Bring back the birds and their spring songs

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barn swallows

I’m not going to lie. The energy of spring delights me, and the songs and chirping of birds fills my heart with joy. Of course, the sound of the spring peepers and chorus frogs does as well.

It is hard for me to decide or pick a favorite bird, but when children ask, I usually pick the American robin. I know that once the birds make their seasonal migration back here to Ohio, that brighter days are coming and the funk of winter will soon be gone.

I love the song of the robin, singing before the crack of dawn, and I enjoy watching them forage in my yard, fields and mulch beds for worms. Although I do have bird feeders, I know the robins will not be there for the seeds.

Yes, like so many others, I am a bird lover. And that is why I was so saddened recently when I heard some alarming news at a conference I attended.

Bye, Bye Birdie

We have lost one in four birds since 1970 in North America! Yes. The facts don’t lie. According to a report in the world’s leading scientific journal, 2.9 billion breeding adult birds have been lost since 1970, including birds in every ecosystem.

That means that the robins, Baltimore orioles and other migratory birds have experienced a 28% population loss since 1970. Imagine two out of five orioles gone — 2.5 billion lost. And the categories of bird species add up. One hundred sixty million of the aerial insectivores are gone, as well.

Luckily for me, I happen to have a healthy family of barn swallows each year that come back and raise more than one brood over the summer. But to know that they have declined 32% is devastating. And to be honest, when I think about it, I can tell that there are not as many birds around as when I was a young child.

What happened to the bobwhite quail, meadowlark and bluebirds? I know forest birds and grassland birds have lost a lot of habitat too, so I guess I understand. But just like the Monarch butterfly, it seems we don’t pay attention to these things until someone says, “Hey, where is …” or “What happened to all of the …”

What happened?

I don’t think this is shocking news to anyone, but if you lose your home, then it’s pretty difficult for you to survive. The same holds true for birds.

Without a home, or habitat, birds are not going to make it, and habitat loss is by far the greatest reason we have seen a decrease in bird populations. That is also followed by habitat “degradation” which means that the habitat is not healthy, or it is fragmented, polluted or can’t fully support birds.

When you think about it, we really are losing ground. Farmland is losing ground. According to the American Farmland Trust, from 2001-2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land were paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize agriculture. That is not all.

From 2001 to 2021, United States lost 44.3 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 16% decrease in tree cover since 2000, according to globalforestwatch.org.

Without proper habitat, our beloved birds will not have homes. They need healthy food, water, shelter and space to survive. Besides habitat loss and degradation, there are other human-caused threats to birds.

Those threats come from cats, window collisions, vehicles, power lines, communication towers, wind turbines and of course pesticides — both sprayed directly and indirectly into the food chain. With so many hazards, threats and losses, birds need our help now.

Bring birds back

I’ve always been an optimist. I believe in hope and that things can change for the better. It is refreshing to think that it is not too late to make a difference. And there is good news, and proof that we can make a difference.

Consider the bald eagles. I never saw them when I was a kid, but now thanks to conservation efforts, I am delighted to see them again. We have gained 15 million raptors since 1970! Thanks to conservation organizations and efforts, waterfowl have increased by 35 million since 1970.

So, yes, we can make a difference, when we all do our best and put forth the effort. Now, here are seven simple actions to help birds:

1. Make windows safer.

2. Keep cats indoors.

3. Reduce lawn and plant native.

4. Avoid pesticides.

5. Drink bird-friendly coffee.

6. Reduce plastic use.

7. Do citizen-science.

These seven actions in detail can be found at 3billionbirds.org/7-simple-actions and even if you do one action it will make a difference. Please help bring birds back and enjoy the sounds of spring.

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Kelly Riley has been the Education Specialist for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003. She earned her B.A. Degree in Education from the University of Akron and was previously a teacher with the Tri-County ESC. Kelly can be reached at (330)-262-2836 or by e-mail at kriley@wayneoh.org.

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