If you are asking this question after reading about the study showing 3 billion birds are gone since 1970, you
are not alone as the enormity of the numbers of birds lost is difficult to comprehend. Some of the hardest hit birds are ones we see most often – White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, Dark-eyed Juncos. But as the report indicated, grassland birds, shorebirds, forest dwellers and any birds that rely on insects are in trouble. Birds are an essential part of our lives as they comprise a very important building block of nature which provides us free of charge with the basic components we need to survive. Such a massive decline in the biomass of any one major building block is very troubling and we should fix what we can as soon as we can. Birds really need your help – are you ready to be part of the solution?
1 – GET OUTSIDE AND LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ABOUT NATURE – watch what birds do, listen to frogs, see which butterflies migrate through your area, look up at the stars and listen to migrating birds talking to each other at night. (We have a piece on this later in the newsletter). Try to create a connection with nature that our society has lost. This is critical to understanding and respecting nature and how much the natural world provides us for free. It’s also enormously good for the soul. We can start doing this right now. Take your neighbors, your kids and their friends to do some exploring and just watching nature — and do it as much as possible. Bring your binoculars and look at everything, do some journaling, bring your camera and take photos, draw pictures of what you see, report banded birds. Take people who might never have the chance to experience nature on a wild exploration. The difference you can make by forging this connection is huge.
WHY? To be inspired to protect birds and nature often requires understanding it. One of the best ways to do this is to spend time immersed in it. Not only is this one of the best classroom experiences ever, its also good for us on so many levels. And it helps us see first hand why we should care about birds and nature at all. Not everyone has the opportunity to do this. Create the opportunity to get people involved in nature and take the time to pay attention. It’s the best way to learn the language of nature. And to get a fuller experience, download Cornell’s Merlin app, and iNaturalist’s Seek app to identify everything from birds to plants, reptiles to butterflies. And have a blast!
2 – PLANT NATIVE PLANTS WHEREVER YOU CAN. Do it in your township parks and your own backyard, terrace, roofdeck, office park. Tell your neighbors what you are doing, and if you live in a community which controls the landscaping on public and/or private land, ask them to make
native plants the standard.
WHY? When you plant native plants you are creating native habitatwhich is what birds and other wildlife need to survive. You will see an upsurge in birds, butterflies and other wildlife who use your newly created habitat designed for them – no matter the size. Native plants are great because they require less maintenance and no toxic chemicals to keep them looking wonderful. They will also attract wildlife, butterflies and birds….also quite possibly your neighbors who will want to have the same cool yard you have! Find out which native plants to use and how to create a meadow or garden with these Audubon tools.
3 – LOOK FOR WAYS TO CONNECT THE RESTORED HABITAT you have created.
WHY? There is more benefit in 2 acres of uninterrupted habitat than there is in 2 acres of fragmented habitat over 50 acres. If you have some property, try to combine the natural areas and keep them contiguous and connect with another property if possible, and so on, so there is continuous and uninterrupted habitat. This makes for a better and safer place to live for birds and wildlife.
4 – MAKE THE GLASS ON YOUR OWN HOUSE OR APARTMENT BIRD SAFE. Let your neighbors know what you have done and why. Tell your local and state representatives to change building regulations so that all glass on new construction is required to be bird safe. And request retrofitting of reflective and clear glass with bird safe film (or one of a multitude of other
products that keep birds from crashing into windows) on all government buildings and buildings where there are high incidences of bird deaths.
WHY? Bird strikes on glass in the US alone account for over 600 million bird deaths each year. Many cities are taking the lead on mitigating these pointless deaths by passing laws on bird safe glass. Chicago and New York for example are leaders in the US on this. A number of bird safe products meet LEED requirements, making them a natural for any LEED project.Learn more about bird strikes and what you can do to stop them from Flap.org and the American Bird Conservancy.
5 – KEEP ALL DOMESTIC CATS INDOORS. If you feel your cat is impaired by being inside, teach him to walk on a lead and take him for walks outside on a lead, supervised – even in your own backyard. Get him a spacious catio so he can free-wheel on his own in the fresh air.
WHY? The numbers of bird deaths attributed to domestic cats is staggering – over 2.6 billion per year. Keeping cats indoors could save a couple of billion birds annually, as well as millions of lizards, insects, frogs and other critters essential to maintaining our environment. Plus, you will be saving your furry friend from the dangers of being a cat outdoors – feline leukemia, being hit by a car, poisoned, or any of a number of other threats cats face when they are outside.
