Bird watchers this time of year are in their glory! Migratory birds are making their annual return to Western New York, and our fields and forests are alive with color and sound.
Volunteers at Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java were busy this week taking an annual continent-wide census of bird species, which they've been doing for almost 15 years.
"Anyone who does bird banding, catching birds in mist nets, can take part in the study," explains volunteer Bill Michalek. "It takes place during the breeding season, and it's been going on a number of years, so we have a good amount of data of what kind of birds are using what source of habitat, and how successful they are."
The birds are captured in delicate mist nets, designed to trap them without injury. Important vital statistics are then recorded, birds are banded, and then released. The data is compiled on a continental scale, and provides fascinating insight into Avian life. Michalek says that the trends discovered from all this information are quite disturbing.
"What they've found is that about a third of the bird population, in the last forty years, have declined over 50 percent, and are in some danger of extinction if we don't take some kind of conservation action," Michalek says.
There are a number of reasons for the decline. Habitat loss, domestic cat predation, pesticide use and Climate Change all are factors and the responsibility lies with humans. This is ironic given their loss is ours as well. Birds have an important role in perpetuating the health of the planet we rely on to survive.
"They provide a lot of what we call ‘ecosystem services.’ Those are services Nature provides for people for free, insect control is a big one. They provide services not just for humans, but nature in general," Bill Michalek says.
%INLINE% Birds also provide an important intangible. They offer us a connection to the planet we are often not even aware of.
"If you want to get people outside, there's nothing better than seeing a beautiful bird, and it's a great hobby to get into as well,” Bill Michalek says. “It provides an avenue for people to get connected to Nature."
The bird decline is a serious one, and the repercussions of their loss could have a devastating effect on our environment in the future. But as the human races destroys, it can also restore, and everyone can play a part in protecting our beautiful feathered brethren from further harm.
Participating in Citizen Science projects such as these is one avenue, but Michalek says there are things we can all do on a daily basis to help.
"Buying more environmentally friendly products, there are choices you can make with your diet, with home products that some companies are very aware of the habitat loss that can be connected to the production of their products," Michalek says. "The great environmental writer Aldo Leopold said ‘The first rule of tinkering is to save all the pieces,’ and the birds that are out there they are hugely important pieces. So, there's impacts we can predict, but I'll bet there's lot more impacts that we can't even predict."