A recent study of bird populations in North America published in the journal Science revealed that nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds are alive today compared to avian abundance in 1970, a loss of 29%! In addition, Audubon's new report, Survival by Degrees, estimates that two-thirds of North American birds (389 species) are at increasing risk of extinction from global temperature rise.
In the face of these threats it's easy to lose hope, but we want to focus on what we as individuals, families, and communities can do to turn these trends around. In the past, some species have been nearly eliminated by hunting or pesticides, yet conservation measures (like eliminating DDT) helped these populations to recover, so we still have a chance to bring birds back from the brink!
Here are twelve things YOU can do to give birds a better chance of survival:
- Vote for candidates who place environmental issues front and center. Public policy has a huge impact on survival of the bird species we love.
- Stop using single use plastics, especially straws, plastic bags, and balloons. These items can end up in our waterways where they can be mistaken for food by birds, fish, and sea turtles, often killing them. Bring reusable bags to the grocery store. Refuse straws and bring your own take-out containers when dining out. Dispose of cigarette butts properly - butts are the most common trash found on the beaches during cleanups, and the filters contain plastic. (Another reason to quit smoking.)
- Keep cats indoors - they will live longer and healthier lives. Support measures to eliminate feral cat colonies over time. There are 60-100 million free-ranging cats in the US, and they are non-native predators against which our wild birds have no natural defenses. It is estimated that cats kill 1 billion birds and 6 billion mammals each year in the US alone. Outdoor cats typically have a very short life span and can transmit diseases to humans and wildlife. Audubon supports the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors program.
- Use traps for a rodent problem instead of rat poison, many forms of which move up the food chain to also kill eagles, hawks, and owls, which eat rodents.
- Swear off herbicides and pesticides and reduce or eliminate fertilizer use in your yard. A chemical-free yard provides safe food sources for birds and other pollinators. Organic farms provide the same benefits on an agricultural scale. Pesticides containing neonicotinoids are directly responsible for the disastrous decline of bees, monarch butterflies, and other beneficial insects. We are joined by other organizations including the Garden Club of America, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Florida Wildflower Foundation in opposing the use of them.
- Plant native plants in your yard, especially fruit and nut bearing trees and berry producing shrubs, which are an excellent food source for birds and pollinators. An easy way to learn what will work in our yards here in northeast Florida is to use Audubon's Plants for Birds website. Go to the native plants database and type in your zip code, and you will get a list of plants for our area, including pictures for easy identification.
- Maintain a brush pile so birds have a place to hide from predators.
- If you can do it safely, let dead trees stand in your landscape as nesting sites for cavity nesting birds such as woodpeckers. They are also a source of insects which provide protein for birds.
- Keep fresh water readily available. In a drought, it’s easier for birds to find food than water.
- Reduce deadly bird collisions with glass by keeping screens up year-round. Or, install feather guards which interrupt reflections. Window decals to reduce bird strikes are also available from several vendors, including Wild Birds Unlimited.
- Enroll your company in Audubon’s Lights Out Program, which promotes safe migration for birds through urban areas by taking actions such as turning off outside lights on buildings and using window shades during nighttime work. There are currently 30 cities participating in this program throughout the US already and we hope to add Jacksonville to that list soon. At this time there are no cities in Florida that participate in this program and we would like to be the first.
- Buy shade grown, bird-friendly coffee. Not only will you be helping small farmers in South and Central America use good growing practices but you will also help our bird species that migrate there in the winter. It is easily obtainable online and several local retailers carry it as well. Ask your local coffee shop to stock it.
If everyone would do at least one of these things now, such as bringing your own reusable bags when shopping, keeping your cat indoors, stop using chemicals on your lawn, or stop using plastic straws, we can have a positive impact on the survival of the birds we love. Doing nothing guarantees that nothing will change.
Chapter president Jody Willis and Duval County conservation chair Carolyn Antman appeared on WJCT's First Coast Connect radio show on October 30, 2019 - read the story and listen to the program here.