6 – GARDEN ORGANICALLY WITHOUT PESTICIDES OR HERBICIDES in your yard or garden. Encourage your township and state to mandate the same. If you are planting native plants anyway, this mostly takes care of itself as you don’t need fertilizer or pest control, or even watering once the garden has taken hold. Weed control is minimal – it’s mostly for removing invasive alien species.
WHY? Both herbicides and pesticides are toxic products. Hand weeding is a much better solution than spraying herbicides – its completely non-toxic to wildlife and to you, and can be a very zen experience. Using either herbicides or pesticides eliminates the insect population. This impacts birds, bats, frogs and other wildlife who rely on insects for survival by eliminating habitat used by insects and through toxic poisoning of all sorts of critters. Both also offer significant health risks to humans, so why gamble with this as well? Find out more at the Great Healthy Yard Project.
7 – PUT UP BIRDHOUSES THAT ARE APPROPRIATE FOR AT LEAST ONE BIRD SPECIES WHICH IS DECLINING IN YOUR AREA and report your findings from your work to NestWatch. Even in fall and winter some birds need nesting boxes. Owls and some hawks will start nesting in winter, so it’s good to get these boxes up soon.
WHY? Many birds have difficulty finding an adequate place to nest as their nesting areas are disappearing or made uninhabitable. As a result they don’t reproduce. Providing a nest box for a threatened or declining species in your area could make a real difference. And, many of these winter nesting species will benefit your property – for example, owls can manage rodent populations. NestWatch is a Citizen Science project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and they use the information to track the populations and successes of species. So, reporting what good you are doing is not only fun, but a benefit to scientists and the birds.
8 – AVOID USING RODENTICIDES outside.
WHY? Mice and other rodents will eat the poison and can poison their predators. It may be immediate when they are caught and eaten by owls, hawks or vultures, or sometimes over the long term as it builds up in their system. (This is what happens with DDT). Raptors are efficient hunters of rodents, and if they are breeding on your property, you are in luck because the chicks require a lot of mice! So let the raptors on your property be the rodent police!
9 –ALWAYS HAVE FRESH CLEAN WATER AVAILABLE IN YOUR YARD YEAR ROUND. Clean out the bath regularly in summer to avoid bacteria and use a heated birdbath in winter so the water doesn’t freeze. Use clean fresh water only with no chemicals in it or to clean the container.
WHY? Because birds need fresh, clean water to drink and bathe. They need to keep their feathers clean to keep them in prime flight condition. And year round, finding clean water can be a challenge – especially in urban or commercial areas where their either is no natural water or what is there is polluted. Make sure you keep the water out year round as birds can easily get dehydrated in winter. If you live in an area which gets temperatures below freezing, get a solar or electric heater which keeps the water from freezing.
10 – TELL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES THAT YOU WANT THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT RESTORED.
Let them know that you want them to rescind recent regulations that changed and weakened the Endangered Species Act. Recently the administration has drastically weakened ESA regulations by making it easier to delist an endangered species, removing protections for species considered threatened, and allowing economic factors (such as lost revenue from logging or mining operations) to override other considerations when making the determination to protect a species. The new changes make it much easier for claims to be made against protection of any species without regard to the status of the species itself – especially if economic factors are presented. All this comes at a time when declining populations of birds and other wildlife are exacerbated by the unknown future impact of climate change.
WHY? The ESA in its original form which was passed in 1972 with bipartisan support works! The Bald Eagle – our national bird – benefited from enforcement of this legislation which saved this species from probable extinction. Bald Eagle populations were decimated due to the use of DDT, hunting and egg collecting. DDT was banned, these eagles were listed as endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act, and with the enforcement and protection of the ESA, made an excellent comeback – ultimately delisted in 2007. Protection works. The same bill that brought the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and California Condor back from extinction, needs to be restored and enforced when it is so urgently needed for protection. Contact your representatives now and let them know you, like 90% of voters, think the ESA needs to be restored.
11 – TIME PRUNING AND MOWING TO KEEP BIRDS SAFE. Find out when the birds in your area are nesting or fledging and don’t take down vines, trees, mow meadows or fields or disturb areas where they nest until all the baby birds are out of their nests and flying.
