Who, or What, is Killing the Songbirds?
Many people have noticed a drop in song birds in their area, especially folks in the northern hemisphere who regularly put out winter feeders for the birds. Often people will blame their neighbours cat for killing the birds, but in fact the majority of the avian population decline is due to human activity, not feline.
- Tall Buildings with Confusing Lights
- Rain Forest Destruction
- Pond Destruction
- Mild Toxins
- Other Factors
- What can we do?
Tall Buildings with Confusing Lights
Most large cities have work crews that pick up thousands of dead birds in their downtown cores before 5:30am during bird migration periods.
What is happens is that offices are leaving their lights on over night. The migrating birds are confused by the lights, in a behavior that is not yet fully understood. It would appear they become disoriented by the lights, and smash into the glass, sending thousands plunging to their deaths below. In cities on major flight paths each skyrise building may have hundreds of dead birds at its base each night throughout the migration period. Most city dwellers are not even aware, as the dead birds are picked up early before dawn.
Rain Forest Destruction
Many birds have nesting grounds in the rain forest. As pressure for space to raise cattle and food crops (including coffee) increases, so too does deforestation. Millions of birds have lost their nesting grounds, or their food supply, as a result, or may find the waters poisoned from runoff in those areas.
The next time you have a cup of coffee while complaining about your neighbors cat, perhaps you might want to check to see where those coffee beans came from.
Back to our part of the world - Urban sprawl and the demand for housing has meant the total removal of many natural nesting grounds for ducks, geese, and other shore birds. Ponds are drained or filled in to make way for housing. Even when ponds are kept intact, their shores are “cleaned up” and built around to appease humans, and nesting grounds are no longer assured for the native birds of the area.
Worse still is that when these ponds are built around the home owners frequently pollute them with a run off of chemicals used to keep their lawns perfectly lush and green. Similarly forests are being cleared to make way for housing developments and often times peoples yards look more like football fields than natural areas to welcome birds.
World wide pesticides and herbicides are being used on crops. Pesticides are made to kill insects, and since many birds depend on insects for a majority of their diet, they are either finding it harder to find food, or are getting tiny amounts of pesticide every time they eat an insect. Studies have shown that ingesting pesticides kill birds either directly, by making their egg shells so weak they are unable to produce viable eggs, or by killing the new hatchlings. Some pesticides have been banned from use, but only in some countries. So the birds elsewhere may still be at risk.
Herbicides are chemicals used to kill weeds, but they enter the birds as well. Many weeds are a food for many insects, and the herbicide also falls on the plants the birds do eat. While herbicides are considered safer than pesticides, they still have enough risk to them that we recommend washing all our fruits and vegetables before we eat them. Birds to not have that luxury.
Of course there are other factors too, air pollution, oil spills, and climate change, are all taking their toll on our feathered friends. It is up to us to make a difference, and stop blaming cats.
For the record, I am not suggesting cats do not kill birds, they do. But, the birds that the cats kill are generally the weaker, slower moving ones, where as human activity kills indiscriminately, killing fit and healthy birds.
What can we do?
It is time we stopped blaming the cats and started taking responsibility for our own hand in reducing the population of birds in our world. There are many things we can do.
If you work in an office tower, or have an apartment in a towering building, turn off all lights at night, or pull down blinds.
In our homes we can prevent birds from smashing into our windows by applying stickers or hanging things in the window.
Be careful when eating out, or buying beef. Many restaurants and fast food places are serving up rain forest beef, unless they advertise that is is local beef (or from a particular country) you may be contributing to the problem.
If you drink coffee, opt for a “Shade-Grown” coffee blend. Being grown in the shade means there is encouragement to keep the forest intact.
Some products are marketing themselves as being “rain forest” friendly. Keep those in mind, or try to select locally grown and made products instead.
If you live near a lake, pond, or other body of water, do not use chemicals to keep your lawn green.
If you own your own home, plant trees, shrubs, natural grasses, things to provide birds with habitat, rather than turning your yard into a football field of grass only.
Do not use pesticides to control insects, there are alternatives. You can purchase lady bugs to control aphids, and by encouraging birds in your yard, they too will eat the insects. Chickens are great at controlling flies, slugs, ticks, and grasshoppers.
If you start feeding the birds in the winter - you should continue to do so through out the season, because they come to expect the food to be there when they need it most. The same hold true for if you feed humming birds in the summer, you have to keep it up all summer.
Reduce, reuse, recycle, shop locally, buy organic, or grow your own food, if we can reduce pollution, we improve the world not only for ourselves, but our feathered friends too.
Finally, if you do have a cat, having a bell on the cats collar does not really help because cats can learn to walk without making the bell ring. The best thing is to either keep your cat indoors only, or not to feed birds in your yard, thereby tempting fate.
Ultimately also it is our responsibility to remind others that cats are not the main killers of birds, we are.