By Bethany Gray
“The ability of birds to show us the consequences of our own actions is one of their most important but least appreciated attributes. Despite the free advice of birds, we didn’t pay attention. ” — Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, 1947
The month of May each year hosts the return of migratory birds from their southern wintering grounds to breeding grounds further north. Millions of birds pass by and stop to refuel, or settle in Ohio for nesting season. The second Saturday of May and October is officially recognized as International Migratory Bird Day. The journey of birds and their reproduction, however, is paired with harsh and deadly challenges.
Since 1970, North America has lost three billion birds, nearly 30% of the total (abcbirds.org/3-billion-birds), suffering the heaviest losses among the 12 bird families that include sparrows, warblers, finches, and swallows. kite. Habitat loss and degradation are the two main reasons, followed by outdoor cats, window crashes and exposure to pesticides and poisons.
Outdoor cats kill billions of birds, small mammals and pollinators, including butterflies, every year, and even if the birds don’t die soon, cat bites carry bacteria that often cause their deaths.
Introduced to the US by European colonizers, the number of domestic cats has tripled in the last 40 years. In addition to the recommendation that cats be spayed/neutered to reduce overpopulation, the American Bird Conservancy website provides practical strategies for pet owners making the transition to keeping/restricting cats from roaming outdoors or keeping cats indoors.
The American Veterinary Medical Association describes further benefits for cats and their humans — increased lifespan and reduced human cruelty, injury, and disease spread.
Eighty percent of migratory birds do so at night when there is quieter air space and fewer predators, using the moon and stars to navigate. Artificial light is increasing by 2% per year globally, and light pollution confuses birds and causes them to land in vulnerable and collision-prone areas; it also harms the moth population. During migration, residences and businesses can assist by turning off or lowering the visor of any upward-pointing chandeliers or headlights, eliminating horizontal glare, installing motion sensor lights wherever possible, and turning off unnecessary interior lighting on higher floors.
“Turning off bright lights helps birds move within minutes, as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and New York City Audubon discovered during the annual 9/11 anniversary in New York City.
Hundreds of birds are caught on the warning beams every year but shutting them off for only 20 to 30 minutes at a time greatly reduces bird density in the area.” (audubon.org/lights-out-program)
Audubon reports that 55-75% of bird window attacks are lethal. The recently released book “Solid Air: Invisible Killer, Saving Billions of Birds from Windows” describes the behavior of birds “as if the sheet of glass was invisible to them.” They often see the reflection of vegetation or are attracted to the light indoors at night. Screens, curtains and/or shutters will reduce this. Another option is to use clear anti-attack decorative stickers or anti-attack film or tape. Keeping bird feeders and bird baths further away from windows also helps. While some birds may be momentarily stunned after being hit and then continue flying, others may not, or they may look injured. After witnessing a bird injury, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and store the bird in a dark box with air holes and in a quiet place for transportation. In these areas, contact the Brukner Nature Center for songbirds; Glen Helen Raptor Center cares for larger birds of prey.
When doing landscape work, if tree or shrub felling or similar work can wait until fall, it may save the entire bird’s nest either in the cavity or in the branches. Keeping partially dead trees and branches — snags — in a safe place offers nesting opportunities and a food source where they will be completely removed. For more information on how to start introducing more sustainable landscape practices, visit nwf.org/CERTIFY.
When we pay attention to birds, we in turn help ourselves.
For more information, see “101 Ways to Help Birds,” by Laura Erickson.
*The author is a local naturalist and certified habitat ambassador and educator for the National Wildlife Federation.