Continent of People
A Continent of People Connected to Birds
Birds figure prominently in human cultures throughout North America. They provide food in subsistence cultures. Their feathers are used as adornments and in religious ceremonies, and they serve as icons and omens. As namesakes of places and sports teams, and as national symbols on our flags and currency, birds represent strength and determination. Our languages and literature teem with references to birds, and our recreational pastimes, from birding to art, center on these amazing animals.
Birds Signal Environmental Health
Because of their great abundance and conspicuous habits, birds act as the "canary in the coal mine” in every terrestrial ecosystem. Birds respond quickly, not only to negative changes, but also to positive human actions, helping us to devise and monitor solutions to environmental problems. In State of the Birds reports around the world, birds have gained acceptance as important indicators of environmental health.
|The recovery of the Bald
Eagle—after the ban on
the pesticide DDT—is a
testament to the power
of conservation action
|Landbirds, such as this
consume vast numbers
of insects, reducing the
need for pest-control.
|Photo by Wilber Suiter||Photo by Brian Sullivan|
Birds are Essential to Ecosystems
Birds keep our ecosystems healthy, controlling pests and disease vectors by consuming immense quantities of insects and rodents, facilitating decomposition and nutrient cycling through the consumption of carrion, pollinating flowers, and dispersing seeds. They also excavate cavities and burrows essential for other wildlife. As birds migrate across the continent, they carry these services with them. The enormous number of shared landbirds can consume at least 100,000 metric tons of invertebrates daily (equivalent in weight to more than 20,000 African elephants!). Birds in Canada’s boreal forest alone are estimated to provide $5.4 billion in pestcontrol services each year.
Photo by Rosa Ma.Vidal
Mesoamerican pre-Columbian cultures held strong social and economic ties to wild birds. They represented birds in many forms, such as this Mayan “lintel,” depicting a forest eagle, possibly a Harpy Eagle. Eagles were considered by the Maya to be a link between earth and heaven.
Birds Fuel Economies
Millions of birders, photographers, and hunters travel widely and buy equipment for their hobbies, fueling a growing portion of our nations’ economies. In the United States, approximately 48 million birders generated $82 billion USD and 671,000 jobs in 2006. In Canada, an estimated 10.3 million people (one-third of the population) spent C$1.3 billion on wildlife viewing in 1996. Bird tourism is growing in popularity in Mexico, through birding festivals and specialized tour packages and training of local guides.
|Golden Eagle feathers are handed
to the Huichol ethnic group leaders
in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to be
used in a cultural ceremony. As part
of the Golden Eagle Recovery
program in Mexico, these feathers
are now provided from captive birds
that cannot be released due to
injuries, rather than taken from
|A Mexican child
uses a field guide
to learn about
birds. Fostering a
connection to birds,
conservation at a
young age will
ensure that future
continue to be
connected to birds.
Photo by Humberto Fernandez
Photo by Eduardo
A Future, Coexisting with Birds
North America is home to more than 450 million people, with almost half living in cities with populations of at least 750,000. With a projected continental population of more than 600 million people by 2050, sustainable resource use will be a difficult, but vital, goal. Widespread poverty, increased demand for resources, regional disparities in wealth, and economic hardships are among the many challenges we face when trying to maintain functioning ecosystems for birds and people. To be successful, conservation solutions for birds must also address these societal challenges.
Socorro Dove (left), Kirtland's Warbler (center), and Henslow's Sparrow (right) are examples of federally endangered species in Mexico, the United States, and Canada, respectively.
Legally protecting birds
Canada, Mexico, and the United States have pursued environmental conservation individually and collectively since the late 1800s. The international migratory bird conventions signed by our three nations in the early 20th century, and their implementing laws in each nation, have regulated the take of migratory birds in North America and made the protection of migratory birds a responsibility of national governments. In 1995, our three countries established the Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management to advance an integrated approach for cooperative conservation, including the reduction and mitigation of threats to shared species and ecosystems. Despite these safeguards, many native birds need further protection to prevent extinction. The Canadian Species at Risk Act (2002), the Official Mexican Standard NOM-059-SEMARNAT (2001), and the United States Endangered Species Act (1973) provide federal protection in each nation. Although this is an important and successful safety net, implementing endangered species laws is an expensive last resort. A central goal of Partners in Flight is to manage our ecosystems and proactively conserve species before they become endangered.
|Photos, L-R: Alan R. Thompson, Gerry Dewaghe, Greg Lavaty|