Can you imagine a world without the sounds of birds singing? Songbirds which filled the sky 50 years ago are in rapid decline. Scientists started collecting data on songbird population numbers in 1966, and the reduction in numbers over the last few decades is alarming. Just a few examples include the Wood Thrush which has decreased by 62%, the Baltimore Oriole by 47%, and the Bobolink by 64%.
Songbirds are a diverse group of birds known for their singing abilities. They are also known as Passerines or birds who perch. They have gripping feet with 3 flexible toes that point forward and on which points backward. From the red of the Scarlet Tanager, to the blue of the Indigo Bunting, or bright yellow of an American Goldfinch, they are as colorful as a rainbow.
Some songbirds like the warblers are neotropical migrants, traveling from the tropical forests of Central and South America in the winter to the boreal forests of Canada to breed in the summer. Habitat to rest and feed along the journey is critical to their survival. Other songbirds like robins, bluebirds and finches migrate shorter distances or reside all winter in our area.
The beauty they bring to our natural world is reason alone to care about their survival. However these birds play a much more important role. Songbirds pollinate trees and flowers, disperse seeds and voraciously consume insects. In the food chain they also serve as a food source for larger birds. Their decline is an alarming indicator of the overall health of our environment.
A perfect storm of man made events has developed over the past decades to bring about this rapid decline. Habitat loss, the use of neonicotiniod pesticides, climate change, window collisions, outdoor cats, and illegal hunting are causing large numbers of birds to die each year. Scientists and bird experts are working bring awareness to the problem and change the tide.
There are ways to help increase the survival of these birds, and the first is to become informed. Get to know these beautiful, imperiled birds that are an integral part of our natural heritage. Support land conservation to prevent the loss of habitat. Create a bird friendly habitat in your own yard by planting native species of plants, feeding the birds, and providing nesting sites. Help to eliminate threats by avoiding pesticides or herbicides, keeping cats indoors, and becoming a bird friendly consumer.