The latest statistics have revealed that one species in eight bird species is facing the danger of extinction. 40% of world’s 10,000 bird species population is declining. It is not only the exotic species which are disappearing, but also the common species which have reduced numbers. The reasons are many, but majorly those of man’s own making. Let’s look at the reasons why bird population is declining and how we can help bird species survive.
Why bird population is declining in the last 50 years?
In the span of just 50 years, the population of bird species has reduced drastically. The only thing which has happened differently in the last 50 years is the increase in human endeavors which have led to the unsafe environment for birds. In our attempt to improve life for us, increasing resources for humans, we have forgotten about our feathered friends. Co-existing with nature is something humanity has to relearn.
The data on bird population shows that spreading of agricultural efforts puts 77% of bird species at risk. Wood harvesting and logging puts in danger 52%, invasive species 32%. Commercial and residential development, trapping, hunting, ranching and livestock and climate change has made a negative impact on bird populations.
Over one third of the surface of the earth is devoted to agriculture. Farms are not an idyllic landscape, but the intensification and spread of agriculture into forests impacts 74% of birds globally. The birds habitats are destroyed and pesticides happen to be poisonous. A study done in USA recently found that the White Crowned sparrows, when exposed to certain pesticides such as neonicotinoids, lost almost a quarter of their fat stores and body mass.
The method of farming can be much more sustainable without the use of certain chemical pesticides, which ensures that birds are safe from toxic chemicals. If farmers refrain from logging or farming, they could be helping the habitat.
To increase efficiency of farming, farmers grub up hedgerows, where many birds nest, to create larger fields. Ploughing closer to edge of the fields in order to increase the planted area. To increase production, natural wetlands are dried out, and wet flushes are removed. This is one of the reasons for bird population declining.
Changes in the cropping practices globally
In many parts of the world, the cropping practices have changed in the past 50 years. Cereals which used to be planted in the springtime, are now planted in autumn. And as soon as one crop is harvested, the other is planted, without any rest time. Birds are chased from the fields as farmers do not want them to eat the sown seeds. The specialization of the farms to livestock and arable production has also affected bird populations.
The increased efficiency of animal feed and grain storage has deprived wild birds in the surrounding areas, of food. Old farm buildings have been demolished, places where the birds and bats used to nest. They cannot nest in new buildings and so their numbers dwindle.
More than two thirds of bird species live in the forests, logging is one of the major problems for birds. Many bird species cannot survive without their habitat. Birds are not able to fly between the remaining fragments of trees. Logging is another activity which has increased manifold in the last 50 years, due to a rise in global demand for paper, timber and the land.
The destroyed habitat has to be built up by planting more trees. The need of the hour is to restore, plant, and protect millions of trees, or rather a trillion, as is the target of the Trillion Trees Partnership. One of the projects is also the Asia Pacific Forest Governance Project, which uses smartphone app to help locals manage and monitor their rainforest.
Commercial and residential buildings
The decreasing population of birds is also due to clearing the land to make way for commercial and residential buildings. In urban and semi-urban areas, the bird habitat is destroyed by the destruction of the trees to build structures for housing, commercial and industrial purposes. Common bird species no longer have a place to nest and find food. While constructing buildings and infrastructure, thought should be given to preserving or creating habitat for birds.
The data on bird population reveals that invasive species such as mice and rats are responsible for over 70% of bird species extinction, in last 50 years. Birds on isolated, remote islands have to combat this threat along with other natural predators. There are more than 88 islands all around the world where the threatened species of birds are facing danger from the invasive mammals. If these invasive species are successfully eradicated, then experts say that 55 species of birds can be protected.
Trapping and hunting
One of the causes of extinction of birds is the illegal capturing and hunting of birds. This causes bird populations to plummet in large numbers, within a very short space of time. An example is the Helmeted Hornbill or the Rhinoplax Vigil. In the year 2015, this species of bird went from Near Threatened to the Critically Endangered List after hunters relentlessly hunted it down for its ‘Red Ivory’ casque.
One of the ways to put an end to this threat to birds is changing/modifying laws or strengthening the existing laws. Right now, there are 155 bird species which are protected by the CITES, which is illegal wildlife trade convention. Drones can also be used to monitor and prevent bird trapping.
How we can help
Everyone can do their own bit to help birds survive in the new conditions they are faced with. Some of the ways are:
Transform your yard into an oasis for birds
In order to combat the decreasing population of birds, you could provide clean water and plant flowers and shrubs for nectar and insects. Fruit bearing trees can provide birds with the nutrition and energy that they need to migrate to warmer climes. Plants can be layered for cover, thermal protection as well as the nesting habitat.
Plant lots of native plants as the fruits, flowers and scents are perfect to restore the relationship and communities of birds which could reverse the decrease in local bird population. Yards which mimic natural plant habitat attracts birds and helps to increase their numbers.
Create bird lover communities
Share your love for birds with friends and family. Expand your bird oasis into a bigger area, working with your neighbors as well as park and golf course managers nearby. This will include the habitat in the linked corridors and multiply the positive impact of the small patches.
In order to restore the habitat of birds, you and your community would have to plant trees, flowers and shrubs which would be beneficial for you in other ways. Such as mitigating your community’s ‘heat island effect’, absorbing stormwater runoff and combating the spreading of invasive plants.
Monitor the local bird population
Become a citizen scientist by noting and observing the birds in your locality. This daily data can help scientists studying various aspects of bird lives, such as migration and climate change. You can be a member of the Great Backyard Bird Count. In the year 2012, 17.4 million observations about 623 bird species helped scientists research on the data. Track the sightings on eBird, which is a website developed by the Cornell lab of Ornithology and Audubon.
Pesticides are still being used in America and other parts of the world. In North America alone, pesticide use is more than 1.1 billion pounds every year. Approximately 8% of that amount is used in gardens and yards. A lawn care pesticide called diazinon has been linked to more than 150 mass birds die offs. And agricultural use of pesticides kills 67 million birds in a year. Replacing chemical pesticides with natural methods to control pests will help to increase bird numbers.
Put the lights out in glass fronted buildings
The glittering lights of the city add to the beauty of the cityscape at night. But it has many drawbacks, including the waste of electricity. Another major drawback is that the nighttime lighting cause birds to collide with the buildings, leading to their death. Switching off lights in Chicago, where the ‘Lights Out’ movement began, has saved approx 10,000 birds every year.
Right now, it is estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are thrown away, and many of them eventually reach the ocean, joining the oceanic garbage patches. These bags kill thousands of seabirds, along with marine mammals, which mistake them for squid and jellyfish. Once their guts fill with plastic, they starve to death. You can take a strong step to reduce the use of plastic and plastic bags from your life as much as possible.
Choose a species of bird in your region, and work for conserving its habitat. Educate the community, talk with the school kids, volunteer in a nature reserve or center and help that species to survive. Making the right choices such as those mentioned above can help to increase bird populations. Even you can make a difference!