French bird populations declined by 30% because of human activity

European goldfinch, photo: Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash
European goldfinch, photo: Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash

Humans have caused a huge decline in France’s most common bird species, scientists warned on Monday. Conservation biologist Benoit Fontaine described the loss of birds as a “massacre”.

Between 1989 and 2019, over 2,000 French bird lovers monitored the nation’s 123 most common bird species through the Tracking Common Birds Over Time (STOC) program, sponsored by the French National Museum of Natural History.

Over a third of common French bird species are in decline, including the European goldfinch, the European turtle dove, the common house martin and 40 others, the museum reported.

Numbers dropped 30 percent in 30 years on farmlands and 28 percent in urban areas. The number of forest birds has fallen by 10 percent over the last three decades.

In 2018, Fontaine, who works at the museum, published a study detailing the decline. At the time, he said the French countryside was in the process of becoming a desert.

He blamed the use of powerful insecticides that ruin birds’ primary food source, along with the mechanization of farming and the clearing of land.

Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, the president of the French League for the Protection of Birds, hoped the findings would be part of the ongoing negotiations over the European Union’s common agricultural policy.

“If we don’t go far enough in fundamentally changing our methods (of farming), we won’t get out of this,” he said.

On top of farming and urban challenges, climate change is forcing some bird populations farther north, and hunting also threatens some species.

Animal rights organizations are working to ban the hunting of species considered endangered in France, as well as controversial traditional methods, such as trapping birds with glue.

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