Public attention towards declining populations of North American birds

Published: 21 April 2023| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/j4m4yk9ym9.1
Alex Huynh


Similar to many other animal taxa, bird species worldwide have experienced significant population declines in recent years. Assessing efforts to combat these losses and minimize species’ extinction risk is important in determining their efficacies as well as highlighting avenues for future change and funding. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species is the foremost global resource for monitoring and communicating conservation statuses of individual species. Public awareness is a key metric for evaluating such conservation work. We measured public interest towards 527 North American bird species spanning a range of Red List statuses and for which current population loss estimates were recently published by Rosenberg et al. (2019). We quantified trends in Google searches towards common and scientific species names using the Google Trends tool. Overall, a majority of these bird species (78%) have been increasingly Googled since 2004. However, contrary to prior studies, we found that the severity of IUCN Red List status was a negative predictor of Google searches. Interestingly, changes in IUCN Red List status seem to directly drive an immediate but brief spike in public awareness. Conversely, the most recent population loss estimates for these 527 species was a significant predictor of increasing Google searches, with species experiencing large population declines being Googled more. Together, these results highlight the importance of local, regional, and national conservation efforts as well as the importance and need for more frequent updates to the global IUCN Red List.


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Population size and loss estimates were originally published in: "Rosenberg, K.V., Dokter, A.M., Blancher, P.J., Sauer, J.R., Smith, A.C., Smith, P.A., Stanton, J.C., Panjabi, A., Helft, L., Parr, M. and Marra, P.P., 2019. Decline of the North American avifauna. Science, 366 (6461), 120-124." Historic Red List statuses were obtained from the IUCN Red List API. Google Trends data for both common and scientific names were collected from 527 species using the Google Trends tool. Results were averaged across 10 subsamples and corrected by dividing by the Google Trends results for the benchmark term "computer", also averaged across 10 subsamples.


Conservation Biology