Steps You Can Take to Keep Birds on the Wing

A truly shocking study published in the journal Science in September reveals a net loss of nearly 3 billion birds in North America since 1970—a 29 percent drop in under 50 years. This precipitous population decline is a clear warning for us about the serious impacts borne by wildlife from human activities, including habitat destruction, artificial lighting, pesticide use, and climate change. Experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommend seven actions you can take to help native birds:

Make windows safer. Up to 1 billion birds die after hitting windows in the United States and Canada every year. During the day, birds may perceive reflections in windows as trees or other areas they can fly into. At night, migratory birds are drawn to city lights and collide with windows. To make your windows bird safe, experts recommend installing screens or breaking up reflections using film, paint, decals, or strings on the outside of windows (e.g., Acopian BirdSavers).

Corral your cat. It is hard to talk about cats vs. birds without, shall we say, ruffling some feathers on one side or getting some backs up on the other. Tens of millions of cats are beloved companions in this country. But cats are natural hunters, and every year an estimated 2.6 billion birds are killed by free-roaming cats in the United States and Canada. Keeping companion cats inside prevents them from adding to the toll. To give cats the sights and sounds of the outdoors, consider creating a screened patio area for them or training them to walk on a leash.

Cut (out) the grass. Monoculture grass lawns and pavement fail to provide shelter or food for birds. Reduce the percentage of space devoted to lawn and add native plants to your yard. You will help birds by providing natural foods and shelter and your space will be more beautiful. 

Set aside pesticides. Each year, over 1 million pounds of pesticides are applied in the United States. Neonicotinoids—the most widely used—are lethal to birds and the insects on which they feed. Others, including glyphosate (marketed as Roundup) are toxic to birds. Pesticides also make life more difficult for birds indirectly by reducing insect populations—a key food source. 

Choose bird-friendly coffee. Most coffee is grown in the sun, meaning the forest canopy was cleared to make way for coffee plants. Choose shade-grown certified coffee, which requires fewer pesticides and protects habitats for at least 42 species of migratory songbirds, including thrushes, warblers, and orioles.

Reduce plastic use. Plastic in landfills and the ocean is often ingested by birds, or they may become tangled in the waste. Only 9 percent of plastics worldwide are actually recycled. Avoid single use plastics such as grocery bags, take-out containers, polystyrene, and straws. 

Watch and record. Monitoring birds is essential to helping protect these vulnerable species. You can be a citizen scientist by joining eBird to assist bird inventories or participating in one of several annual bird count days. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab offers a free online course for using eBird to record your sightings and discover new places to birdwatch.

Of course, we must lean on our elected officials to support broad policies to reduce threats and protect wild birds and their habitats. But in “walking the talk,” we can all pitch in to stop the silencing of our yards, forests, and meadows.

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