Jun 30, 2017

Silence of the Songbirds

by Bridget Stutchbury

The author is an avid bird watcher and researcher. Becoming concerned about the gradual decline in songbird numbers across North America, she took a closer look at possible causes, including traveling herself to South American countries where many of our songbirds spend the winter. Her findings present a bleak picture. Most people don't notice if there are fewer birds from year to year, but when the numbers are counted up and compared across a decade or more, the loss is real, and very alarming.

Birds face dangers in their wintering grounds from widespread pesticide use in many countries which have loose regulations or none at all. We're talking hundreds of dead hawks and songbirds found in or near fields of crops right after spraying was done to kill pests like locusts, for example. (And guess what, the birds were there to feed on the insects and they do a pretty good job of control, for no cost at all). Habitat loss is another big one. Here in North America where the birds come to breed, they face difficulties also caused by habitat loss or fragmentation, disorientation during nighttime migration caused by city light pollution, collision with towers or power lines, predation by housecats and the parasitism of cowbirds.

While examining all these issues in depth, the author describes lots of interesting details about things like how exactly birds use different habitats (why small, fragmented pieces of forest are not favorable), how their diet changes when they live in different areas, interactions with other bird species in mixed flocks, mating behaviors, what happens to them on the migration route, what makes cowbirds more or less likely to affect a population and more and more. Just the kind of book I really enjoy, even if the end message is rather dismal. Hopeful though, as it points out why buying organic or local produce and shade-grown or sustainable coffee can make a huge difference for the little songbirds. Also their importance in the overall ecosystem- although they are not as well-know for pollination as bees, they do a surprising lot of it, also spreading seed of certain kinds of plants, and vast amounts of insect control. Not to mention they are beautiful.

The chapter headings are illustrated by none other than Julie Zickefoose. Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5           255 pages, 2007

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