Key Findings

This report builds on two significant Mass Audubon initiatives — State of the Birds 2011 and the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (Atlas 2). These projects used the best available science to identify which bird species are declining and which are doing well in the Commonwealth, and they represent important stepping-stones along the path toward building an evidence-based bird conservation strategy for all the breeding species in Massachusetts.

Overall, noting the 181 species for which we have the best data, about 60% are increasing or stable while about 40% are in need of continued monitoring or urgent conservation action. 

State of the Birds 2013 number of species graph

Listed below are the habitats and behaviors of breeding species that are declining, and examples of species.

  • Grassland birds and birds of agricultural landscapes — Eastern Meadowlark
  • Coastal-nesting species — Roseate Tern
  • Birds of shrublands and young forests — Brown Thrasher
  • Ground-nesting birds — Killdeer
  • Aerial insectivores (species that eat insects that are in the air) – Cliff Swallow
  • Freshwater marsh-nesting birds — American Bittern
  • Long-distance migrants — Wood Thrush
  • Birds at the southern edge of their breeding range — Purple Finch

Factors documented to be causing, at least in part, these declines include:

  • Habitat loss in Massachusetts as well as on the wintering grounds
  • Habitat fragmentation and degradation in Massachusetts as well as on the wintering grounds
  • Toxic chemicals affecting the birds and their food
  • Ground predators (including domestic cats) and habitat “engineers” such as deer
  • Collisions with windows, power lines, cars
  • Climate change
Bird illustration

There is also good news for many of our breeding birds. Included among these increasing species are:

  • Wooded freshwater swamp-breeding species and species that use rivers, lakes, and ponds — Hooded Merganser
  • Species that nest on human structures or use nest boxes — Osprey
  • Many forest-nesting species — Cooper’s Hawk
  • Suburban-adapted breeding species — Carolina Wren

Recommendations in this document stress our need to:

  • Support a net gain of land in agriculture in Massachusetts
  • Encourage everyone to embrace Massachusetts-based agricultural products
  • Develop tools for both foresters and farmers to encourage bird-friendly management options on their lands
  • Develop plans to increase shrubland maintenance and creation in sustainable locations
  • Continue to support initiatives by the state to census rare species and defend the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act
  • Educate the public and engage in projects to mitigate anticipated climate change stress
  • Manage our communities sustainably, especially by reducing sprawl, limiting our use of pesticides, and preventing outdoor roaming of domestic cats
  • Develop tools to address key land management issues such as the role White-tailed Deer play in altering the structure of the forests in suburban Massachusetts and strategies for weighing management options