In September 2019, Science, America’s most prestigious scientific journal, announced a devastating study by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. It stated that since 1970, three billion North American birds have simply disappeared and not been replaced through breeding. Cornell is not alone – other respected surveys of birds have come to the same conclusion: we are losing them. No one can say how much further their numbers might fall if nothing is done to reverse the trend.
Birds are a particularly accurate measure of ecological changes because we can count them, and we do so very well. We have data on their populations going back 50 years; we monitor their migrations and numbers with radar and even satellites.
We should not give up hope. Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the effects on biodiversity of the pesticide DDT, was a clarion call for united effort and as a country we rose up and said “No!” DDT was cheap and effective, but not worth the damage it was doing to wildlife. We know governments can make a difference if people put pressure on them. Contact your elected representatives, and vote for candidates who show passion and coherent plans for saving the environment!
There are numerous individual efforts anyone can make to help birds:
Reduce the use of plastic. Plastic kills wildlife in countless ways. It takes 400 years to degrade, and most of it isn’t biodegradable at all. Stop buying plastic water bottles (bring a cup!), recycle plastic bags, reuse plastic utensils, and urge restaurants to stop using any kind of plastic (biodegradable options are out there). Get serious about recycling and always look for ways to get the plastic out of our environment.
Avoid Pesticides. Insects are an important source of food for birds. Studies have estimated that a huge portion of insect “biomass” in the world has also disappeared. Insecticides applied on an industrial scale obviously play a big role, but so do the pesticides used by ordinary citizens. Don’t use them, and don’t eat them yourselves. Buy organic whenever possible. Be sparing in your use of pesticides at home and in the garden.
Reduce bird strikes. 1 BILLION birds die every year after hitting windows. They do not see glass and are confused by reflections and night lights. Use screens, which break up the reflection, and stop leaving lights on all night outside. Night lights confuse migrating birds and mess with other animals biorhythms. There are films, stickers and other products that can be used on windows that will lessen the chance of birds crashing into them. Use bird-friendly glass that birds can see and avoid flying into it. Support public building design that doesn’t use reflective surfaces. Support zoning regulations that limit building height, as the taller the structure, the more birds crash into them.
Reduce lawns, put in native plants instead. Lawns and pavement use water and chemicals that we shouldn’t be using, and make our local climate even hotter. Native plants are easy to maintain, add beauty and interest to your property, and provide shelter and nesting areas for birds, butterflies, and many other species. Plant native trees and watch your house become cooler and your property values rise.
Drink coffee that’s good for birds. Coffee plantations typically grow coffee plants in the sun with major applications of fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation water, on clear cut land. Shade-grown coffee is grown in the shade provided by natural forest, without added water and fertilizer. Birds are abundant in the trees shading the coffee plant. Educate coffee shops and grocery stores about shade-grown coffee, which has deeper flavor and aroma. Look for Bird Friendly coffee, an official certification that includes organic standards.
CATS. We love our pets. But free-ranging cats not only face outdoor dangers, but they kill 2.6 billion birds every year in North America. It’s instinctive for cats to kill birds, and they can’t stop doing it, even when they are well-fed. So don’t let them do it. Keep them in. Support plans for capture and neutering feral cats, to slow down their population growth. Look into products like Catio to keep cats safe.
Step up for conservation projects. Whenever you see a project to protect wildlife areas, support it, LOUDLY. We need green areas for ourselves, as well as for wildlife and nature. We know that city life isn’t good for us, and it’s time we did more about it.
Watch birds, and report it out. We need thousands of people to report what they are seeing, and there are many ways to do it. “Ebird” is an online way to do it, and participate in the bird surveys that are happening all over the country. Your local Audubon Society, which focuses on wildlife preservation and nature education, conducts bird surveys regularly, and can include you in their count.
It’s not too late to turn this trend around. We have done it before, and we can do it again. But every one of us has to take up the challenge. Many of the ways suggested are things you do anyway, so all you have to do is step up your game. Make your voice heard in every arena, and MAKE A NOISE. We never want to face another Silent Spring.
Click HERE to check out items to birdstrike-proof your windows.
Click HERE to learn more about Catios for giving your pet some freedom without threatening birds.
Click HERE to start learning about alternatives to plastic in the home.
Click HERE to learn about organic pesticides, and how easy it is to make your own!
Click HERE to learn how to create a beautiful garden using California native plants.
(SFVAS does not endorse any seller or product — these links are intended only to demonstrate their availability)