court overturned the Administration’s reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that ended decades of enforcement and let industry off the hook for killing birds,” said Holmer. “Today’s lawsuit challenges a federal rule based on the same bad reasoning.”

The outgoing Administration continues to argue that the law applies only to the intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killing from industrial activities activities that kill millions of birds every year, such as oil spills and electrocutions on power lines. This reinterpretation was first put in place in December 2017 through a legal opinion from the Interior Department.

Citing To Kill a Mockingbird, U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni wrote that “if the Department of the Interior has its way, many Mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.” In rejecting the Administration’s opinion, the court noted that the MBTA makes it unlawful to kill birds “by any means whatever or in any manner” — thus the Administration's interpretation violates the plain language of the statute.

“Implementation of this rule will result in the needless killing of birds at a time when many bird species desperately need our help,” said ABC President Mike Parr. “It’s always our preference to solve problems without lawsuits, but the egregious nature of this rule requires nothing less.”

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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A new federal rule filed today exempts one-third of the imperiled Northern Spotted Owl’s habitat from ESA protections. Photo by Chris Warren

(Washington, D.C., January 13, 2021) The current Administration today filed a new Northern Spotted Owl critical habitat rule that has the potential to hasten the extinction of this declining subspecies. A revision of the critical habitat designation for the Northern Spotted Owl under the Endangered Species Act, the rule originally proposed to exempt only about 200,000 acres from critical habitat protections. However, the final rule instead exempts 3.4 million acres — a huge expanse of territory totaling about one-third of the owl’s protected habitat.
 
The Northern Spotted Owl inhabits only northern California and the Pacific Northwest. This decision comes on the heels of a determination that the owl is already moving toward extinction, even before this loss of habitat protection.

“This rule poses a severe threat to the Northern Spotted Owl and another threatened bird depending on old-growth foreststhe Marbled Murrelet,” said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. “Just last month, federal scientists concluded that the rapidly declining population of Northern Spotted Owl should have its status changed from Threatened to Endangered. Instead, this new rule puts the owl at even greater risk.”

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

(Washington, D.C., May 22, 2020)

The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) approved the Icebreaker Wind Energy Project yesterday, with conditions, moving the country’s first freshwater wind development closer to construction. Stipulations have been made to protect birds in this critical area for migratory species, including turning off the turbines at night for eight months of the year, but conservationists are concerned that these measures are changeable and may not hold long-term.

“The developers and their supporters have been determined to build this project regardless of the overwhelming evidence that for migratory birds, this is among the worst places in North America to place wind turbines,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). “The proponents of Icebreaker have consistently demonstrated a callous disregard for science, and the project, whose financial basis is experimental at best, may mostly be remembered as a monument of death for birds.” 

“The decision requires that the original Avian and Bat Memorandum of Understanding and Stipulations to the Application remain in effect, including turning the turbines off at night for eight months of the year,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “It’s positive that these have been upheld and must be complied with before construction can begin. However, we’re concerned that the stipulations can be reversed in the future.”

It is currently unclear whether the stipulations made by the OPSB will prove to be sufficient to cause the developer to withdraw the project. In addition, a lawsuit brought by BSBO and ABC against the Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers, for failing to adhere to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act when awarding a $40M grant to Icebreaker Wind, could still halt the project.

Icebreaker would be a precedent-setting wind energy facility in Lake Erie, offshore of Cleveland, Ohio. Turbines in the proposed project site would pose substantial collision risks to the enormous numbers of birds that use the area throughout the year, including large concentrations of migrating songbirds, as well as Common Loons, globally significant populations of Red-breasted Mergansers, and other waterfowl. Further, construction and increased vessel traffic associated with the project could pollute the waters used by these species.

“Icebreaker is a demonstration project,” said Kaufman. “Its review and approval will be considered the benchmark for hundreds, possibly thousands, of additional turbines expected to be proposed for the Great Lakes over the coming decades.”

Radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recorded large numbers of migratory birds and bats near Great Lakes shorelines, including Lake Erie's south shore. Many were flying at altitudes that would be within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines, making these birds susceptible to collision-related deaths, injuries, and disturbance.

“We need renewable energy development to combat the effects of climate change, but it needs to be done right and there are better alternatives such as distributed solar right in Cleveland,” said Holmer. “We must ensure that we're not creating new problems in the process by building turbines in high-risk areas for birds.”

American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory are being represented in the lawsuit referred to above by the public interest environmental law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.

ABC thanks the Leon Levy Foundation for its support of ABC's Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).   

