Pesticides and Birds

Helicopter spraying pesticides by FWS

Helicopter spraying pesticides by FWS


The Challenge

The United States uses one-fifth of the five billion pounds of pesticides used each year. These chemicals are applied on agricultural lands and in homes, backyards, schools, and businesses. In addition to targeting insects, many of these toxic chemicals also pose severe risk to birds, killing them outright or causing decreased breeding success, physical malformations, or impaired ability to migrate or to avoid predators. It is now almost impossible to find any place on the planet where pesticide residues are not detectable.


ABC Conservation Framework

Pesticides' effects on birds are broad and far reaching. Efforts to limit their impacts fall under the Eliminating Threats section of ABC's Conservation Framework
pyramid icon threats


Primary Birds Impacted

Birds that breed, winter in or migrate through agricultural areas such as American Crows, Dickcissels, and Bobolinks are at significant risk from direct contact with pesticides. A 2013 study led by a preeminent Canadian toxicologist identifies acutely toxic pesticides as the most likely leading cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the United States. Raptors such as Peregrine Falcons, eagles, owls, and hawks are at risk of accumulating high chemical concentrations in their bodies when they feed on poisoned prey. Ultimately, all birds in the United States are at risk from pesticide poisoning.



ABC's Pesticides Program aims to protect wild birds and other wildlife from hazardous pesticides.

Strategies include:

  • Work to cancel or restrict registrations of the most dangerous pesticides.

  • Improve evaluation and monitoring of pesticides and their effects on birds, and ensure that the knowledge gained is used to improve the regulatory process.

  • Develop and support cutting-edge science.

  • Engage the public and other non-profit organizations, and serve as an information and advocacy hub.



ABC Results

ABC Results Button

Over the past decade, ABC has been at the forefront of campaigns to cancel over a dozen pesticides that are particularly harmful to birds, including carbofuran, fenthion, chlorfenapyr, ethyl parathion, and a suite of rodent poisons. These combined restrictions have allowed bird deaths from pesticide poisonings to drop dramatically from an estimated 67 million birds per year in 1992 to perhaps fewer than 15 million per year today.  

ABC Results Button

ABC has spearheaded the effort to rein in the use of super-toxic rat poisons, given the devastating impacts on children, pet dogs and cats, and federally-protected raptors including hawks, owls, and eagles. In 2013, EPA issued its notice of intent to cancel these products, which are sold under the brand name “d-CON.” The manufacturer, British-based multinational conglomerate Reckitt Benckiser, refuses to comply. ABC is taking legal action to support the US EPA in landmark administrative proceedings.

ABC Results Button

In 2013, ABC produced the state-of-the-art review on impacts of the most widely used class of insecticides, nicotine-like chemicals called neonicotinoids, on birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife. ABC commissioned a world renowned environmental toxicologist to conduct the research. The 100-page report, “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds,” reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The report includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.

ABC Results Button ABC and more than 20 partner groups formed the National Pesticide Reform Coalition (NPRC) to increase collaboration between conservation organizations on pesticide issues and their effectiveness at influencing regulatory decisions. ABC coordinates this group, whose members have worked together to successfully push for the cancellation or restriction of more than 20 pesticides in the United States.
ABC Results Button ABC created the Avian Incident Monitoring System (AIMS), a freely available on-line database used by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal and state regulatory agencies. AIMS is a centralized source for reliable field data on lethal and sub-lethal effects of pesticides on birds.


What Next?

What Next Button Continue to block or restrict EPA’s registration of pesticides scientifically documented as posing unreasonable risks to birds and the environment.
What Next Button Work to end the use of dangerous pesticides beyond US borders and to protect migratory birds on their wintering grounds and stop-over sites.
What Next Button

Improve pesticide incident field data available to regulatory agencies, industry, conservation groups, and the public.

Take Action
  • Buy organic food and shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee.

  • Avoid using d-CON rat poisons, lawn chemicals, and other pesticide products, such as those containing the neonicotinoid insecticides imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam.

  • Remove containers of stagnant water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your backyard.

  • Shift away from buying brands sold by Reckitt Benckiser (manufacturer of d-CON), a multinational conglomerate that is fighting the EPA to keep its super-toxic rat poisons on the consumer market.
  • Notify local authorities when you find dead or dying birds.

  • Make your voice heard. Go to ABC’s action site.