Monday, November 02, 2009

Declining Bird Populations of Narragansett Bay

I was struck by Mary Grady's story in this month's Rhode Island Monthly on declining marine bird populations on Narragansett Bay. Read it here: http://www.rimonthly.com/Rhode-Island-Monthly/November-2009/Bye-Bye-Birdies/

Here's an excerpt from the article:

"The numbers of several maritime bird species that breed in Narragansett Bay have dropped significantly in the last five to ten years, according to annual surveys conducted by the state Department of Environmental Management. Great egrets, for example, the tall, elegant white birds often seen foraging in shallow coves fringing the Bay, peaked at 251 nesting pairs in 2003, and in 2008 were down to 148 pairs. Their smaller relatives, the snowy egrets, showed an even steeper drop, from 330 pairs in 1979 to just fifty-three pairs in 2008."

These steep declines in Bay bird populations are alarming. The story discusses the various explanations for the decline, but no one really knows for sure why this is happening.

One theory I have is that it is related to menhaden populations. The numbers of juvenile menhaden, or peanut bunker, have declined dramatically in recent years. I'll bet that those comprise a major source of forage for wading birds like egrets and herons. Cormorants, which have continued to increase in number, can probably catch many other fish species more easily and in deeper water.

This story underscores the need to invest in environmental monitoring, including keeping track of bird and fish populations. It provides critical information to resource managers, and helps us to protect the diversity and health of the Bay and its connected systems. JT

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