Endangered Birds: Their Future Foretells Your Future


This article is about solutions.

First, there’s an Introduction that answers questions most people will have.

After that, each part begins with a description of what’s happening followed by solutions.

Note: References and links to more information appear at the end of this article.


White-headed Woodpecker, Male, (c) Photo by Steve Kaye, in Endangered Birds

White-headed Woodpecker, Male, on the American Bird Conservancy “Watch List” of Birds at Risk


Introduction to Endangered Birds


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.

Extinct Birds

These birds are gone because of human activity that: a) Changed / Eliminated their environment, or b) Killed them.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, 103 bird species have gone extinct during the past 200 years [ 1 ]. And according to Wikipedia, over 190 bird species have gone extinct since 1500 [ 2 ].

Endangered Birds

These birds are at risk. If their populations continue to decline, they will become extinct.

There are now 1,469 bird species threatened with extinction, and 40% of the World’s birds have gone into decline [ 3 ].


Why Should We Care about Endangered Birds?


The first question everybody asks is: Why bother?

Here’s why:

Birds react first.

Birds serve as indicators of environmental health.

Since they are more sensitive to environmental changes than people, they serve as an indication of what might happen to humans.

Birds perform essential functions.

Birds help manage insects and vermin. They pollinate flowers. They spread seeds.

Thus, they are are an essential part of nature’s ecosystem.

Birds inspire people.

Birds have intrinsic beauty: They have moved people to create music, write books, and produce art.

These creative works are part of our positive 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.


Osprey, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in Article: Endangered Birds

Osprey – Audubon projects that this bird will lose 79% of its current summer range by 2080


What Causes Endangered Birds?


Every creature needs the same things to survive.

They need sufficient 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.


Cause #1: Habitat & Endangered Birds


Three types of habitat change harm birds.

– Loss

Land areas are cleared for urban development, agriculture, or resource removal (e.g., logging and mining). This deprives birds of a place to live.

Lawns and farms lack the environmental diversity needed for birds (and other wild animals) to thrive. And when pesticides are used, these areas cease to support any wildlife. These chemicals either poison birds or they eliminate food sources that birds depend upon.

– Fragmentation

Land 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. Thus, they won’t mate when the habitat is too small.

In addition, the number of males and females living in an area must be sufficient to form mated pairs.

– Degradation

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, swallows, and some owls) that use cavities made by woodpeckers don’t reproduce.

Thus, one simple action, such as removing old trees, destroys an entire sequence of birds.

Habitat: Solutions

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 trees only when absolutely necessary.

4) Prune trees only when there are specific reasons, such as tree health or safety. Always hire a professional tree care provider to perform the work. Prune trees only after a thorough check to ensure birds are not nesting in them. Stop work immediately if a nest is discovered, and resume work after birds have left the nest.

 


Black Skimmer, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in article: Endangered Birds

Black Skimmer – Over the past thirty years, Black Skimmers have experienced a 70% decline in Texas because of habitat loss from coastal development, off-road vehicles, and beachgoers.


Cause #2: Toxins & Endangered Birds


Toxins include:

Chemicals

Pesticides, which includes herbicides, are especially deadly.

These chemicals kill birds or kill the bugs and plants that they depend upon for food.

Some common, commercially available chemicals are especially insidious for people because they accumulate in human tissue. Then, decades later, they cause cancer or a life degrading illness.

Poisons

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 often kill the animals that prey on them.

And second, these poisons can be deadly to other wildlife. Poisoned animals become thirsty and thus seek creeks or ponds. When they die in these locations, the poison can enter the water. Then wildlife that drinks this water is poisoned.

Note: Your pets will live longer when they are kept indoors.

Trash

Birds die when when they become trapped in litter (fishing lines, six-pack packaging, and so on).

Birds also die when they eat trash that poisons them or clogs their digestive system. And sea birds die after eating fish that have consumed bits of plastic.

