Endangered Birds: Their Future Foretells Your Future
This article is about solutions.
First, there’s a general introduction that answers questions most people will have.
After that, each part begins with a description of what’s happening followed by solutions.
Silent changes are especially troublesome.
First, they’re easy to miss. And second, they can surprise you.
For example, consider endangered birds.
Birds disappear silently.
Although it’s difficult to know exact numbers, there are two categories that matter.
Almost 40 birds have become extinct in the Americas since about 1800. The number could be larger, except birds don’t call in to report when the last member of their species disappears.
These birds became extinct because of human activity that: a) Changed / Eliminated their environment, or b) Killed them.
The American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory have compiled a State of the Birds Watch List. More information appears in Bird Conservation, a book published by the American Bird Conservancy.
The first question everybody asks is: Why bother?
Birds react first.
Birds are more sensitive to environmental changes than people are. So they serve as an indication of what might happen to humans.
For example, long ago coal miners took a canary with them into the mine. If the canary died, they knew that dangerous levels of methane were present and it was time to leave.
Birds perform essential functions.
Birds control insects and vermin. They pollinate flowers. They spread seeds.
Thus, they are are an essential part of nature.
Without them, many things that we depend upon would not happen.
Birds inspire people.
Birds have intrinsic beauty.
Their songs have moved people to create music. Their actions have moved people to write books. Their colors have moved people to produce art.
These creative works are part of our legacy as humans.
Birds are good for the economy.
Bird enthusiasts contribute over $36 Billion to the US economy in retail sales annually. This includes money spent on books, binoculars, bird food, travel, and other birding expenses.
In turn, this has generated over $85 Billion in economic benefits and created over 860,000 jobs.
Note: Since these numbers came from reports published in 2006 and 2009, all of them are most likely higher today.
Every creature needs the same things to survive.
They need habitat, food, and water. If any of these are removed, the creature suffers.
Every wild creature also lives within a complex ecosystem where everything influences everything else. Interruption of any part of this system can be disturbing and sometimes fatal for the species within it.
The following are the main causes of species decline, followed by solutions.
Three types of habitat change harm birds.
Areas are cleared for urban development, agriculture, or resource removal (e.g., logging and mining). This deprives birds of a place to live.
Replacing natural habitat with lawns (and even public parks, golf courses, and such) does not work. It lacks the environmental diversity needed for birds (and other wild animals) to thrive.
Areas are divided into pieces too small or too far apart to support a species. Most species of birds require a minimum area to find enough food. In addition, the number of males and females living in an area must be sufficient to form mated pairs.
Areas are altered, removing food sources or materials, that birds need to survive.
For example, cutting down old trees removes nest sites for woodpeckers. Without nest sites, woodpeckers don’t reproduce. Then birds (such as Bluebirds, Wrens, and Swallows) that use cavities made by woodpeckers don’t reproduce. Thus, one simple action, such as removing old trees, destroys an entire sequence of birds.
These large scale solutions do more than help birds. They make communities more attractive, healthy, interesting, and valuable.
For example, studies have shown that people are happier and more productive when they live in an environment that contains trees.
Here’s what to do:
1) Plan communities and agricultural areas to allow migration corridors.
2) Design communities to include habitat areas that support the bird species that live in the area. These areas need to be large enough and connected to other areas to be effective.
3) Cut and trim trees only when absolutely necessary.
4) Perform tree trimming during those times that are safe for birds. It is especially important to stop any tree trimming when birds are building nests.
Want to Know More?
Visit the American Bird Conservancy web site.
You’ll find information about birds at risk, what threatens them, and practical things that can be done to save them.
Pesticides, which includes herbicides, are especially deadly. Birds are more sensitive to these toxins. They are also affected by contact with things (such as bugs or plants) that have been treated. These chemicals either kill the bird directly or disrupt an essential life process.
Bait used to kill vermin also kills birds that prey on vermin. In some cases, poisons kill an entire food chain.
Rodenticides are especially bad. First, these chemicals take days to kill a rodent. During that time, the animal moves more slowly than normal, thereby making it easier for a bird or animal (such as raccoons, foxes, and outdoor pets) to catch it. Thus, poisoned rodents are more likely to kill the animals that prey on them.
Note: Your pets will live longer when they are kept indoors.
Birds die when when they become trapped in litter (fishing lines, six-pack packaging, and so on).
Birds also die when they eat trash (either directly or indirectly) that clogs their digestive system. For example, birds die after eating fish that have consumed bits of floating plastic.
Toxins and Trash: Solutions
Toxins harm everyone.
Some common, commercially available toxins are especially insidious because they accumulate in human tissue. Then they cause cancer or a life degrading illness, perhaps decades later.
Solutions – Chemicals
1) Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Recognize that children and pets are likely to contact these chemicals when they are outside. Then they can become very sick.
2) Avoid using poisons to kills rodents. These poisons kill everything – the pest and the entire food chain related to the pest.
