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Waterfowl Numbers Rise, While Songbirds Decline

A bird’s eye view perspective is something that humans can grasp only when viewing objects from an elevated position. Avian life utilizes a bird’s eye view every day to discern where they might like to fly down to for food, water or rest. How ground habitat looks to a bird is likely to affect their decision about visiting a place, or whether to just keep on flying. Recent studies have documented a sharp decline in songbirds, and a moderate increase in waterfowl populations and a focus on duck habitat conservation could be the blueprint to help songbird recovery.
The increase in waterfowl populations is a bit deceiving as it concerns the Atlantic Flyway since the bag limit on mallards and pintails decreased in 2019. The conservation group Ducks Unlimited (DU) was founded with the mission to conserve wetlands to ensure healthy waterfowl populations. DU understands that the pothole nesting habitat in Canada was just as important as habitat in North America and works on either side of the border for the betterment of the ducks. Establishing that habitat took decades and since the 1970’s waterfowl populations have begun to rebound and are up to 56-percent. It is possible that this current formula for success will continue in the future too.
Duck hunting season comes in on December 12 and lasts until January 31 and while there are many species of migratory duck that can occur in South Carolina, the number one duck in the average hunter’s bag is the wood duck. A liberal limit of three woodies per day per hunter translates into the fact that they are a sustainable natural resource. Wetland habitat managers have learned that wood duck boxes, which require annual maintenance, can help to bolster the local wood duck population. Some wood ducks migrate, while others tend to stay in the same area all year long, earning them the nickname of summer duck. The uptick in wood duck numbers took decades to accomplish, and this is proof on a small scale, how habitat conservation can benefit all waterfowl species.
Common birds such as the red-winged blackbird and the Eastern meadowlark are indicator species, and recent studies show they are in drastic decline. Ornithologists estimate that nearly 3 billion birds have vanished from North America over the past 50 years. Once seemingly staggering numbers of common birds are now thought to be in trouble, and the most likely trigger for this is loss of habitat. Grassland birds, birds of the forest, and those that prefer scrub-shrub habitat are all in decline across the spectrum. With higher human populations comes more development, which decreases the open space available to common birds.
In Charleston, the Patriots Point area is known as the home of the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier museum. Over the years a golf course, hotel and marina, and sporting complex have occupied more and more of that area. Developers have erected several multi-use buildings for residents of Mount Pleasant to live in, with close access to the Cooper River Bridge. Prior to the arrival of the Yorktown, a vast swath of woods and shrubs was a mecca for both backyard birds and migratory ones, but only a small 21-acre area of woods and shrub habitat remains today. These woods can still be used by birds, but in general, this area is now greatly affected by the noise pollution and nighttime lights that degrade the value of the habitat.
While fragmentation of forest land that is within city limits is typical, South Carolina has other areas that remain protected, providing excellent bird habitat. National Forests and National Wildlife Refuge lands, state WMA’s and Heritage Preserves all serve as a high-quality bird habitat. Private lands in the Palmetto state, especially the larger tracts and plantations can serve as conduits and travel corridors for birds. New acquisitions of conservation easements continue to add to these acreage totals. Now is the time to protect bird habitat for the future, similar to the model that waterfowl enthusiasts have followed.
Backyard birders pay for the birdseed that goes in their feeders, and they likely use a pair of binoculars to improve their viewing opportunities. But bird watching does not require a license, and access to public lands is usually free, so there is no fundraising model in place to provide for bird habitat preservation. Besides needing water sources, birds eat lots of flying insects, so food has to be a part of the common bird recovery equation. There is lots of work to be done, but the sooner that bird habitat is championed, the sooner the bird numbers can rebound.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis
Jeff Dennis, Contributor (380 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com