Black Swamp Bird Observatory is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit whose mission is to inspire the appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of birds and their habitats through research, education, and outreach.

(Washington, D.C., May 11, 2020) When the New York State Legislature finalized the state budget, it included the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act. The Act seeks to streamline the approval process for wind and solar energy projects as part of the State’s approach to achieving its renewable energy goals. While it does have some positive elements for wildlife, such as seeking to site projects on degraded lands and creating a bird impact mitigation fund, the Act also fast-tracks facets of renewable energy planning and development, and changes in this process raise red flags with some conservation groups.

“We have concerns about how this will be implemented,” says Joel Merriman, ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director. “A combination of aggressive timelines and the potential for automatic approvals at key steps in the process leaves the door open for wind energy facility plans to inadequately address risks to birds.”

Wind energy development is an important element of fighting climate change, but it does not come without environmental costs. ABC estimates that more than 500,000 birds are killed annually from collisions with wind turbines in the U.S. Given projected industry build-out, that figure is expected to increase to more than 1.4 million annually by 2030. Birds are also killed by powerlines installed to connect wind facilities to the energy grid, and yet others are displaced by facility development. Some species, such as Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles, are more vulnerable to turbine collisions, and due to slow reproductive rates, these birds have less capacity to recover from losses.

The Act creates a new Office of Renewable Energy Siting, which will work with other agencies to review and set conditions for proposed renewable energy projects. The input of wildlife management agencies will be crucial to ensure that birds receive adequate protection, but under the new law, these agencies are given short time windows to participate. Insufficient staffing, busy seasons, and many other factors could prevent meaningful review and input, potentially leaving birds largely out of the discussion.

Further, under the new law, local community input is substantially reduced and comes later in the planning process. This may prevent those with first-hand knowledge of local bird populations from influencing critical project elements that are determined early in the process, including facility and turbine siting.  

“A lot hinges on development of strong standards and conditions for project siting and planning,” says Merriman. “These must ensure that local bird populations are thoroughly assessed, and that turbines are not sited in high-risk areas.”

For example, in an application filed for the Heritage Wind project in western New York in mid-March, the developer proposes placing wind turbines in close proximity to a large wetland complex that includes a National Wildlife Refuge and two state Wildlife Management Areas. Important to both breeding and migratory birds, this block of habitat supports many species of conservation concern and is also considered an Important Bird Area. During the planning process, two local bird conservation organizations raised concerns about the planned facility’s proximity to these sensitive areas, but these points have not been addressed by the developer.

“The bird-related conflict that poorly sited wind facilities create is largely avoidable if good siting practices are required,” says Merriman. “The State can greatly reduce this kind of conflict by establishing no-go zones and other commonsense standards to keep turbines out of high-risk areas.”

Merriman offers some broader advice on meeting renewable energy goals: “Renewable energy development is just one piece of the climate change solution puzzle,” he says. “We encourage the State to be equally aggressive in implementing energy efficiency measures and installing distributed solar energy. Put solar panels on commercial, municipal, and residential buildings, over parking lots…anywhere they can be supported. Birds and people win when energy production is sited where it’s used, away from valuable bird habitat.”

Merriman continues, “In other arenas, New York has done great things for birds. The State can maintain this commitment by making some adjustments to the Act, such as eliminating automatic approvals and setting a positive precedent in the development of standards and conditions for wind energy projects. A recent study by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, ABC, and others shows that the United States and Canada lost nearly 3 billion birds — almost 30 percent of the total population — since 1970. It’s critical that we balance the need for renewable energy development with protecting our vulnerable bird populations.”

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

oxoplasma gondii: a risk for people and wildlife

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Keeping cats indoors is safer for cats, people, and wildlife. ABC has numerous resources to help pet owners transition their cats to full-time indoor living, including enrichment activities, literature, and more. Photo by Nikita Starichenko/Shutterstock

(Washington, D.C., April 14, 2020) As the COVID-19 pandemic tragically continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe, evidence is mounting that domestic cats and other felines may also be at risk of contracting the disease. Professional organizations and new research suggest keeping pet cats indoors to manage infection risks.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) this week recommended that people who are self-isolating or have COVID-19 symptoms keep their cats indoors. According to BVA, it is possible that outdoor cats may carry the virus on their fur, just as the virus can live on other surfaces.

The American Veterinary Medical Association's standing policy is that pet cats be kept indoors. Their policy states that “keeping owned cats confined, such as housing them in an enriched indoor environment, in an outdoor enclosure, or exercising leash-acclimated cats, can minimize the risks to the cats, wildlife, humans, and the environment.”

