Male Lesser Prairie Chicken

For many humans wild birds often go unnoticed, but their impact on our lives is significant. Birds consume millions of insects and other unwanted pests. Bird songs have inspired musicians and for many, watching the birds in their backyard in parks or on mountain trails brings joy.

The impact humans have on wild birds is even more significant. With our growing population humans have altered a once bird friendly environment into a human friendly environment. Some birds are able to adapt to the changes but most do not. The following are just a few examples of some bird species that have adapted and some that are struggling to adapt.

Rock Pigeons normally nest on cliff ledges, but have adapted to nesting on buildings which is one of the reasons pigeons are commonly seen in urban areas throughout the world. The House Finch is another bird that has adapted well. A native to western North America, the house finch was introduced in New York City in the early 1900’s and is now commonly seen throughout North America. House Sparrows, which most of us are very familiar with, adapted to the very beginnings of human agriculture around 10,000 years ago by growing slightly larger beaks to be able to consume the hard grains being grown. Bluebirds have always used old woodpecker cavities to nest. In the last century however, human deforestation for agriculture, housing and other uses eliminated many natural nest sites and threatened the bluebird’s survival. Fortunately, bluebirds adapted well to man-made birdhouses and now “bluebird trails” that provide nest boxes along many rural roadways have been established by conservationists throughout North America.

Many species like the Piping Plover in the eastern US and the Snowy Plover in the west have more difficulty adapting to changing habitat. These plovers rely on sandy beaches to nest and raise their young. Human activities on the limited beach habitat threaten the plovers survival. I visited some eastern beaches and was happy to see areas of the beach fenced off from human activity specifically to protect these cute nesting plovers.

The loss of native grasslands due to grazing, agricultural practices and climate change has significantly decreased the population of the Greater and Lesser Prairie-Chicken as well as other grassland birds that rely on this habitat. A few years ago I traveled to eastern New Mexico in search of the declining Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Unfortunately I did not have success. Hopefully restoration of grassland habitats will help to increase numbers of New Mexico’s Lesser-prairie Chicken and other grassland species.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.