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story.lead_photo.caption Henslow's sparrow perches during a summer month at Dunn Ranch near Eagleville, Missouri. Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation

Missouri has a land management plan to help protect declining populations of birds, including species of sparrow and warblers, the blue jay and red-headed woodpecker, the state's conservation department announced last week — though the plan is not a regulatory tool.

Sarah Kendrick, who is a wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the state's ornithologist, said the MDC's Missouri Bird Conservation Plan was "put together by a group of folks who have expertise in birds, to tell us which species are our most threatened, and what we can do with land management to help them."

Missouri's bird conservation plan — which includes 29 bird species out of about 335 species that are common in the state — was not initiated by a study recently published in the journal Science, according to a news release last week from the MDC.

A study on North American birds published in Science found birds' population on the continent has declined by 3 billion, or 29 percent, since 1970.

"This loss of bird abundance signals an urgent need to address threats to avert future (bird species') collapse and associated loss of ecosystem integrity, function and services," according to the study's abstract.

Kendrick said birds keep insects in check that could decimate crops "and certainly make our lives miserable with that many insects on the landscape." Birds such as vultures also remove disease from the environment when they consume dead animals.

"The recent study (published in Science) really helped to estimate the total net loss of birds, but bird conservationists have known there have been long-term declines for the last few decades," Kendrick said.

She said Missouri has previously not really had a conservation plan for birds that spend most of their lives on land, as opposed to water birds or water fowl.

Among threatened species people locally might recognize from their backyards, Kendrick said the blue jay is among those that have been hit hard by the West Nile virus. The common grackle, another species people may recognize, "they used to be poisoned on roosts, on their wintering grounds, so that's probably contributed (to their population losses)."

However, she said both of those species have adapted well to urban environments, "so they're really not our biggest concerns in the bird plan. However, things like eastern meadowlarks, birds that you see driving around open agricultural lands and grasslands, they have declined quite a bit.

"Our grassland birds are really the ones that have been hit the hardest and have the steepest declines," in addition to birds that take flight to hunt insects — birds such as swallows, fly-catchers and whip-poor-wills.

Kendrick listed many factors that could be at work against birds: a decline in insect populations, an increase in the use of pesticides, and changes in landscapes — the loss of timber and shrubby areas, but especially in agriculture, "with much larger farms and fewer fence rows and smaller fields" that used to provide nesting habitats.

The state's land management plan to help birds is mostly a mechanism for public awareness. "(The plan) wouldn't really change anything. It's not like we're setting regulations or putting restrictions on anyone. We're really just encouraging folks to consider a few ways that they could help birds at varying scales," Kendrick said.

"We don't outline the number of acres that we want increased or specifics like that. We tried to make it fairly general, so it would apply to public land managers as well as private land managers," she said.

"Over 90 percent of the state is in private land ownership, and so the conservation community cannot do this on their own, concentrating this management just on the areas that we oversee. We really do need the public's help, and land managers help, to really move this forward and make a difference for birds," Kendrick said.

She said the plan outlines what each identified and most threatened species needs to have breeding habitat.

"The public can reach out to a private land conservationist — we (the MDC) have those statewide — if they have property or land that they'd like to manage for birds in these ways," she said.

However, there are ways to be involved in bird conservation wherever someone lives or whether they own land, Kendrick said, and the MDC's news release outlines a few of them:

Plant native species of plants, especially popular ones that attract birds, including Virginia creeper, fragrant sumac, purple cornflower, spice bush and white oak. More information about native plants is available at grownative.org.

Make windows safe for birds, as collisions with windows and buildings kill an estimated 1 billion birds in the U.S. each year. Put small stickers on the outside of the glass or install screens or netting to break up the reflection of trees and other vegetation. Bright city lights at night can also attract birds into the sides of buildings. More solutions are available at abcbirds.org/get-involved/bird-smart-glass/.

Count birds. Aspiring citizen scientists can learn more at several websites: eBird, at ebird.org/science/status-and-trends; the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count, at audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count; the U.S. Geological Survey's Breeding Bird Survey, at pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/; and at birds.cornell.edu/citizenscience/about-the-projects/.

MDC's news release adds that waterfowl populations have increased 56 percent in the last 50 years.

"Waterfowl populations have increased because waterfowl hunters came together to raise funds and concentrate their voices for conservation," Kendrick said in the news release.

"Billions of donated dollars and federal funds changed waterfowl's trajectory. This is the call for a new group of bird lovers to use that model and do the same. Now is the time," she added.

Missouri's bird conservation plan was developed by employees of the MDC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, Missouri River Bird Observatory and U.S. Forest Service.

The plan had edits from the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Bird Conservation Initiative, Missouri Prairie Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever Quail Forever, L-A-D Foundation, and Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation.

This article was edited at 12:15 p.m. Oct. 24, 2019, to correct information about how common grackles have been poisoned in the past.

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