In the 50 years, my husband and I have been birders, there has been a loss of almost 3 billion breeding birds. These losses have been called “staggering” by scientists. More than 90% of the losses come from 12 families of birds, including sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, and finches. These birds are like the canary in the coal mine. If they are in trouble, so are we. Habitat loss and degradation are believed to be major causes of these losses.
For the last 14 years, we have worked to make our property one that supports life by planting over 100 different varieties of berry-producing shrubs and seed-producing plants and trees such as the serviceberry (as seen in the picture) and oak which are important sources of bird food. Many of these plants attract insects which are essential for baby birds. Doug Tallamy has widely reported that chickadees need 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to feed one clutch of young.
Over the past 20 years, we have had about 70 species of birds visit our yard and many year-round residents have nested in our yard. However, it feels that lately, fewer are nesting on our property and are seen during migration. Some of the favorite species many of us are familiar with, such as Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Eastern, and Western Meadowlarks and the Red-winged Blackbird are among those that have declined greatly.
How can we help? Seven simple actions have been suggested.
-Make windows safer by installing screens on the outside of the window or using other measures to break up reflections. Up to 1 billion birds die yearly after hitting windows.
-Keep cats indoors. Cats kill more than 2.6 billion birds each year.
-Reduce lawn and plant natives to provide birds more places to rest and raise their young safely. With more than 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S., there is a huge potential to support wildlife.
-Avoid pesticides. More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied in the U.S. each year and they contain chemicals that are lethal to birds and the insects the birds consume.
-Use coffee that’s good for birds. Sun-grown coffee results in forests being destroyed which birds and other wildlife need for food and shelter. Shade-grown coffee preserves a forest canopy that helps migratory birds survive the winter.
-Protect our planet from plastic. Studies have shown that at least 80 seabird species ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Avoid single-use plastics and advocate for bans on plastic bags, styrofoam, and straws.
-Watch birds and share what you see. Monitoring birds is essential to protecting them. There are projects such as eBird, project FeederWatch and Christmas Bird Count, to name a few that are fun and easy to do.
Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology