Dear Jane and Other Heartsick Lovers of our Vanishing Birds,
Did you see the just released cover of the 2019 autumn edition of Living Bird? It was shocking. Instead of the usual gorgeous photo of a gorgeous bird, the cover was almost solid black, with one lone feather way down in the right hand corner, and the words “3 Billion Birds Lost” in the other corner.
The lead story, based on a study from the top scientific journal Science, reported that in just the past 50 years, more than 1 in 4 birds has disappeared across North America. That is catastrophic! According to the lead author of the Report,
“These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife, and that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.“
Many of the bird families that have lost the most ground, according to the study, are the common ones. The hardest hit are the blackbird family, finch family, lark family, sparrow family and warbler family. Some of our common birds on the river were singled out as suffering the biggest losses.
According to the study, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS have lost 30% of their populations, SONG SPARROWS (this is the one that choked me up) have lost 20% of their populations, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS have lost a third of their population. I know that from now on, every time I hear the whistle-buzz-trill of the song sparrow singing its heart out every spring, it will be like a tiny dagger in my heart. I have come to love these plain little songsters.
According to Steve Gerow, red-winged blackbirds used to breed along the riverine reach of the urban river. But I don’t think I’ve even seen a red-winged blackbird since I took this photo in 2015, much less seen any sign of breeding.
A consolation is that I know that there were breeding song sparrows and breeding juncos this year during breeding season. This little junco was hopping around with brothers and sisters in San Lorenzo Park this summer, not the safest habitat, but they seemed to be surviving.
The author reminds us of the extinction of passenger pigeons, the complete loss of which no one would have have believed possible. But they are gone forever.
The article in Living Bird didn’t mention our common WESTERN SCRUB-JAY , but it did cite the STELLAR JAY as one of the most heavily affected species, losing 29% of its population. I’ll do more research on the scrub jay and let you know what I find out.
The authors of the study are quick to point out that all is not lost – wood duck populations are up 50%, raptors up 200%. We have both on our river. Their numbers are up because they were identified in the past as threatened and conservation efforts were successful. The other co-author of the study, Adam Smith, offers this message of hope:
“The successes of the past are the candles in the dark that will guide us towards solutions in the future.”
And speaking of bringing hope, I just read in the paper that Desiree Quintero, who I wrote about in my May 1 post this last summer, was killed by a falling tree in a small camp in the Pogonip. She was a strong and compassionate leader at Ross Camp, bringing hope to many other women in the camp. If you missed that blog, you can read about her here. May this brave woman rest in peace.
Let’s make every effort to protect our avian and human species, especially the most threatened.
In the category of comic relief, I had to laugh out loud as I watched a mischievous AMERICAN CROW teasing a Ground Squirrel by sneaking up behind it and pecking at its tail! I could hardly believe my eyes. And once wasn’t enough. The crow returned again and again, repeating his sneak attack, causing the hapless squirrel to jump in surprise and then run off. But it couldn’t have been too painful since the squirrel also kept coming back for more. It didn’t look that different from kids playing some kind of tag game on the playground.
Good birding to all,