WHY? Often, we want to clean up our gardens or mow tall grasses in spring or summer which is typically when birds are nesting or fledging. Depending on where you live, the breeding time might be different, but check with your local Audubon chapter to find out when the birds in your area need to be left undisturbed while they raise their young, and time your home and yard repairs around that. Many birds find tangled ivy and creepers like wisteria to be ideal nesting spots – giving them good cover from predators and from the elements. So wait to clip or pull these vines down until they are no longer providing shelter or supporting nests for birds. Hummingbird chicks and nests are often the unwitting victims of early spring hedge trimming. Likewise, grassland birds nest in open fields on the ground, and the baby birds remain on the ground until fledging, making them very vulnerable to exposure and mowing. Being in the know about what the birds on your property are doing and waiting for their chicks to fledge can have a material impact on how successful the nests are on your property. You may live with a more wild looking property for a few weeks, but think of how good you will feel when you see the recently fledged birds who were raised in those tangles and grasses.
12 – KEEP DOGS OFF BEACHES DURING BIRD NESTING SEASON. And keep human disturbance down by closing some nesting beaches. Shorebirds are one of the hardest hit of the categories of birds – with over one-third of them gone since 1970. With increased human encroachment and activity on beaches where they nest and rising sea levels, beach-nesting shorebirds are experiencing pressure from all sides, and really need our support.
WHY? Birds who nest on the beach nest directly on the sand in small “scrapes” they make to fit their body shape in the sand. There they lay their highly camouflaged eggs in the open. When the chicks hatch they are “precocial” which means they start running around on their own almost immediately after hatching, needing constant herding and protection from the parents. It’s challenging for the parents to do all the extra work it takes to feed them while also protecting them from animal predators like foxes, gulls, domestic cats, crows, ghost crabs and raccoons. Birds will leave the chicks and the nest to fend off or distract anything they perceive as a potential predator – humans and dogs included – providing easy opportunities for natural predators like gulls or crows to quickly swoop in and grab a chick. Shorebirds teach their chicks how to hunt and feed at the shoreline when it is safe. When there is a lot of human and canine activity on the beach where they nest, the parents often keep the chicks inside the roped off nesting area for protection for extended periods of time. Sometimes they cannot get the chicks to the shoreline where the food is often enough or for long enough so that they can get enough food, and the chicks are unable to survive.
13 – PARTICIPATE IN NEST WATCHES AND BIRD COUNTS AND REPORT YOUR FINDINGS. What better way to have some fun with your friends and family and also help birds!
WHY? The more volume of accurate data scientists can get on the status of birds, the better the science about bird populations and challenges becomes. Anyone can participate in this – it’s free and fun to do! If you have nest boxes on your property, join Nestwatch and report what you see in your nestboxes. If you are birdwatching, report on eBird what birds you are seeing. And don’t forget to participate in Audubon’s Christmas Bird Counts! All information submitted to these organizations adds to the database to determine the status of birds. And you get to do something your really love doing in the process!
We hope we have inspired you to take some action now. Stay tuned as we have more ideas upcoming! And, let us know if you have any ideas for actions you would like to see recommended. Thank you for standing up for birds and being part of the solution!
14 – TALK TO YOUR LEGISLATORS ABOUT LAWS MAKING BUILDINGS SAFE FOR BIRDS. New York and San Francisco have bird safe glass buildings legislation – what about your city or community?
WHY? It’s easy for birds to mistake the glass reflection of the trees which are behind them for trees ahead, which they can land in. So, often at full speed, birds fly into glass panes with the intention of just passing through, only to be either stunned or killed. New York City is directly under the Atlantic flyway, one of the busiest migratory pathways used by birds during migration. It’s estimated that up to a quarter of a million birds fly into windows in the Big Apple each year and are killed.
Most birds hit windows when they are flying below 75 feet, so the rules in this bill apply to the glass in lower portions of buildings, additionally to any areas where there is a green roof which would attract birds, and any glass enclosure such as glassed in walkways, which would create “the illusion of a void” which birds might think they can fly through. This is the latest measure that has been undertaken by NYC to make the city safer for avian resident and migrant birds. It sets a goal and a standard for other cities which suffer similar death tolls from glass structures.
Want to help birds by getting this kind of legislation in your state or community? Check out this info from Audubon about how to lobby your state legislators. You can also talk to your City Council or Mayor to work on getting this kind of protective legislation in your city. Glass buildings are a contributor to the 3 billion birds which have been lost in the past few decades. This kind of legislation can make a huge impact on the birds flying through your city, so put this on your list of something you can do to help birds.
15 – BE PREPARED TO HELP BIRDS AFTER A FIRE. Fires can be devastating, but there are things we can all do do help the surviving birds and other wildlife who have lost their homes, habitat and need immediate assistance.
