3 Billion Birds Gone – What Else Can I Do To Help?

After the release of the scientific report last month, spearheaded by

White-throated Sparrow
Photo Credit:  Deborah Rivel

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, showing the loss of 3 billion birds in North America in less than 50 years, we were deluged with requests asking what can a normal person do to help?  The decline of birds is so precipitous that there seemed to be a feeling of helplessness. But there is a lot of potential for hope here as there are many things which don’t require any special skill that will directly help our birds, and make life better for the rest of us as well.  We published in our last newsletter, a list of 8 things that are easily done to help birds. This month, we decided to add to our list with a few more things you can do to help #bringbirdsback.  Click here for the entire list – which we will continue to update.

Read on for our new additions to the list

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!


Choose a couple of new things to do from our list this month and give them a try.  Every bit of effort is a step forward for birds. Thank you!