Addressing problems we’re having with the loss of birds probably doesn’t mean much to our personal everyday lives. But as a species, they’re essential to our ability to sustain our own human species. While the solutions may feel global, we can do a lot as individuals. Comments afterwards.
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These tiny creatures are
losing their battle to survive.
Here’s what we can do to save them.
Fri April 21, 2022
The Rufous Hummingbird is magical. The male’s iridescent throat glows brighter than a shiny copper penny and like most hummingbirds, whizzes through the air curiously hovering right in front of humans who ponder them. The first time Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy, saw one, it was feeding on blossoms of a lemon tree in California. Parr says, with awe and reverence …
“It was just one of those other-worldly
sites. It was almost like a religious
experience. When they just turn their
head and suddenly their throat
catches the light – it lights up
with this amazing color. It’s
just magical, really. It just
lights up like a beacon.”
They are one of the smallest hummingbirds at just over 3 inches long – but one of the feistiest.
They fly an astonishing 3,900 miles (one-way) from Alaska where they live in the summer to Mexico – one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world compared to its body size, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Californians enjoy them in the spring and Rocky Mountain residents in the fall as the birds feed on flower nectar and tiny insects in high mountain meadows, backyard flowers and hummingbird feeders.
But the Rufous hummingbird, like hundreds of other species, is teetering on the edge.
Birds are the “canary in a coal mine”
The Rufous hummingbird lost two-thirds of its population since 1970, according to the 2022 State of the Birds report. These tiny creatures are one of 70 bird species on the “Tipping Point” list that will lose another fifty percent of their populations in the same time frame if conservation doesn’t improve. That list includes such flying beauties as the Golden-winged warbler with its stunning yellow cap and black mask.
The reasons, scientists say, are multi-fold: habitat loss from climate change and human development, glass collisions, invasive species (domestic cats) and pesticides; many of the same reasons all wildlife globally have plummeted.
One reason, says Parr, is their losses are a harbinger oSo why should we care that birds are disappearing?f what human beings face, too.Enter your email to subscribe to the CNN Five Things Newsletter.
“Birds are the canary in the coal mine.
We’re seeing evidence of some ecolo-
gical collapse in North America
as evidenced by loss of birds.”
Birds rely on nature just as we do – for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, says Parr. As they lose habitat – from large stands of native forest, to open meadows, wetlands and marshes – we too are losing those resources.
“So as things start to unravel, if
biological diversity and climate
change both unravel simultane-
ously, the natural world around
us that we depend on so much
may not be as dependable
as we’d like it to be.”
A second reason – birds are essential to our ecosystem. They pollinate flowers and disperse seeds. They eat insects and rodents keeping those populations in check.
Third, they are just beautiful – filling our sky with bird song although a little less every year. Parr says …
“We don’t want to see birds dis-
appear. So, rather than waiting
until the last second, from a con-
servationist point of view – you
just don’t want to see the bird get
there in the first place. Unfortunately,
wildlife doesn’t have its own voice.”
Things you can do to help save birds from extinction
Problem: Glass collisions
Solution: Decals or bird-friendly glass
Nearly 1 billion birds die every year in the United States due to collisions with glass. Birds see a reflection of sky and trees and think it’s habitat they can fly into. Birds not only hit high-rise office buildings but home windows as well. In fact, nearly half of all collisions occur at home windows according to the American Bird Conservancy. Collisions are most frequent during spring and especially fall migration but happen year-round.
The good news is there are ways to prevent these deaths. You can add see-through decals that are peel-on/peel-off, to your windows. Most reflect ultraviolet light – which we can’t see but really stands out for most birds. You don’t necessarily need to put them on all your windows, says Parr.
“You can usually identify the windows
which are the most problematic.”
The American Bird Conservancy has labs which have tested products and deemed them bird-friendly.
Also, if you are building a new home or having windows installed, you can install bird-safe glass. Many birding groups are working at the national level to promote bird-friendly building designs and “lights-out” nights during high migration periods.
Problem: Pesticides / habitat-poor lawns
Solutions: Organic gardening, planting native
vegetation, setting aside wild areas
Many birds eat insects, but a huge die-out of insect populations worldwide is making food scarcer. Parr says instead of pesticides and herbicides, let birds do their job to eat insects and grass seed in your garden. Parr says …
“Birds are pretty good pesticides.
