Songbirds – better save them before they’re gone!

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Spring is here; the trees are alive with new leaves, the grass is bright green, and the birds are singing. Certainly, the songs of birds returning from their winter migration gives a cheerful sound at this time of year, but listen carefully. The sounds of the birds are markedly less than in earlier decades, as there are fewer song birds in our fields and forests. The best data available indicates a decline of almost 50% in songbird populations since 1960.
The decline is not just aesthetic. Songbirds are a vital and integral part of the planet’s ecosystem; they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds, they are a prime force in keeping insects under control, and they protect leaves, seeds and human crops. They perform an essential role in maintaining the balance of nature.
Habitat loss
The reasons for the decline are varied and complex, but some
specific causes can be identified. The most significant culprit is habitat loss. As most songbirds are migratory, they have both summer (breeding) and winter (tropical or southern) habitats. In both locations, human alterations to the
landscape have very
disruptive effects. These disruptions include forest clearing, urban build-up, replanting depleted forests with different tree species, clearing bushes, draining marshes, and heavy agricultural use of what previously was songbird habitat.
The feral cat
A second player in songbird decline is the (feral) cat. For songbirds, cats are killing machines – accounting for the elimination of hundreds of millions of birds each year. Man-made structures such as tall
buildings and windmill farms also take their
toll. Added to these
destructive components are the adverse effects of pollution and climate change.
All of these destructive forces can be
controlled by humans, but only if the problem is recognized by those who have the power to take action. Missing the sight and sound of songbirds is sufficient reason to take action, but the damage done by removing these active players from the ecology of our continent raises the need for better management of our
environment to a higher level. The rate of
decline requires immediate action – it can’t be postponed to the next generation. Once a species of songbird is lost, it is lost forever.
We must become aware
of the unintended
consequences of our current modes of living and consider the consequences of our actions on the songbirds that
co-habit our planet.