Most of us are aware of the alarming decline in populations of pollinators and other beneficial insects. This affects all of us, our food supply, and the birds that we love. In addition to habitat loss, pesticides use is a major culprit. Recent investigations have found pesticide residue everywhere, in the body tissues of people and animals, in the food we buy at our supermarkets, and even (sorry about this) in our beer and wine.
The percentage of people who think global warming is happening is now five times greater than that of people who don’t, according to a recent survey conducted by Yale University.
by Dick Lamster, Count Coordinator
The 27 observer teams in the 77th ECBC mobilized on Sunday, December 30. For the first time in recent memory, the Eugene Christmas Bird Count (ECBC) had good weather—a day with no ice, no snow, and no wind! The sun even came out for a short time. And just to remind us it was December in Oregon, it did rain for a few minutes mid-afternoon.
The 155 Field Observers, along with the 76 Home Counters, identified 131 species of birds, plus three more during Count Week. That’s a total of 77,239 individual birds. These numbers are about average for the past few years. Our species record of 140, plus 2 more during Count Week, was set in 2005. Our record of 129,874 individual birds was set in 2000. A complete listing and analysis by the Species Compiler, Vjera Thompson, can be found on this website under Resources/Christmas Bird Counts.
In last month’s column, I reported some bad news on the conservation front, but noted that there were ways that we, as individuals, could help. That’s still true. Sitting at my computer, I find myself, again, mired in more bad news, and I worry about losing my sense of humor.
Bad news first:
- The Peregrine Fund has found that 52 percent of raptor species are declining around the globe.
- According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we have seen an overall 60 percent decline of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since 1970.
- A report on high-elevation species of birds show population declines. Their ranges have shrunk due to climate change, and they have run out of usable mountain habitat.
The bad news first. The conservation group BirdLife International’s latest report found that 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline. The good news is that many people are seeking to protect nature in a myriad of ways. They develop conservation programs to protect ecosystems and for various specific species. Some of this is done in the field, some through communication with policy makers, and some in the courts. It’s easy, but deceptive and disempowering, to think that we as individuals can’t make a difference. One of the most important things we can do now is to vote and let our representatives know that we value laws that protect species and habitats. Protective laws can work: 70 percent of the birds listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have populations that are now stable, increasing, or have recovered enough to be delisted.
Some of the many other things we can do as individuals to make a difference are listed below.
Good reasons to conserve the forests always include concern for the welfare of birds and other living beings. But that’s just the beginning. Two recent scientific reports highlight important roles that birds play in the world. And birds need healthy forests.
The first report (Science, 2018) warns that a warming climate will mean a significant increase in losses of major food crops to insect pests. Increased temperatures mean more insects, resulting in greater crop losses. The losses for wheat, an important Oregon crop, will increase 46 percent for each rise of 2 degrees Celsius. A second report (The Science of Nature, 2018) documents the importance of birds in controlling insect populations—insectivorous birds consume between 400 and 500 million tons of insects per year. Forest-dwelling birds consume around 75 per cent of that total. So it makes sense to conserve bird habitat, due to the vital role of birds in the food web (including insect control), as well as for their pollination prowess and seed dispersing skills.
I prefer bird tweets to presidential tweets. It’s too easy to get distracted by the rhetoric and scandals, which may lead to the false impression that not much is getting done. However, while we are distracted, the current administration has sought to roll back many bedrock environmental protections. The vast scope of these changes and proposals makes it difficult for me to read or listen to the news. The following is a sampling of the more than 60 policy changes. Some are in the proposal stage, while others have been enacted.
- The federal government is reversing a policy that would have increased vehicle mileage standards for cars made over the next decade. The standards that were to go into effect would have limited vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They would have also lessened other forms of pollution, reduced the need for fossil fuels, and saved people money at the pump.
You might have heard a little something about the birds and the bees. But maybe you haven’t heard that what’s good for bees is good for birds as well. Because that’s true, Lane County Audubon has joined the Eugene Pollinator Protection Committeein collaboration with the Xerces Society, Beyond Toxics, Walama Restoration Project, GloryBee, and the City of Eugene Parks and Open Spaces. By helping to protect native bees, we also secure resources, habitat, and health for our bird populations and other wildlife.
Unfortunately, pollinator populations have declined dramatically. A 2017 report revealed that over 700 species of native bees are in trouble.
This school year, Lane County Audubon Society has put a record number of Audubon Adventures kits in classrooms! We couldn’t have done this without our generous sponsors. Thanks to them, we were able to place 62 kits in 51 classrooms across 21 Lane County schools! That’s about 1,275 students that have been enriched with standards-based science content about birds, wildlife, and their habitats.