They eat a lot of insects.
On a larger scale, conservation groups are fighting the use of neonicotinoids or “neonics” – a pesticide used not only on crops but engineered into seeds and used in some backyard plants.
“It’s preventing birds from feeding.
If a bird eats the seed, there can be
enough on there to actually poison
the bird directly. But the bigger
effect is the lack of insects.”
Parr says it’s important to look at labels when buying products for your lawn or ask landscape companies what’s in the products they use.
You can create more habitat for birds by planting native species and not overly tidying your yard.
“Birds look in little nooks and
crannies for food. They like shelter
– they need a place to hide from predators.”
Parr says that means leaving the leaves and not being so quick to take down dead wood or trees if they’re not going to cause a safety issue. Woodpeckers love them and Red-headed woodpeckers are also on the Tipping List and rapidly declining.
“We’ve got an obsession with mowing
grass and keeping everything tidy.
Nature’s not tidy and so if you can
tolerate some untidiness in your yard
– maybe you can find a part of your
yard that you’re gonna let be native
and let the grass grow a bit. That’s
gonna be better for wildlife, especially
if you’re not using pesticides.
“Nature is messy. Let it be messy.
There’s a beauty in there.”
In recent years, conservation-minded landscapers came up with new visions of what yards can look like. They’re a far cry from the 1950’s suburban green carpet look of highly manicured, water-thirsty lawns. That’s especially true out west in places like Arizona and California where they’re dealing with worsening droughts.
Problem: Invasive species – outdoor cats
Solution: Keep your cat indoors
Free-roaming domestic cats pose serious threats to native wildlife according to multiple studies from the USDA and conservation scientists worldwide. They kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds every year in the US alone, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Multiple bird conservation groups say cat predation is by far the largest source of direct, human-caused mortality to birds. Parr says …
“Cats and the collisions are the two
that kill the most birds every year.”
But we can do something about it.
“Keep your cat indoors. It’s often
quite difficult to encourage your
neighbors to keep their cat
indoors, but you can try.”
Conservation groups encourage special fencing to prevent cats from straying too far. They also recommend “catios” – open air patios where cats are contained. There are products you can put on cats that make it much harder for them to chase prey.
Not all doom and gloom
Advocates are working every day to save habitat at a macro level in the US and worldwide. As a result of public/private partnerships, they’ve managed to increase populations of ducks, geese and swans in the last twenty years by protecting and cleaning up watersheds and wetlands. Those moves benefit humans too, providing more water runoff areas, less flooding and cleaner ground water.
You can also help fight for the survival of bird species by donating to these groups: American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society and International Bird Rescue. Parr says …
“We have some responsibility to manage
the planet as we found it. We’re expand-
ing our influences, changing the nature
of planet Earth and I feel like there’s a
responsibility we all have to not mess it up
completely. It’s gonna take a village, you
know, everybody’s got to pull their weight”
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While this article has many helpful specifics, here are comments from D …
“It is hard to imagine a world without birds. The joy of hearing their chirping. The need for the birds to spread seed and to pollinate is necessary for human survival. We many times do not stop to think that our own habits can hurt other species.
“American lawns have no life. They have few bugs for birds or other animals. They need regular watering and, in many places, chemicals to keep them green. We would love to see the loss of the need for a perfect green empty lawn. It is easy to begin by taking up some lawn and putting in trees, bushes, or gardens. The more native plants one can put in, the more you make droughts less devastating. Native plants will also give birds more variety.
“You can also choose to feed birds to help supplement their diets. Watching birds, hearing birds, and following which birds show up in your feeder can be a beautiful form of relaxation or even a form of meditation.”
Garden Atriums has a new 1-minute “Tips Video” that can be seen in a number of places, including www.gardenatriums.com, or go to You Tube and, in their search function, type in “the garden atriums,” look for the “Tips Videos.” Click on the “Sustainable Landscaping” video. You can see examples of handsome alternatives to lawns. (Ours is more beautiful than a grass lawn, needs no watering whatever, and virtually no maintenance – just a few minutes of trimming once or twice a year.)