With biodiversity declining, state efforts aim to monitor and protect endangered birds – New Hampshire Bulletin
It has been about 20 years since the state last collected reliable data on the endangered Northern Harrier, a medium-sized raptor native to the state.
Without an up-to-date field survey, it’s unclear where they breed, how many there are, or in what regions they can be found. The state needs this information to determine how it would protect the species and help it recover.
The bird of prey is now among the least common in the state and is thought to continue to decline, according to the New Hampshire Audubon. The non-profit organization will continue its research on the bird with a $65,000 prize from New Hampshire Fish and Game. In July, the Executive Council approved the sole-source contract to pay NH Audubon to continue monitoring several endangered state bird species, including the peregrine falcon, bald eagle and cliff swallow.
These state conservation efforts come as biodiversity has declined, both globally and locally. A report 2019 found that North America has lost 1 in 4 birds over the past 50 years, or 2.9 billion birds. A Audubon Report 2020 found that of New Hampshire’s 190 bird species, 80 are in decline.
While human impacts such as development and habitat destruction cause much of the loss, human intervention can also help species recover. Fish and Game and state conservation groups have focused on preserving habitats to enhance species survival.
“A lot of what we do is more habitat-focused than species-focused, because by focusing on habitats, we can benefit a whole bunch of different species, whether rare or common,” said Mike Marchand, wildlife biologist at New Hampshire Fish. and Game, which works with endangered and non-game species.
The state receives federal funding to do this work by creating a wildlife action plan every 10 years. The current plan began in 2015 and identifies 169 “species most in need of conservation”. Many species are birds, but New Hampshire Fish and Game does not have an avian specialist on staff, so they work with ornithologists at Audubon.
A great recovery
Regulating harmful chemicals has been another winning strategy when it comes to rehabilitating certain species. DDT, a synthetic insecticide widely used in the mid-20th century, was linked to the decline of birds of prey, such as osprey and eagles. Since it was banned in 1972, raptors — including bald eagles — have made an astonishing recovery in New Hampshire and across the country.
DDT created problems for raptors that ingested it, weakening their eggshells and preventing the birds from breeding successfully.
For a period of 40 years, bald eagles disappeared from New Hampshire, until a single pair began nesting at Lake Umbagog from 1988 to 1997. In 2021, the Audubon estimates there are 81 pairs of eagles in the state, and the population doubles. every 5 to 7 years. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list.
“Basically, the population has really exploded since we put them through this,” Marchand said.
In addition to banning DDT, Marchand said other conservation measures have contributed to the recovery of bald eagles, including working with private landowners to protect individual birds; install predator guards on trees (metal rings that prevent predators like raccoons from reaching nests); and protect land where eagles are likely to nest.
Even with the success of these efforts, ongoing monitoring and management is still needed, albeit reduced from what it once was, Marchand said. Because there are state and federal protections in place for eagles, the state needs to know where they live to help landowners and process permit applications.
Now the state hopes to replicate that success with other species, including the Hen Harrier.
“As we recover these species, we can, with limited resources, turn to the next species that need attention,” Marchand said.
In a monitoring project that began in 2019, Audubon found only one harrier nesting site in the state, in addition to two young birds at other sites.
Obtaining more information about harriers will help the state determine what steps to take to restore the species.