On Sept. 19, the journal Science reported that North America's birds are disappearing from the skies at a shocking rate, with an estimated 3 billion birds lost since 1970.

Ellen Ketterson, a distinguished professor of biology at Indiana University and founding director of IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, has spent her career studying the diversity found among common birds as well as discoveries related to migration, hormones, evolution, and ecology. She is perhaps best known for her work with juncos.

“The year 1970 is when I chose to study a sparrow-like bird, the dark-eyed junco, for my thesis research,” Ketterson said. “One reason I chose to study juncos was because they were so abundant. Yesterday, the journal Science informed me that juncos are in precipitous decline. There are now 168 million fewer juncos in the world than there were when my studies began. My bird is losing out, and it is hardly alone.

“We are losing sparrows, warblers, and woodpeckers, too.  Birds from the eastern US, the grasslands, and the boreal forests are declining fast. In one generation—mine—we have 3 billion fewer birds. 

“Birdwatchers know that we depend on birds for ecological services like seed dispersal, pollination, as well as recreation. However, our collective impact on the environment will continue to decimate their numbers until we change our attitudes and behavior. The situation has passed from serious to critical.”

To speak with Ketterson, contact Jonathan Hines, Indiana University, [email protected], 812-856-3610.