Losing Our Birds

I’d often read about the Audubon Society’s bird count on Christmas and thought it was charming.  To look out and see different colors of wings fluttering against the snow, and tiny claws lighting on feeders or peanut butter pinecones here and there, well, there’s something about it that reminds you of an old-fashioned holiday.

Come to find out, the annual count is a lot more than a 114 year-old tradition.  Audubon has been using its data to track the habitats of birdlife in North America, and according to the September issue of their magazine, the results are alarming.

The Scarlet Tanager, who summers in the Mississippi Flyway, is predicted to lose 94% of its range by 2080.  All photographs from http://www.audubon.org.

Three hundred fourteen species, over half the number John James Audubon recorded in his Birds of North America folios, are in trouble right now.  The prediction is that they will lose half of their current range in the next 65 years.  Temperature, precipitation, and seasonal changes, among others, are altering their food and nesting grounds.  Birds adapt, yes, but there is a limit.   The current level of greenhouse gases changing climate worldwide is just too much.

Theodore Roosevelt’s description of the Hermit Thrush song is one of his best pieces, but 74% of its summer range is threatened.  Can nature’s music be replaced? 

My book, The Amazing Bird Collection of Young Mr. Roosevelt, tells how a teenaged Theodore shot and stuffed many birds to study in his collection.  He regretted it later, calling it a “needless butchery of our common birds, as was the fashion…”  He came to realize the priority of protecting birds and their habitats, as passenger pigeons neared extinction and the number of brown pelicans and royal terns dwindled.

Please read the “Species on the Brink” article online, at http://www.audubon.org/climate.  I like practical suggestions, which are provided in “Five Things You Can Do to Help Protect Birds.”   Wouldn’t this make a lasting impression as a classroom study project?

The Cerulean Warbler is a beautiful bird, but our grandchildren may not see it.

The Common Loon.

The Spotted Owl.

This September, when Audubon’s report was released, was the one hundredth anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon on earth.  There is hope in having identified the forces that have changed our feathered friends’ habitats.  We know the amount of time we have to do something about them.  I keep remembering the last part of the old Malthus Theory lesson: the night before the pond was full, it was only half full.

Space for birds is space for people, too.

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