Solutions – Chemicals

1) Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Recognize that children and pets are most likely to contact these chemicals when they are outside. Then they can become very sick.

2) Avoid using poisons to kill rodents. These poisons kill everything – the pest and the entire food chain related to the pest.

Instead, use traps for rodent control because these don’t poison the environment.

Solutions – Trash

1) Always dispose of trash properly. This leaves public areas looking attractive and reduces the cost of litter clean up. Put dangerous trash such as six-pack holders, string, fishing line, and Easter grass in containers that cannot be opened by birds (or animals).

2) When practical and safe, pick up trash.


Western Meadowlark, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in article: Endangered Birds

Western Meadowlark – Pesticides kill grassland birds, like the Western Meadowlark.


Cause #3: Bad Assumptions & Endangered Birds


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

We have concluded that our superior intellect gave us license to exploit the environment.

But exploitation is not a sustainable strategy. Eventually, this destroys the environment that we depend upon for our survival.

Assumptions: Solutions

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.

Solutions

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.


Snowy Plover, Female, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in Article: Endangered Birds

Snowy Plover, Female – This bird is endangered on the West Coast because of habitat loss.


Global Warming & Endangered Birds


Global warming will affect everyone, including birds.

The effects of global warming include:

1) Rising sea waters, which will flood coastal areas and move into (i.e., contaminate) fresh water zones,

2) Increasing temperatures, which will: a) Make some areas unsuitable for the crops that grow there, and b) Make some cities uninhabitable,

3) Greater probabilities of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and tornados.

All of these threaten birds, as well as the demands of a large human population.

Global warming is old science that has been known for almost a century.

It used to be referred to as “The Greenhouse Effect.” That is, CO2 in the atmosphere helps retain heat, thereby producing temperatures suitable for life on Earth.

If the concentration of CO2 increases, the atmosphere will retain more heat. And our average temperatures will increase.

Again, this is basic science.

In 1976 I worked with scientists at a major oil company who were talking about global warming.

In the 1980s one major oil company began building offshore platforms with longer legs to accommodate rising sea waters.

There’s one more problem with increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2: It is causing sea water to become more acidic. Scientists who monitor this predict that in 30 years our oceans will be too acidic to support fish.

That will remove a major food source for birds, and of course, people.

Unfortunately, global warming has become a political issue.

One side has conducted an aggressive campaign to deny that global warming poses a threat to our future.

The sponsors of this effort have used propaganda technologies developed by the tobacco industry to confuse and deceive the public.

They have also bought political candidates.

The astonishing part of this is: 1) More money can be made by changing to an economy based on renewable energy, and 2) Renewable energy systems will save consumers money because they cost less.

Global Warming: Solutions

Imagine this:

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 our 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, someday 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.

3) Buy from companies that use environmentally friendly processes.

4) Invest in companies that use socially responsible practices.


Allen's Hummingbird, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in Article: Endangered Birds

Allen’s Hummingbird, Male, Taking a Bath on the Crest of a Waterfall – Global warming will reduce its food supply by changing the availability of flowers.


Question from the Birds


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?


Final Thought


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. And 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 warning us.


Burrowing Owl, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in Article: Endangered Birds

Burrowing Owl – Audubon’s climate models predict that this owl could lose 77% of its current breeding range by 2080


References

[ 1 ] The Plight of Birds (from the Worldwatch Institute)

[ 2 ] List of recently extinct bird species (From Wikipedia)

[ 3 ] State of the World’s Birds, 2018 Report by Birdlife International (pdf Version)

Want to Know More?

Birds at Risk   — See photos of Watchlist Birds

What If Nature Was a Business   — Suppose you’re the CEO of Nature. What would you do?

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Help Birds  — Everyone can help.

More information appears in:

Bird Conservation, published by the American Bird Conservancy.

Birdlife International (web site) and Birdlife International (Publications).

Audubon Report on North American birds that are threatened by global warming.


Preserving Nature, One Bird at a Time

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