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The “State of New Hampshire’s Birds” report, written by Dr. Pamela Hunt of NH Audubon under contract with the NH Fish and Game Department, is a groundbreaking summary of population trends for all of New Hampshire’s breeding birds -- a total of 186 species. The report shows that one third of New Hampshire’s breeding bird species are experiencing long-term population declines, another third are stable or increasing, and the rest lack the data needed to determine what their population trends actually are. The report also looks at threats facing bird populations, and outlines strategies for addressing them.
The increasing species are, in many cases, our success stories. For example, the fact that bald eagles continue to increase shows what can be done when conservation entities work together to solve problems. At the same time, some populations -- such as cardinals and merlins -- are increasing without targeted conservation action. An important goal is to keep these species common, so we don’t need to expend valuable resources bringing them back from the brink.
In some ways, the needs are greatest for the 52 bird species whose population trends are either unknown or unclear. Most of these are birds of wetlands and northern forests, and given that the threats to these habitats are sometimes significant, it is imperative to start gathering the needed data. Learning more about these poorly monitored species is key to successful conservation prioritization.
Declining species are, of course, the ones that attract our immediate attention. These include shrubland and grassland birds, as well as a whole suite of “aerial insectivores” -- birds, like swallows, that feed on the wing. Of our forest birds, roughly as many are increasing as are decreasing, and many of the latter are species that require larger tracts or forest or that migrate out of the state during the non-breeding season. Land protection and careful planning can minimize the habitat effects here in the Granite State, but it will be equally important to maintain a larger perspective if we are to ensure that migratory species successfully return to nest here each summer. Other causes of declines can include increased predation, chemical contaminants, and the uncertain effects of climate change.