3) When possible, encourage owls to live in the area, often by setting out nest boxes or by protecting their nests. Owls catch large numbers of rodents. For example, a single Barn Owl family will eat 3,000 rodents during a single four-month breeding cycle.
Contact The Hungry Owl Project for info on using owls to control rodents.
As a second option, use traps for rodent control. At least these don’t poison the environment.
Solutions – Trash
1) Always dispose of trash properly. This leaves public areas looking attractive and avoids the cost of litter clean up. Destroy dangerous trash such as six-pack holders. Put string, fishing line, and Easter grass in trash containers that cannot be opened by birds (or animals).
2) When practical, pick up trash.
The following two assumptions have served as a foundation for most decisions regarding the environment.
While it’s understandable how people could have reached these assumptions, both of them are obsolete today.
Assumption #1: Infinite Planet
In the past, people considered the Earth to be infinite. That seemed logical because everything seemed endless.
And so people gathered resources without considering replacement or renewal. They discarded trash without considering where it went.
We now realize that the Earth is finite.
This means it has finite space, finite resources, and finite resilience.
Assumption #2: Human Superiority
Somehow we have misunderstood our relationship with our environment.
In the past, it was expected that we would dominate.
But domination implies absolute rule, even to the point of exploitation.
We now know that unlimited exploitation will destroy the environment that we depend upon for our survival.
We need to change the assumptions that govern our major decisions. This is warranted because every life support system in the environment is showing signs of stress.
We need two new assumptions.
1) The planet is finite. Thus, we need to manage our environment as if it were a precious, finite resource.
2) We are responsible caretakers. Thus, we need to protect and preserve our environment the way we would care for our children.
Global warming will affect everyone, including birds.
These include: 1) Rising sea waters, which would flood coastal areas and encroach into fresh water zones, 2) Rising temperatures, which would make some areas unsuitable for the crops that grow there, and 3) Rising probabilities of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and tornados.
All of these threaten birds, as well as the future demands of a large human population.
Global warming is old science that has been known for almost a century. In 1976 I worked with scientists at a major oil company who were talking about global warming.
Unfortunately, global warming has become a political issue.
Right now there exists an aggressive movement to mislead and confuse the public.
The sponsors of this movement have sent trained (and paid) agitators to disrupt town hall meetings. They have donated huge amounts of money to political candidates who support their efforts. They have hired consultants to invent new vocabularies that hide the true meaning of important terms.
For example, the term “global warming” has been replaced with “climate change.” This simple change makes global warming seem like a natural event, rather than a man-caused problem.
This movement is being funded by a small group of very rich corporations. Their goal is to stop renewable energy programs and thereby maintain dependence on fossil fuels so that they can continue to profit from selling them.
The astonishing part of this is: More money can be made by changing to an economy based on renewable energy.
Global Warming: Solutions
Suppose your friends told you that they heard a strange noise coming from the engine of your car.
What would you do?
For example, would you drive faster?
Would you ridicule your friends for pointing this out?
Would you deny that strange noises were possible?
I doubt it.
Most likely you would fix the problem before it ruined your car.
For decades, environmental scientists have been warning us that current actions are harming the environment. And instead of being welcomed, these scientists have been attacked.
We need to change this.
1) Vote for politicians who support protecting the environment. (Ideally, some day all politicians will compete over who would do the most to protect the environment.)
2) Support organizations that work to protect the environment. See the Organizations that I support.
In early 2012, Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi expressed concerns about climate change, saying “societal expectations on climate change are real, and our industry is expected to take a leadership role.”
Al-Naimi also explained the need to support new energy industries that can create more jobs than the oil sector: “We know that pumping oil out of the ground does not create many jobs. It does not foster an entrepreneurial spirit, nor does it sharpen critical faculties.”
Then in early May 2012, Saudi Arabia announced a plan to spend $100 Billion over the next 20 years to build solar energy systems for their domestic use.
Just a short while ago, our planet had a vast, rich ecosystem.
Imagine: Rain Forests, Tall Grass Prairies, Clean Water, Abundant Fish, Wild Animals . . . everything living together in a sustainable balance.
Now most of this is gone.
And the destruction continues.
So the birds want to know: When does this stop?
Birds have lived for millions of years and will most likely find a way to survive whether we change anything or not.
They don’t care if rising sea water floods coastal cities. They don’t care if our agriculture dies from high temperatures. They don’t care about our economy.
Birds will find a way to survive. They know how to find food, migrate, and make more birds.
I wrote this article for us.
Because if we continue to do what we’ve been doing, it’s very unlikely that all seven or eight or nine billion of us will be able to survive.
Right now the birds are trying to warn us.
While their disappearance has been silent, the environmental changes that cause their disappearance are beginning to yell.
There are disturbing indications everywhere – from severe weather events to increased ocean acidity to mercury contamination in fish – that show we are headed toward trouble.
We need to pay attention and begin making changes.
Then we can thank the birds for their help.
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See photos of Watchlist Birds: Birds at Risk