News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Where have all the bugs and birds gone?

This is a tough time for me to hit 91, dear readers, for there’s something going haywire in the workings of this beautiful old Planet Earth and I can’t put my finger on it. Not too long ago, back in June, through a variety of resources, I became aware that insects are disappearing from the earth, not just here in the Pacific Northwest, but in several other locations around the U.S. of A. and in several places in Europe, including West Germany.

That’s a very serious state of affairs. Without insects we will not have the tools to pollinate the marvelous variety of plants that grow in this good earth, among them a lot of the foods we eat.

Now I’m receiving notices from friends near and far about birds that are also disappearing from the Earth. One headline states: “Where are the wild birds? 3 billion fewer than 1970.” Holy jumpin’ bull frogs! Three billion less birds than we had flitting about back in 1970? That, dear ones, is a LOT of birds!

Obviously, the first thought that comes to mind is: why?

Apparently, a bunch of people at Cornell University discovered this drop in bird populations and are wondering why and what can be done to stop it.

This is part of what the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is all about, why we do it — to spot population trends. The National Audubon Society started these counts over 100 years ago, amassing bird numbers all across the U.S. and Canada. It appears these scientists at Cornell decided to take a look at the numbers and see if or what was happening in bird populations across the board. Little did we know…

Every year the state ornithologist at the University of Connecticut received calls from throughout the state from people who are noticing a drop in bird numbers. This promoted the scientist to say, “If you came out of your house one morning and noticed that a third of all the houses in your neighborhood were empty you’d rightly conclude that something threatening was going on.”

Then the scientist put it into another realm of understanding: “If 3 billion of our neighbors, the ones who eat the bugs that destroy our food plants, carry diseases like equine encephalitis, are gone. I think we all may stop to think that’s threatening.”

The Cornell researcher put the missing birds situation in an example that makes all the sense in the world to me: He used the evening grosbeaks. When he was a youngster he saw “invasions” of them, but today he gets all excited if he sees just one.

That’s very similar to what I have observed. My family and I have lived in this location at Sun Mountain for over 40 years. We raised our three children here, they attended and graduated from Sisters schools, and we’ve been feeding backyard birds from the first day we arrived.

When we arrived at this location we had over a dozen evening grosbeaks coming to our feeder daily. In fact, we had more grosbeaks than house sparrows. Over the years the house sparrow population has grown, while we haven’t seen a grosbeak in well over 15 years. Did the house sparrows drive them out, or is avian salmonella getting them, like other bird species in North America?

Avian researchers say that habitat loss is a big reason for birds vanishing, but then, a 2015 study said domestic and feral house cats kill over 2.6 billion birds annually. Studies on birds killed from striking windows is also staggering: somewhere around 624 million, while automobile strikes accounted for another 214 million dead birds.

Keeping your house cat at home and underfoot will help reduce cat-killed bird numbers, and removing feral cats will also be a big help.

The best way to solve the bird-strike on windows is by sticking a silhouette of an accipiter (bird hawk) on your window. That usually works pretty good to keep most birds from trying to fly through your house to the other side.

And please, remember Rachel Carson, the author of “Silent Spring.” That book was published as a warning to us about the harmful elements we are coping with in the technological world of today. She told us what too many, too powerful chemicals will do to the Earth — and us —if we weren’t cautious.

If we don’t stop pouring chemicals into our soil and water it’s going to be more than birds and insects that will disappear. And it’ll start with me and you.

If we stop using pesticides and herbicides in our own backyards that will be a beginning.

Birds and bats eat mosquitoes, all we have to do is make it easier for them to do so and we can stop mosquito-borne diseases. We won’t need to spray to kill mosquitoes.

The more we watch and care for the Earth we live on the better it’s going to be for you and I — and our kids — in the long run, as well as all those so-called lesser animals that share air we breath and the land we walk on.


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