Amid steep global bird declines, farmers create refuges

New research finds that certain farming practices are benefiting some types of birds, underscoring the influence agriculture can have on important species at a time when bird populations around the world are in decline. 

Farms that make use of smaller plots, varied crops, and tracts of forest, are helping boost bird populations in Costa Rica, scientists wrote in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings add to previous evidence that diversified farming is an important conservation tool, said co-author and Stanford University researcher Nicholas Hendershot. 

“There is a really huge benefit for biodiversity from these diversified farming practices,” he said. 

Hendershot and his colleagues determined that over 18 years, bird species living on diversified Costa Rica farms were more likely than those in forests to have increasing, rather than decreasing populations. The varied crops and natural features on diversified farms provide a home for the birds and for insects and other animals that birds eat, said Hendershot.

On intensified farms, which generally plant only one crop and make use of high amounts of pesticides, the only species of birds thriving long-term were those that were adapted to highly-degraded landscapes, indicating the importance of diversified farms to provide habitat for other bird species, he said.