Condors and Condoms
What does birth control have to do with birds?
Birds aren’t having a good week. A new study found that North America has lost more than a quarter of its bird population in the past 50 years. Populations in all habitat types except wetlands have declined. And there were losses in nearly all types of birds.
As bird populations have declined, human population has ballooned, along with our demand for food and other resources. This isn’t a coincidence.
Important bird habitat, like grasslands, has been converted into agricultural land. The pesticides used on crops are also to blame. Urbanization, especially in coastal areas, can pose another threat as cities expand and new developments crowd out bird populations.
This has all added up to catastrophic declines for most bird species — except for waterfowl and raptors, which have actually experienced population growth in the past half century.
So, what do these birds have going for them that others don’t? How are they bucking the trend of decline? These species aren’t specially adapted or doing something distinctive to survive. Despite the human-caused threats these birds face, they’re thriving because humans have committed to helping them.
Conservation efforts like protected wetland habitat have helped ducks and geese. These protections came about because hunters spoke out to ensure populations were healthy.
Raptors like iconic bald eagles have bounced back after important protections like the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act were put into place and after the toxic pesticide DDT was banned in the United States. And California condors are the poster-children (poster-chicks?) for captive breeding programs.
By the mid-1980s there were less than thirty California condors in the wild. Those remaining were captured to start a breeding program. Less than 10 years later, condors were already being released back into the wild. By 2008, there were more birds in the wild than in captivity, and this summer the program celebrated its one thousandth chick hatching.
Conservation success stories like this are crowd-pleasers because they’re nice reminders of how we can work together to fix the problems we’ve caused. But these programs are only successful when there is still enough habitat left to release species back into.
Human population growth is a main driver of habitat loss. With more people, we need more space and resources to support them, and wildlife pay the price.
One of the most successful ways to address population growth is to reduce unplanned pregnancies and support reproductive healthcare. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, but with better sex education and universal access to all forms of birth control, we can ensure everyone has the ability to choose if and when they want children.
To help achieve that, we’re celebrating World Contraception Day today. It’s a day dedicated to improving awareness of all contraceptive methods available and enabling young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health.
The Center is marking the day by honoring the birds we love and the challenges they face. We’re unveiling our newest Endangered Species Condoms design featuring the California condor and the slogan “Before your clothes hit the floor, think of the California condor.” They’ll be handed out at college campuses across the country as a helpful reminder of how much our choices affect the world around us and all of the species we share it with.