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Report:  One-Quarter of US Bird Species at Risk of Extinction

Twenty-five percent of all bird species in the United States are at risk of extinction, according to a report by the National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy, the nation's leading bird conservation groups. WatchList 2007 is a compilation of the most endangered birds in the United States.

Audubon President John Flicker blames the decline of the 178 listed species primarily on human activities.

"They are at risk from local habitat loss and from broader regional, national and global problems such as invasive species, unchecked development, sprawl, urban expansion and now in particular, global warming," he says.

Commercial fishing lines, wetland loss and offshore oil exploration threaten seabirds. American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick says damage to breeding islands can rapidly wipe out a species.

"If you have introduced alien mammals such as rats on a bird breeding island, you can wipe out a population of hundreds of thousands of seabirds in a matter of a couple of years," Fenwick says. "These birds don't get the attention they deserve because they are "out of sight and out of mind."

As are the birds from Hawaii. America's Pacific island state harbors 39 WatchList species in need of immediate conservation help. Fenwick says their fate is tied to just about every bad thing that can happen to birds, including loss of habitat, invasive species and avian malaria.

Some of the birds on WatchList 2007 overlap with those identified on the federally administered Endangered Species List, which require government protection. While the federal listing has saved birds threatened with extinction — including the American bald eagle, and the Peregrine falcon — few species have been added in recent years.

Audubon bird conservation director Greg Butcher says WatchList 2007 helps to prioritize the needs.

"Above all, the problems of these species and the habitats they share with us demand commitment, conservation plans to address their specific problems and the funding to make action happen," he says.

Bird watching, or birding, engages between 40 and 60 million Americans. National Audubon Society President John Flicker says tapping that constituency, as Audubon has done with its network of state and local chapters, can have an enormous impact.

"California residents spoke up loudly about lead shot [in shotguns] recently, which caused the legislature and governor Schwarzenegger to ban lead in the environment to protect the [California] Condor," he says.

Flicker says that historic act was a direct result of public outcry. Audubon's Greg Butcher says political activism and personal actions go hand and hand. He says people can get started by making their own backyards a healthier habitat for birds.

"Pull out invasive weeds. Plant some of the native plants that are really important for the habitats there." And he insists, "If people can adopt local spots and we can encourage people to do that across the country and also encourage people to do that across the globe, people can act locally and affect the entire globe for bird populations."

Butcher says the fate of birds is closely tied to our own. Their decline is a call to action to protect the species and the environment we share before it is too late.