On Sept. 23rd, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden stood before a gathering of the most powerful people in the world at the U.N. Climate Action Summit and railed at them for not doing enough to combat global climate change.
Stating that we are in the beginning of a mass extinction, Greta Thunberg wasn’t spouting hyperbole. Just three days earlier, the President of the American Bird Conservancy announced a new study published in Science magazine revealing that the U.S. and Canada have lost nearly 3 billion birds in just the last 50 years.
That’s a 29% decrease in bird populations.
Grassland birds are among the most severely affected. The melodic eastern meadowlark and grasshopper sparrows have declined by 70%.
Forest species are profoundly affected, too. That most sublime of avian singers, the wood thrush, has declined by 60%.
Shorebirds that rely on coastal habitats have declined by a third. Imagine what will happen to their habitats as sea-levels continue to rise.
Data supporting these conclusions comes from the National Geologic Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Surveys, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Survey, and Manomet’s International Shorebird Surveys.
And it isn’t just birds that are threatened.
A 2004 assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found that 32% of amphibians worldwide are threatened with extinction. A 2016 report of the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean revealed that bluefun tuna have declined by over 97% from historic levels.
And on it goes.
The biggest causes of the decline in birds are habitat loss due to agricultural intensification and urban sprawl.
Perhaps you think you can’t do much about urban sprawl, but there are some things each of us can do:
- Plant native plants and reduce non-natives — especially aggressive, invasive plants like English ivy, autumn olive and Japanese honeysuckle. Native plants supply berries and host caterpillars that are essential for birds; non-native plants don’t. Replacing non-native plants with natives is restoring habitat instead of destroying it.
- Reduce the amount of lawn that requires mowing. Grassy lawns offer little of value to birds, and the maintenance of lawns with mowers, leaf blowers, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides create air and water pollution.
- Keep cats indoors. Free-roaming cats in the United States kill many hundreds of thousands of birds every year. Rather than depriving your cat, you are doing it a big favor. The American Veterinary Medical Association finds that those kept indoors are healthier and live longer than free-roaming cats.
- Reduce single-use plastics such as disposable bottles and shopping bags.
- Write your elected representatives and demand action.
- Join and support a conservation organization such as the Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy or Sierra Club. Already a member? Increase your level of support.
Two days after Greta Thunberg spoke at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, the Winston-Salem Journal published an op-ed piece concluding that this may be a good time to think about the impact we have on our planet and our responsibility as its current stewards.
Indeed, it is.