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 brief description of what’s happening followed by solutions.

And yes, I’ll admit that what’s happening can be disturbing, even depressing.

However, each of the solutions represents an opportunity to create good news.

In addition, I’ll agree that making changes can be difficult, even scary.

But most of the changes are both beneficial and easy. Most of these changes can save you money, improve your health, and increase the quality of your life.

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


There are two categories that matter.

Extinct Birds

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

According to the Worldwatch Institute, 103 bird species have become extinct during the past 200 years [ 1 ]. And according to Wikipedia, over 190 bird species have become 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 declining populations [ 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 foretell our future.

And – this is important – our future depends upon the health of our environment. Imagine, for example, that you are on an airplane. I expect you would care about the health of that plane. And I’m sure you would complain if someone started damaging the plane.

Birds perform essential functions.

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

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

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.

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.


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 or (in the worst cases) it dies.

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 most birds to thrive. And when pesticides are used, these areas become toxic to birds.

– Fragmentation

Land areas are divided into pieces too small or too far apart to support a species. Most species require a minimum area to find enough food. Thus, they won’t breed 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 in ways that remove the food 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 series of birds.


Mountain Chickadee, © Photo by Steve Kaye, in article on Endangered Species

Mountain Chickadee, Using the Cavity Made by Woodpeckers 5 Years Ago


For example, this Mountain Chickadee is using the cavity made by White-headed Woodpeckers.


Habitat: Solutions

These large-scale solutions do more than help birds. They make our communities more attractive, healthy, and valuable.

For example, studies have shown that people are happier, healthier, and more productive when they live in an area that contains trees.

What to Do (Large Scale):

1) Plan communities and agricultural areas to allow migration corridors.

2) Design communities to include habitat areas, such as parks or forest preserves, that support native bird species. These areas need to be large enough and connected to other areas to be effective.

3) Cut trees only when absolutely necessary.

What to Do (Small Scale):

1) Support local parks.

Vote for legislation that builds and funds parks. Join local associations that support parks.

Visit local and National parks. The experience of being outside will benefit you in many ways, providing health, recreation, and serenity.

2) Prune trees only when there are specific reasons, such as tree health or safety.

Always hire a professional tree care expert to perform the work. Prune trees only after checking for nesting birds. Stop work if a nest is discovered, and resume work after birds have left the nest.

3) Volunteer to help with habitat restoration. You’ll meet people who care about Nature and make a contribution for the future.


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 birds depend upon for food.

Some common, commercially available chemicals are also toxic for people. 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, these 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 outdoor pets, raccoons, and foxes) 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. This will also save on vet bills.

Trash

Birds die when they become trapped in litter (especially fishing lines, six-pack packaging, and “Easter grass”).

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

Solutions – Chemicals

1) Avoid using pesticides and herbicides.

Note: Children and pets are especially vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals when they play on areas that have been treated.

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.

3) Buy organic foods. These foods are better for you. And you will support pesticide-free farming.

Benefits:

1) You and your children will enjoy better health.

2) Your pets will live longer. And your vet bills will be lower.

Solutions – Trash

What to Do

1) Always dispose of trash properly.

Put dangerous trash such as six-pack holders, string, fishing line, and Easter grass, in containers that cannot be opened by birds (or animals).

Note: Cut six-pack holders before putting them in the trash.

2) When practical and safe, pick up trash.

3) Reuse or recycle trash.

4) Plan shopping and other activities to minimize trash.

5) Minimize food waste.

6) Volunteer to help with a beach cleanup or similar activity.

Benefits

1) Your community will be more attractive.

2) Property values will be higher (compared to an area that’s littered with trash).

3) You will enjoy better health.

4) Reduced costs for litter clean up could result in more money for valuable municipal projects.

5) You’ll save money by minimizing waste.

6) You’ll make your community a better, safer place to live.


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 harmed birds.

Assumption #1: Infinite Planet

In the distant past, people considered the Earth to be infinite. That seemed logical because everything seemed endless.

And so people exploited resources without considering their replacement or renewal. They discarded trash without considering where it went. They destroyed landscapes without considering long term consequences.

We now realize the Earth is finite.

This means it has finite space, finite resources, and finite resilience.

Assumption #2: Human Superiority

Some people have concluded that our superior intellect gives us license to exploit the environment.

But exploitation is not a sustainable strategy. Eventually, this will destroy the environment that we depend upon for our existence.

Assumptions: Solutions

Solutions

First, we need to recognize that these two assumptions are dangerous myths.

Then we need to replace them with two fundamental concepts.

1) The planet is finite.

Thus, we must manage our environment as if it were a precious, finite resource. Exploitation then becomes a threat to our future.

2) We are responsible caretakers.

Thus, we need to make conservation a priority in our lifestyle decisions because it’s the right thing to do.

Note: See the list of actions that everyone can take in the next section.


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.


Cause #4: Global Warming & Endangered Birds


Global warming threatens birds (and everyone else).

These threats include reduced food, water, and habitat.

If you want to read more about these threats, I put that information at the bottom of this article. [ 5 ]

Solutions: Here are seven easy actions everyone can take:

1) Vote for politicians who support protecting the environment.

2) Call or write your elected officials to ask them to support legislation that protects the environment.

3) Support organizations that work to protect the environment. (Suggestions below)

4) Buy from companies that use environmentally friendly processes.

5) Invest in companies that use socially responsible practices.

6) Divest from companies whose policies and practices damage the environment.

7) Conserve energy.


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.


Final Thought


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.

There are disturbing indications everywhere. Polar ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and temperatures are increasing.

So we need to 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


What Can You Do?

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

10 Easy Ways to Save Money on Gas  — Save hundreds, maybe thousands every year.

You Can Create a Better World — 10 Suggestions for better living

Green Business — Run a business that others will respect

27 Ways to Show Kindness — Create a better world for everyone


More information about endangered birds appears in:

Bird Conservation, book 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.

UN Report on Climate Change


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?


References (Endangered Birds)

[ 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)

[ 4 ] Organizations that work to protect our future.


[ 5 ] The effects of global warming include:

1) Higher sea levels, which will: a) Flood coastal areas, b) Move into (and then contaminate) fresh water zones, and c) Reduce the amount of arable land for agriculture.

2) Increased temperatures, which will: a) Reduce the World’s food supply by making some areas unsuitable for crops or livestock, and b) Make some cities uninhabitable.

3) Extreme weather events (e.g., hurricanes), which will occur more often and cause greater damage.

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, carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere retains heat, thereby resulting in temperatures suitable for life on Earth.

As the concentration of CO2 increases, the atmosphere is able to retain more heat. And thus average temperatures will increase.

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.

Unfortunately, global warming has become a political issue.

One side has conducted an aggressive campaign to deny that global warming exists.

The sponsors of this effort have used propaganda technologies developed by the tobacco industry to confuse and deceive the public. For example, they attack scientific measurements as being “inconclusive.” And they ridicule scientists.

They have also bought political candidates. And then these politicians have voted against laws that would protect environment.

The astonishing part of this is:

1) More money can be made by changing to an economy based on renewable energy.

2) Renewable energy systems will save consumers money because they cost less.

3) Global warming threatens the future of our civilization.


Preserving Nature, One Bird at a Time

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