Songbirds are battling numerous threats, some of which might surprise you.
“It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh… Even the streams were now lifeless… No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.” – Rachel Carson
Over half a century ago, Rachel Carson, conservationist and author of the influential book Silent Spring, warned the world of the environmental disaster that can unfold when a blind eye is turned on nature. Now, over 60 years later, a “spring without voices” may be fast approaching.
Songbirds are in Trouble
They are disappearing… and they are disappearing fast. A recent study from Cornell University suggests that approximately 48 per cent of existing bird species populations are declining. An even more striking statistic: across North America, over 3 billion birds have been lost in 50 years.
Why is This Happening?
To start, here are three threats responsible for songbird decline that you may have heard of before. There’s habitat loss, which is no doubt the biggest threat and very difficult to measure as birds are constantly moving and migrating. There’s also house cats. An astonishing 100 to 350 million bird deaths per year are caused by our fluffy friends who roam outdoors. And lastly; window collisions are a major threat to songbird disappearance. It is estimated that in Canada, 16 to 42 million bird deaths are caused from birds flying into our homes and buildings.
Some Reasons for Songbird Decline that Might Surprise You
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
Did you know that a threat facing our songbirds can be found in water? Have you ever gone swimming and noticed more algae appearing in places it never had before? A recent study found harmful algal blooms are jeopardizing the health of songbirds. While these algal blooms are not causing the immediate death of songbirds, they are contributing to a decline in their overall health, which can have consequences such as lower reproductive rates, weight loss, loss of immune function, etc. This is particularly important for migrating birds that need to be as healthy as possible to make the long journey. HABs such as red tides and blue-green algae across North America appear to be on the rise and threaten not only wildlife but humans as well.
Neonicotinoids (also known as neonics), commonly associated with pollinator decline, are also having a devastating effect on songbirds. They are the new DDT (the first modern insecticide used in Canada in the 1940s) that Rachel Carson and so many others fought to remove. Ingestion of neonicotinoids has been shown to negatively affect songbirds in the following ways: delayed and reduced migration due to decrease in reproductive success, as well as reduced body mass and fat stores. Furthermore, neonics are reducing the insects that birds feed on. Aerial insectivores (insect eating birds) are facing particularly steep declines, many of which are classified species at risk (including several swallow and flycatcher species, the Chimney Swift and the Common Nighthawk). As Canada continues to backtrack on the ban of neonics, songbirds will continue to be the innocent victims. Other parts of the world such as Europe have already banned these pesticides – will we be next?
How You Can Help
Fortunately, there are many ways we can help our feathered friends! Individual actions on a large scale can make a big difference. Perhaps start by making the windows in your home visible to birds with feather friendly window markers, a safe and easy-to-use solution to prevent bird collisions with glass surfaces. Another way to help birds is by keeping your cat indoors or on-leash when outside. When gardening in your backyard, avoid pesticides and plant native species. You can also use buying power and choose food that is produce without or with minimal pesticides! These are just a few ways to foster wildlife-friendly practices around your home and make way for a safer and brighter future not just for birds but all wildlife.
To learn more about CWF’s work to help birds, visit WildAboutBirds.ca (https://cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/wild-about-birds/)