Causes of the Decline of Songbird Populations
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Causes of the Decline of Songbird Populations

What is killing off the songbirds? Why are there fewer songbirds now than years ago? Are house cats solely responsible for the decline in the numbers of songbirds? Perhaps we should look at human activity before we blame cats for killing the beloved songbirds. Learn some of the ways in which human activity has changed the planet and made life hard for songbirds.

Are you blaming cats for the decrease in the numbers of songbirds? While cats do take there toll on songbird populations they are not the major contributing factor to the decline of songbirds.  There are many things to blame for the decline of songbird populations.

Other Birds

In the United States, and Canada, cowbirds once followed the massive herds of bison that roamed freely across the lands. The cowbirds followed the herds so were unable to sit on a nest to raise their own young, rather they learned how to lay their eggs in the nest of another bird for that bird to raise. Initially this was not a concern for the songbirds as the songbirds nested deep in the forests, but as when settlers started slaughtering bison herds, and removing large forests, this all changed. The smaller forests meant the songbird nests were more accessible for the cowbirds who soon started nesting in them; their off spring typically out competing the real youngster – often pushing it from the nest. It should be noted that cowbirds do not enter bird houses to lay their eggs so this is one way home owners can help songbirds.

Other birds such as Starlings, Magpies, and Crows, take their share of young songbirds. They are known to stand on top of a birdhouse mimicking the parent birds until the youngster pokes its head out at which time the mimicker will snatch it and eat it.

Lack of Forests

A study done in Alabama, in the late 1990's showed that smaller forests meant that egg eating animals such as raccoons and opossums had increased access to the nests of more songbirds than in the past. With 20% of songbirds being ground nesting birds, there is clearly an issue of concern.

World wide deforestation also affects the nesting of birds as fewer trees mean fewer places for nesting. When trees are cut near a nesting area many birds abandon their nests. Most people do not see the massive effects of deforestation as it often happens in remote areas, even on the backside of mountains where people do not notice, and in sparsely populated areas such as the Amazon.

Deforestation in Central, and South America, where many of North America's song birds spend the winter, has also been blamed for the decline; note that deforestation is not only do harvest trees, but also to make way for coffee, and cattle.

In some areas large forests no longer exist, by larger I mean more than 500 acres, it has been observed that songbirds soon left area.

©by author - where do we expect songbirds to live?

Disruption of Grasslands

Not all songbirds are forest loving, many, such as the Meadowlark and Bobolink, have also declined in population. The main suspected cause is more disturbances of grassland areas, more roads, more traffic, housing, and even dogs, have been a linked to the decline of some of these birds.

Migration Paths Destroyed

The Florida panhandle, down through Texas and into the Yucatan, have been so developed that there is little space for migrating birds to stop and refuel while on their migration to and from Central and South America.


While many areas now ban chemicals that we know kill songbirds, they are still in use in some countries. These chemicals are mostly used to kill insects but have been linked to the deaths of songbirds as well. Some chemicals still in use in agriculture are suspected of adversely affecting song bird populations.

Sky Scrapers and Wind Turbines

One of the biggest killers of songbirds has been skyscrapers in cities along bird migration paths. At night songbirds use the stars to navigate, they do not fly particularly high, and whether or not they are confused by the lights in the buildings or what is unclear, but thousands may be killed per night by smashing into buildings during migration. Cities often employ early morning cleaners to remove the dead birds outside the buildings.

Recently wind turbines have also been accused of killing migrating songbirds, knocking them out of the sky.


North Americans once hunted the passenger pigeon to extinction, hunting of songbirds still continues today, mostly in Cyprus, southern Europe, Pakistan, and some areas of Africa. The birds are netted and served as a delicacy. This is illegal in some areas but still continues.

Climate Change

Climate change has put songbird populations at risk too, drought, freezing temperatures, and so forth, have all be a factor in reducing the numbers of songbirds, either directly by killing them, or by killing the insects, or plants, they need to feed upon.


Yes house cats do take there share of songbirds, it cannot be denied, but overall the bulk of the reasons why songbirds are in decline is ultimately human cased, for which it seems house cats are taking the blame.

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Comments (7)
Ranked #10 in Birds

Nature is going away from us. It is deplorable. Thank you dear Brenda.

When I was a kid, I used to love the sound of the Meadowlark. And we used to hear them all the time even here in the city. Now I never hear them and rarely hear them even out on the high plains of Colorado or Kansas.

Ranked #3 in Birds

Yes, just over the past few years the number of cowbirds has increased tremendously.


I used to hear meadowlark too, I haven't heard one in years now. I had never heard that birds navigate by the stars, that's pretty amazing. When I think of all of the amazing instincts that animals have, I wonder if humans used to have more instincts? We (speaking for myself, anyway) would not survive long in the wild.

Very well described about this endangered species.

We have the same problem here in the U.K Brenda, and yes cats do get the blame, we have nine million domestic cats on our small island and that is not counting the large populations of feral and working cats. But we can also blame farmers and all their nasty sprays and gardners for no longer growing hedges and garden flowers. So many birds from my childhood have now disappeared, it's sad.