Where Have All the Bugs and Birds Gone? | Natural World | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Where Have All the Bugs and Birds Gone? 

Reports of staggering bird population declines

Not too long ago, I became aware that insects are disappearing from the earth, not just here in the Pacific Northwest, but around the U.S., and in Europe.

That's a very serious state of affairs. Without insects we won't have the tools to pollinate the marvelous variety of plants that grow on this good earth, among them a lot of the foods we eat.

American Robin, Central Oregon residents in summer and visitors in winter—and they come in normal colors as well as leucistic—black and white. - JIM ANDERSON
  • Jim Anderson
  • American Robin, Central Oregon residents in summer and visitors in winter—and they come in normal colors as well as leucistic—black and white.

Now I'm receiving notices about birds also disappearing. One headline from the Associated Press states: "Where are the wild birds? 3 billion fewer than 1970," which was based on the Science article, "Staggering decline of bird populations."

Conservation scientists at Cornell University discovered this drop in bird populations and are wondering why and what can be done to stop it.

This is part of what the Christmas Bird Count is all about. We do it to spot population trends. The National Audubon Society started these counts over 100 years ago, amassing bird numbers all across the U.S. and Canada. It appears the scientists at Cornell decided to take a look at the numbers and see if or what was happening in bird populations across the board.

Another scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, after reading the Cornell study, stated, "This is a landmark paper, it's put numbers to everyone's fears about what's going on." But it doesn't tell us "what's" going on; just that it has happened.

Every year the state ornithologist at the University of Connecticut received calls from throughout the state from people noticing a drop in bird numbers. This prompted the scientist to say, "If you came out of your house one morning and noticed that a third of all the houses in your neighborhood were empty, you'd rightly conclude that something threatening was going on."

Then the scientist put it into another realm of understanding: "If 3 billion of our neighbors—the ones who eat the bugs that destroy our food plants, carry diseases like Equine Encephalitis, are gone, I think we all may stop to think that's threatening."

I'll put it into another example; "If 3 billion of our neighbors who eat mosquitoes suddenly vanished, wouldn't that be a very serious situation."

Somehow, right this moment, and without any really good working hypothesis of how it happened, there is a sudden outbreak in parts of North American of an Asian disease carried by mosquitoes.

It is impossible to spray all the real estate and aquatic communities to kill mosquitoes in such numbers as to halt the threat of that Asian dilemma from spreading. If we did spray, the damages to non-target ecosystems would be so catastrophic it would upset the apple cart everywhere. We must depend on natural controls, and one of the most effective are swallows.

As an example, a Cornell researcher put the missing bird situation in a way that makes all the sense in the world to me: using Evening grosbeaks. When he was a youngster he saw "invasions" of them, but today, he gets excited if he sees just one.

That's very similar to what I have observed, but in an even shorter period of time. My family and I have lived at Sun Mountain for over 40 years, feeding backyard birds from the first day we arrived.

When we arrived at this location, we had over a dozen Evening grosbeaks coming to our feeder daily. In fact, we had more grosbeaks than house sparrows. Over the years the house sparrow population has grown, while we haven't seen a grosbeak in well over 15 years. Did the house sparrows drive them out, or is avian salmonella getting them, like other bird species?

Avian researchers say habitat loss is a big reason for birds vanishing—but then, a 2015 study said domestic and feral house cats kill over 2.6 billion birds annually. Studies on birds killed from striking windows is also staggering: somewhere around 624 million, while automobile strikes accounted for another 214 million dead birds.

Keeping your house cat at home will help reduce cat-killed bird numbers, and removing feral cats will also be a big help in reducing cat-killed birds.

The best way to solve the bird-strike on windows is by sticking a silhouette of an accipiter (bird hawk) on your window. That usually works pretty well in keeping most birds from trying to fly through your house.

And please, remember Rachel Carson, the author of "Silent Spring," published as a warning about the harmful elements we are coping with in the technological world. She told us what too many powerful chemicals will do to the Earth — and us —if we weren't cautious.

Unfortunately, I fear Carson was more than correct. What she predicted is happening today, and if we don't stop pouring chemicals into our soil and water it's going to be more than birds and insects that will disappear.

As an example, the Oregon Department of Transportation sprayed a weed-killer along Hwy 20 awhile back, killing thousands of pine trees along the roadway. The dead trees have been removed, but the stuff that killed them is still in the soil—doing what, I wonder...

If we stop using pesticides and herbicides in our own backyards, that will be a beginning. If we take the time to think and understand what chemical applications do in the long run, and stop them before they start, the world will be a healthier place.

Birds and bats eat mosquitoes; all we have to do is make it easier for them to do so and we can stop mosquito-borne diseases. We won't need to spray to kill mosquitoes.

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