Nearly a third of U.S. bird species in trouble

WASHINGTON Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:07am EDT

Challenger, a 15-year-old American Bald Eagle, screeches at the new Bald Eagle Refuge Exhibit opening at the National Zoo in Washington in this file photo taken on July 2, 2003. REUTERS/Jason Reed/Files

Challenger, a 15-year-old American Bald Eagle, screeches at the new Bald Eagle Refuge Exhibit opening at the National Zoo in Washington in this file photo taken on July 2, 2003.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly one-third of all U.S. bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline, with birds in Hawaii facing a "borderline ecological disaster," scientists reported on Thursday.

The State of the Birds report, issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar along with conservation groups and university ornithologists, also noted some successes, including the recovery of the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon and other species after the banning of the chemical DDT.

"When we talk about birds and we talk about wildlife, we're also talking about the economics of this country," Salazar told reporters as the report was released.

Wildlife watching and recreation generate $122 billion annually, the report said.

Salazar mentioned revenue from hunting, fishing and bird-watching, but added that President Barack Obama's stimulus package and proposed federal budgets for the remainder of 2009 and 2010 offer more money for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which aims to protect birds and other creatures.

The report, available online at www.stateofthebirds.org, presents data collected by government and academic scientists, as well as information contributed by amateur bird-watchers.

Wetland bird populations have soared since 1968, with an increase of up to 60 from levels 40 years ago. But birds in other habitats -- forests, grasslands and arid areas -- have declined as much as 40 percent.

HAWAIIAN BIRDS MOST VULNERABLE

It is in the perceived paradise of Hawaii that birds have declined the most, the report said.

"More bird species are vulnerable to extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States," according to the report.

Before humans arrived in the Hawaiian islands, possibly as early as the year 300, there were 113 bird species that occurred nowhere else on Earth. Since humans arrived, 71 species have gone extinct and 31 more are listed as threatened or endangered.

The main culprits are new plant and animal species introduced into the Hawaiian ecosystem, said George Wallace of the American Bird Conservancy, who wrote the report's section on Hawaii.

"Most Americans would be surprised that a place that we usually associate with being an idyllic paradise would have so many serious bird conservation problems," Wallace said in a telephone interview.

"These types of isolated island flora and fauna tend to be very, very sensitive to introductions of foreign organisms."

John Fitzpatrick of Cornell University went farther, calling Hawaii a "borderline ecological disaster" and "the epicenter of extinctions and near extinctions."

Overall, the United States is home to more than 800 species of birds; 67 of those are federally listed as endangered or threatened, with an additional 184 species causing concern because of they are narrowly distributed or have declining populations, the report said.

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