Consider the Birds and Give Them a Hand!
Bird song is beautiful, even when it comes too early in the spring through open windows. In springtime, we not only feel, see, and smell the world surging to life—as temperatures warm, trees bud, and flowers bloom—but we can also hear it coming to life each day in bird song. Indeed, if we open more than our windows to the songs of birds, we might hear also a deeper awakening of our conscience and even experience something of God’s love for creation. Regardless, bird song declares that life is magnificent and is moving on, with or without us, or so it seems. I’m glad spring is not silent. I hope it never will be. But recent reports on the health of birds in our state, country, and around the world are not good for the future of birds, which means the news is not good for us and every other creature that has ears to hear. Birds are key indicators of our earth’s health, but the sad reality is that Rachel Carson’s “silent spring” is advancing and it will come fully if we do not become better stewards of nature and quickly. Of the nearly 10,000 species of birds worldwide, some 1,300 species—13%—are facing extinction. Even where there are cooperative conservation efforts between nations, as with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act—both of which are presently endangered by our Congress, at least 432 of North America’s 1,154 species are at risk and 18 are facing extinction. In other words, as Audubon’s 2016 State of the Birds Report shows, over one-third—37%—of our continent’s birds are experiencing dramatic losses in population and some are on the brink of endangerment or extinction. Partners in Flight, a cooperative group of American and Canadian ornithologists, released similarly disturbing data recently. They found that twenty-two species of North American landbirds have lost at least half of their population in the last 40 years and are expected to lose another 50% in the next 40 years. Six of these species, such as the snowy owl which lost 64% of its population since 1970, will drop another 50% in less than 20 years without concerted intervention. Ponder this for a moment. Spring is measurably more silent and less alive now than in the recent past, and spring will become more silent still—perhaps even dead silent—if we do not take better care of our environment and every family of the earth in it. Human behavior is largely responsible for the steady creep of a silent spring. The primary causes are well-documented, but the leading contributors to the decline of bird populations are habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, global warming, wind turbines, and outdoor cats. But human behavior is also the birds’ and our environment’s greatest hope. We can be more thoughtful in our growth and development by protecting natural habitats and building in bird friendly—environmentally friendly—ways. This will be increasingly urgent in the ten county Upstate as our population reaches 1.75 million by 2040, a 64% increase from 1990, and the world’s population soars above 7.5 billion. Preserving habitat for the earth’s non-human families to live and raise young is also vital to our health. Thus we can become better educated about birds and the natural world, the services they provide, and how all of life is interconnected. Our health depends on the wellbeing of the environment. We need clean air, clean water, and clean land to live well, which means we need balanced ecosystems, which means among many other things that we need birds to pollinate, cycle nutrients, and consume insects in order to build healthier environments. Some of us also need to see birds and hear them sing. Environmental studies should be a steady component of every American’s primary and secondary education, as it is throughout Europe where people have long faced the hard realities of ecological degradation from surging populations, limited space, and unprotected landscapes. We can also advance bird conservation and every other form of earth care. Regarding birds, we can make our yards, communities, and cities true bird sanctuaries where habitat for every native species is available and where toxic pesticides and pollutants are reduced if not ended. In fact, communities with healthy bird populations need less insect controls. We may also get involved in conservation groups and activities to advocate for sensible environmental stewardship. There are many ways to be good stewards of God’s creation. One thing for sure, we cannot keep turning a deaf ear to the diminishing songs of birds without diminishing the health and quality of our own lives. If nature’s singers are silenced, we ourselves will have little to sing about. (Bob Bryant is a member of the Laurens County Trails Association board of directors.)