Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them, by Bridget Stutchbury. HarperCollins, 2007.
Every fall, we northern dwellers are accustomed to “our” birds leaving our cold, snowy winter behind and flying south. This seems like a very sensible thing to do, and if we think of them at all, it is probably to imagine the birds on vacation, soaking up the rays in the Neotropics. Far from being on holiday, birds that migrate south face a difficult season. They must compete with other birds for habitat that will keep them fed and allow them to build up the reserves they will need for the flight north and a new breeding season. Increasingly, their lives are imperiled by the destruction of the rainforest as more and more trees are replaced with agricultural fields. Other threats include the heavy use of pesticides that can result in mass poisonings. When they return north with the spring, life is no easier, with widespread habitat loss, cats, windows, lights, towers, and other disasters-in-waiting ready to take their toll.
Birds are amazing creatures, little more, it would seem, than sparks of life wrapped in feathers. What incredible lives they live! However, the ever-increasing challenges that songbirds must face, both in the north and the south, are causing a slow but steady decline in songbird populations across the continent. In the last 3 to 4 decades, the songbird population has fallen by a horrifying 20 to 30%. Songbirds are a vital part of the ecosystem. They perform irreplaceable services that we humans count on, from insect control to spreading plant seeds. The fading away of the songbird population is a symptom of the deep wound we have inflicted on the natural world. If they go, will we be next?
Bridget Stutchbury is a professor of biology at York University in Toronto, and a fellow and research associate at the Smithsonian Institute. She and her husband have devoted their careers to the study of songbirds. In Silence of the Songbirds, Stutchbury takes the reader with her as she looks at songbirds in their winter homes. She explains the science behind songbird studies and tools such as the Breeding Bird Survey. She examines the many threats that songbirds face. Finally, she offers the reader a list of solutions, how everyone can contribute to halting the decline of songbird populations. Anyone who has ever looked for the first robin of spring or enjoyed the sound of a bird singing in the yard will want to read this book. Understanding the problem is the first step in finding solutions.
How To Save A Songbird
Buy shade-grown coffee that is both organic and fairly-traded.
Buy organic produce
Avoid non-organic North American crops such as alfalfa, Brussel sprouts,blueberries, celery, corn, cotton, cranberries, potatoes and wheat.
Buy unbleached, recycled paper products
Turn off the lights at night in city buildings and homes during peak migration periods
Keep your cat indoors
For more on these issues, see these posts:
For more on the use of pesticides on potatoes in North America, see Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire, reviewed on November 23.