Scott Edwards paused his cross-country bike trip when he spotted a flash of black, white and red. It was a red-headed woodpecker. “I got my first good look today,” he said. He was phoning from his tent in Illinois later that night. He had seen their distinctive black and white wings while riding. “But I hadn’t seen the red head until today, so I was very excited.”
Edwards is an ornithologist — a bird researcher — at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Over this past summer, he rode across the United States. In part, he did it to see the country. But he also used the trip to do some serious bird-watching. That’s something he’s been doing for more than 40 years.
When he was growing up in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, in New York City, there were lots of trees, he recalls. When he was nine or 10, a neighbor took him bird-watching. Edwards has been doing it ever since. But finding those birds is getting more difficult. “It’s quieter,” he says of their songs and calls. “The numbers [of birds] are way down.”
And Edwards is hardly the only one to notice it. Scientists around the world have been finding the same thing.
A 2018 study by Bird Life International concluded that birds around the world are in trouble. There are about 11,000 species of birds. Four in every 10 species of them are decreasing in number, the study found. That’s true for all kinds of birds living in all types of habitats.
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