Disappearing song birds

Wilson's WarblerEvery year in mid May small yellow birds (which I’ve figured out are at least two kinds of warblers) make a brief appearance in my backyard. Their bright feathers and musical song contrast with the modest browns and plane chirps of the usual backyard crowd. I always enjoy seeing them, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew they may have migrated a long way to get here, but the epic quality of their journey never really hit me until I heard bird researcher Bridget Strutchbury speak last month.

Strutchbury, author of Silence of the Songbirds, spoke about the double life of songbirds who winter in Central and South America and breed in the north, the huge “storms” of birds migrating north each year (flying mostly at night), and the alarming decline in the numbers of breeding birds (a drop of 30-50% since 1965).yellow-rumped warbler

That little yellow bird passing through my backyard has faced loss of its tropical forest winter home, been forced to survive in scrubby left-over habitat, dodged toxic agricultural pesticides (often pesticides restricted or banned in the north), then flown the long gruelling route north with fewer places to stop and city lights disrupting night-time navigation, then arrived in the north to find breeding forests and grasslands smaller and closer to cities and farms where predators such as crows, jays and feral cats lurk.

Put in this light, the fact that these little yellow birds have even made it to my yard at all is pretty amazing. I find it really distrubing to think that one spring they might not. If this happens it wont just mean the disappearance of birdsong from our neighbourhoods. Strutchbury points out: “If a species goes extinct or its  population drops to very low numbers, the ecological roles that it played in nature are lost. Some species are so specialized that their services can no be replaced by other animals, so their loss creates a ripple effect. . . . Their jobs as pollinators, fruit-eaters, insect-eaters, scavengers and nutrient recyclers will not get done, and this will disrupt ecosystems and affect everyone on the planet.”

Things we can do to help save the songbirds:

– drink shade-grown coffee

– buy organic produce (especially from Latin America)

– create backyard habitats

– keep lawns pesticide-free

– turn city lights out at night

– keep cats indoors

– buy recycled paper products

– buy wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

– pressure companies manufacturing pesticides to meet international standards

6 Responses to “Disappearing song birds”

  1. marguerite manteau-rao Says:

    Thank for your paying attention to the yellow birds. I too love birds, and right now I am being entertained by the sounds of the birds chirping, as I sit in my living room working on my blog. What would happen if all of a sudden the birds stopped singing?

    marguerite, blogger, and green girl wannabe

  2. carroll holland Says:

    Thanks for the excellent synopsis of the plight facing the amazing, winged beings who bring such joy to our surroundings. I too heard Bridget Stutchbury speak (at an April 2007 event in Ottawa) and advocate for shade-grown coffee now wherever I go (at my sailing club, on the bus, etc.) I try to practice what I advocate and plan to ask the big coffee chains about their coffee bean buying policies. I can never repay the baltimore orioles, finches, warbles and so many other birds for the immense pleasure they give me, but I will do whatever I can to help their species continue to live. They deserve our help.

  3. floatingclouds Says:

    I was excited when I read your post; as we have been seeing beautiful yellow birds (similar to your photo) here in North Carolina over the past 2 weeks. Turns out ours are American goldfinches; and the males are bright yellow this time of year to attract mates. We plant sunflowers along the fenceposts, butterfly bushes all around the house, and go through about 50 lbs. of seed a week! Lots of songbirds here…although there is massive destruction of wildlife in rural North Carolina. The family farms are all being bought out and subdivided. Cheap, ugly, housing developments everywhere. Lots of clearcutting of forests, building and widening of roads, and Wal-marts and strip malls killing the old downtowns. Local economy dying. People commuting further and further to work. I almost feel reurbanization, and city living is the most sustainable way to go..community gardens, walking or biking to work or public trans., etc.

  4. Jacqueline Pearce Says:

    We had some goldfinches come through here as well. My yard is so overgrown this year, it seems to be attracting more birds than usual, which says something about the importance of backyard green spaces to breeding birds (as well as other creatures). I think revitalizing urban centres to create green, livable spaces where people live and work is definately preferable to extending sprawl, concrete and commuting distances. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my yard “wild,” buying shadegrown coffee and chocolate, switching to organic bananas (one of the view things I didn’t think to buy organic before hearing Bridget Struthbury talk), buying local as much as I can, continuing to recycle and use recycled paper, using public transit, etc……

  5. Heather Says:

    Great post Jacquie!

  6. Crafty Green Poet Says:

    Great post! I like your list of things we can do to help the migrating birds. We’re lucky in Edinburgh in that our city is quite green, parks in the centre and lots of green spaces hanging on in the outskirts, but our migrating birds are threatened too by hunting practices around the Mediterranean and loss of habitat everywhere.

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