For people wanting to respond to these concerns by transitioning their cats from the outdoors to indoors, whether temporarily or permanently, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) offers a range of helpful solutions on its website that were developed over years of consultation with veterinarians and pet owners.

New studies from researchers in China, where the virus was first identified, evaluated SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, to determine host susceptibilities and to better understand how the virus may move through the environment. These studies (Luan et al. 2020Shi et al. 2020Sun et al. preprintZhang et al. preprint), taken together, concluded that domestic cats are susceptible to infection, that infections have occurred both in experimental trials and outside the laboratory, and that infected domestic cats may transmit the virus to uninfected domestic cats.

Domestic cat infections have also been recently reported in Belgium and Hong Kong. Two Malayan Tigers, two Amur Tigers, and three Lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York have also shown symptoms of infection, and the only tiger to be tested came back positive for COVID-19. It's suspected that people exposed these felines to the virus. So far, the disease does not appear to be fatal to cats, and there is no evidence that the disease has passed from cats to people.

“Keeping pet cats safely contained indoors, on a leash, or in a catio is always a great choice to protect cats, birds, and people,” said Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Programs at ABC. “At this point, it appears that keeping pet cats indoors is also the safer alternative to ensure the virus isn't accidentally picked up or transferred by the cat.”

As well as being at risk from diseases, cars, and other threats, outdoor cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion wild birds each year in the U.S. alone.

Since 1997, ABC's Cats Indoors program has supported responsible cat ownership that not only protects birds and other wildlife but also supports long, healthy lives for pet cats. Cat owners interested in bringing their cats indoors, or providing safe outdoor time for their pets, can find resources on the Cats Indoors website.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

Cats and COVID-19

Information and resources for those concerned about their cats during the pandemic

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Keeping cats indoors is safer for cats, people, and wildlife. ABC has numerous resources to help pet owners transition their cats to full-time indoor living, including enrichment activities, literature, and more. Photo by Nikita Starichenko/Shutterstock

(Washington, D.C., April 10, 2020) As the COVID-19 pandemic tragically continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe, evidence is mounting that domestic cats and other felines may also be at risk of contracting the disease. Professional organizations and new research suggest keeping pet cats indoors to manage infection risks.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) this week recommended that people who are self-isolating or have COVID-19 symptoms keep their cats indoors. According to BVA, it is possible that outdoor cats may carry the virus on their fur, just as the virus can live on other surfaces.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s standing policy is that pet cats be kept indoors. Their policy states that “keeping owned cats confined, such as housing them in an enriched indoor environment, in an outdoor enclosure, or exercising leash-acclimated cats, can minimize the risks to the cats, wildlife, humans, and the environment.”

For people wanting to respond to these concerns by transitioning their cats from the outdoors to indoors, whether temporarily or permanently, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) offers a range of helpful solutions on its website that were developed over years of consultation with veterinarians and pet owners. 

New studies from researchers in China, where the virus was first identified, evaluated SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, to determine host susceptibilities and to better understand how the virus may move through the environment. These studies (Luan et al. 2020; Shi et al. 2020; Sun et al. preprint; Zhang et al. preprint), taken together, concluded that domestic cats are susceptible to infection, that infections have occurred both in experimental trials and outside the laboratory, and that infected domestic cats may transmit the virus to uninfected domestic cats.

Domestic cat infections have also been recently reported in Belgium and Hong Kong. Two Malayan Tigers, two Amur Tigers, and three Lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York have also shown symptoms of infection, and the only tiger to be tested came back positive for COVID-19. It’s suspected that people exposed these felines to the virus. So far, the disease does not appear to be fatal to cats, and there is no evidence that the disease has passed from cats to people.

“Keeping pet cats safely contained indoors, on a leash, or in a catio is always a great choice to protect cats, birds, and people,” said Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Programs at ABC. “At this point, it appears that keeping pet cats indoors is also the safer alternative to ensure the virus isn’t accidentally picked up or transferred by the cat.”

As well as being at risk from diseases, cars, and other threats, outdoor cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion wild birds each year in the U.S. alone.

Since 1997, ABC’s Cats Indoors program has supported responsible cat ownership that not only protects birds and other wildlife but also supports long, healthy lives for pet cats. Cat owners interested in bringing their cats indoors, or providing safe outdoor time for their pets, can find resources on the Cats Indoors website.

###

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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