Birds capture our imaginations. They fly freely above the world in beautiful colors and configurations. They sing.
But nearly a third of birds in the U.S. and Canada, or 3 billion, have disappeared since 1970.
The devastating losses have occurred everywhere. Forests have lost 1 billion birds. Grassland bird populations have declined by 53%, or another 720 million birds.
Common birds have suffered the greatest losses, according to the new study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
More than 90% of the losses come from just 12 families, including sparrows, blackbirds, warblers and finches.
Favorite species seen at bird feeders, like dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows, along with meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are taking huge hits.
We can help slow this startling decline. Here are remedies, primarily from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
1. Keep cats indoors. Cats are estimated to kill more than 2.6 billion birds annually. Aside from habitat loss, this is the primary human-caused reason for the loss of birds.
2. Eat less meat, especially beef. Forests in the Amazon and other places are being bulldozed and burned to make space for cattle or soybeans to feed them, wiping out critical bird habitat. The livestock industry is responsible for up to 50% of the methane and carbon emissions contributing to climate change.
3. Make windows safer. Up to 1 billion birds are estimated to die each year after hitting windows. Install screens or break up reflections — using film, paint or strings spaced no more than two inches high or four inches wide.
4. Reduce lawn, plant natives. Birds have fewer places to safely rest during migration and to raise their young. More than 10 million acres of land in the U.S. were developed from 1982 to 1997. Provide brush piles and native plants for shelter and food. Leave sunflowers, coneflowers and other seed-bearers standing all winter.
5. Avoid pesticides. More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied in the U.S. each year. The continent’s most widely used insecticides, called neonicotinoids, are lethal to birds and to the insects they consume. Common weed killers, such as 2, 4-D and glyphosate (used in Roundup), are toxic to wildlife, and glyphosate has been declared a probable human carcinogen.
6. Drink organic, shade-grown coffee. Three-quarters of the world’s coffee farms grow their plants in the sun, destroying forests that birds and other wildlife need for food and shelter. Shade-grown coffee preserves a forest canopy that helps migratory birds survive the winter.
7. Use less plastic. It’s estimated that 4,900 million metric tons of plastic have accumulated worldwide, polluting oceans and harming seabirds, whales and turtles that mistakenly eat plastic, or become entangled in it. While you’re at it, don’t use fake spider webs at Halloween. They are death traps for birds.
8. Keep fresh water available. Water is critical, especially in droughts like we are experiencing now.
Thank you for doing as much as you can for our feathered friends.