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May 08, 2014 04:55 PM EDT

Environmental Dangers May Be Killing Off 'Teenage' Songbirds


About one-third of songbird species across North America are experiencing long-term declines, according to a recent study.

While researching potential causes for these population declines, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia found that songbirds are vulnerable to environmental dangers particularly when they are juveniles, shortly after they have left their parents' nests.

"Just like teenagers leaving home to live on their own for the first time, these juvenile birds are inexperienced and vulnerable to the outside world," Frank Thompson, a scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture and an associate cooperative professor in the university's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, said in a statement. "It is important for these young birds to find acceptable habitats and shelter for them to survive on their own. Therefore, it is important for conservationists to find ways to provide the right habitats for these birds to survive during what is an important, yet vulnerable, time in their development."

Thompson said juvenile songbirds often seek different types of habitats compared to their parents. They reportedly "often prefer denser foliage such as shrub land and young forest, compared to more open, older forests where their parents may have nested," according to a press release

"It is important for conservation groups and land managers to know exactly what types of habitats need to be provided in order to protect these birds," Thompson said. "Providing habitats needed by breeding adult birds won't make much of a difference if those birds don't survive long enough to reach adulthood because they don't have adequate shelter when they are young. This approach is part of a growing focus on full-cycle conservation for migrant song birds."

Thompson said there needs to be further study on this important life stage for songbirds in order to better understand specific causes for high mortality rates.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

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