Migration Knows No Boundaries—and That's a Problem

Imagine you're a migrating bird. You've got to get to your winter home by molting season. You and your flock need to stop and refuel. Your senses and your memory tell you that this very spot is where you landed last year for water and a quick bite. But what's that? A parking lot? Now what are you going to do? 

A new study in the journal Science reveals that more than 90 percent of migrating birds find themselves in this situation (and worse) because of poorly coordinated conservation efforts around the world. Of the 1,451 bird species studied, 1,324—91 percent—traveled through areas that were not safeguarded from development. This means these birds may well have encountered the situation above. Further, eighteen species found themselves in unprotected breeding areas, and two species had no protection anywhere they went. 

“Migratory species cover vast distances and rely on an intact series of habitats in which they can rest and feed on their long journeys," conservation scientist Richard Fuller of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the University of Queensland told the Associated Press. "If even a single link in this chain of sites is lost for a species, it could lead to major declines or even its extinction."

The United States and Great Britain signed the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1916 (with Great Britain signing for Canada) to protect birds that cross their international boundaries. Similar treaties have been made with Mexico (1936), Japan (1972), and Russia (1976). This is a good start, but habitat destruction is worst in North Africa, Central Asia, and the coastlines of East Asia. In these regions, the safeguarded areas—if any—do not overlap enough to provide a migration route for birds. One example of a bird at risk is the Bar-tailed Godwit. This well-traveled bird migrates from the Arctic to Australia and New Zealand, making stops in China, North Korea, and South Korea. Its population is dwindling because of the loss of habitat along its route.

The protection of migrating wildlife is a concern for all countries. We here at Talkin' Birds imagine it could bring about cooperation among people who don't usually cooperate. Meanwhile, if we could, we would donate all our frequent-flyer miles to the Bar-tailed Godwit.