WHY? Fires can easily devastate vast areas of lad in brief period of time. Firefighters not only try to fight the fires, save human lives and property, but also often are able to help wildlife. But the birds and wildlife which are left are often disoriented, injured and unable to find food, shelter and water. We can provide assistance to them short term, and also create habitat in our backyards and neighborhood which may have been lost.
Check out this excellent and practical guide with steps to take to help birds who have been victimized by fire. From Birdlife Australia, there are instructions on rescue, feeding and rebuilding yards. A must-read for anyone in areas which experience fires. Check it out on their site as well.
16 – CREATE A POLLINATOR HABITAT OR B&B FOR BIRDS, BEES AND BATS. Pollinating birds, bees and bats need intact habitat both in and outside cities. They are particularly vulnerable in urban environments where they need contiguous habitat through the city on rooftops and backyards to survive in the city. Cities like Sydney, Oslo and Vancouver are all making their cities friendly for pollinators to move around so they can do their job. Check out the Pollinator Partnership at the Smithsonian for more info.
WHY? Over 75% of all plants require pollination, and 30-40% of the food we eat is brought to us courtesy of pollinators like bees, other insects, bats and birds who provide this service for free. It’s estimated the service they provide is worth over $200 billion. We can help them by planting native plants that attract these birds, bees and insects. These plants often have beautiful flowers and are a great addition to any garden. Add a nestbox or batbox and it makes the habitat more complete.
17 – CREATE HABITAT Having safe and undisturbed habitat is critical to keeping our birds, ourselves and our planet healthy. There are many things we can do to help, and one small way is to create habitat in our backyards, on roofs and decks, in the country, at the shore, in cities. We cannot re-create rainforests, marshes or fertile shorelines at home. But we can make a small but important contribution by converting whatever outside areas we have into not just bird-friendly yards, but important life-supports for birds.
WHY? Loss of habitat – including forests, marshes, fertile shorelines, grasslands – is the largest contributor to the loss of birds and other wildlife. Creating habitat in our own spaces, and making them connect with other habitat helps mitigate the ongoing loss. The contribution on an individual level may not seem great, but every contribution which adds habitat back into the environment helps. And for local birds, butterflies and other wildlife, and those migrating through, it can make a huge difference.
You can do this yourself or get a native plant gardener to help you. Here is an article about a native plant meadow that has made a difference.
18 – RESPECT BEACH-NESTING BIRDS AND THEIR NESTING AREAS Most birds who nest on our beaches are endangered or threatened, primarily due to human disturbance. Their nests are small shallows in the sand and the eggs are laid directly on the sand. The eggs and the chicks are completely camouflaged and are easily trampled. Be respectful of roped-off nesting areas and remain outside of them, and keep your distance from any birds with tiny young on the beach foraging. Refrain from playing frisbee, or any ball games near the roped off areas, as there if the ball or frisbee enters it, it may injure or kill the birds or chicks, and you also can’t retrieve it.
WHY? Shorebirds who nest on our beaches are in trouble. Their numbers have plummeted in some instances 70-90% and they are struggling to maintain populations. Habitat loss, introduced predators and disturbances like dogs and foxes, human disturbance and climate change all are contributing to their inability in many instances to reproduce enough chicks each season to replace the adults. This is resulting in a population spiral of these birds. Shorebirds are the marathoners of migrating birds. From the moment they leave their overwintering areas which can be anywhere from the Bahamas to the southern tip of South America, they are on the most exhausting and taxing 6 months of their lives every year. This involves a rapid flight to their nesting grounds, finding a mate, nesting, raising and protecting their chicks on often extremely busy beaches (possibly twice in a couple of months if the first nest is predated), molt and a return trip to the south. Without human intervention to protect these birds and beachgoer’s willingness to respect the birds nesting areas, there is a greatly diminished chance of successful nesting. On beaches where the roped-off areas are respected, no dogs are allowed on or off lead, no fireworks and the plover chicks who forage at the shoreline are given the ability to do this unimpeded, there is success. When dogs are in the area or permitted to near or run through the nesting area, or people ignore the roped-off areas and walk through them, these factors alone can decrease nesting success rates to a level where the birds can’t reproduce fast enough to replace themselves. By just knowing the facts about shorebirds nesting and why there are roped-off areas, we can share the shore and ensure our shorebirds have a future!
Here is some additional information on beach-nesting birds from Conserve Wildlife NJ