My heart soars with every bird I see passing overhead and dances to every bird’s song. Each spring is a chance to celebrate the return of migratory birds. However, it is a bittersweet celebration as, each year, fewer and fewer birds make trip. Birds, whether migratory or not, face many threats worldwide. One in eight bird species are threatened with extinction, and another third are at risk. May 14th marks International Migratory Bird Day, a time to reflect on ways we can treasure and protect the feathered creatures that brighten our skies and our hearts.
Take up birdwatching. Robert Bateman, naturalist and world-renowned wildlife artist, believes that the world would be a better place if it were run by birdwatchers. "If we can identify the various species in nature that’s around us, we are much more likely to treasure it than if we have the attitude, ‘if you’ve seen one bird, you’ve seen them all.’ With this attitude, if a whole species goes missing, we won’t notice it. If we are able to identify things, we are more likely to be responsible citizens of the planet.” So pick up a binocular and a bird guide and get to know the birds in your world.
Keep your cat indoors. In North America, cats kill at least 1 billion songbirds a year. De-clawing and collar bells just don’t do the trick. Keeping your cat indoors can also help your cat live a longer and healthier life.
Bird proof your windows. In North America, each year 80 million birds collide with houses, high-rises, and other structures. Windows can reflect the surrounding landscape, and birds then think they can fly through them. Closing your blinds at home or the office can help. Urge your place of work to turn off the lights at night. You can also buy silhouettes of birds or other decals to stick to your windows, or hang light netting over the outside of a problem window.
Naturescape your yard. Plant trees and shrubs that provide food and shelter for birds year-round. Add a source of clean water, a bird feeder, and even nesting boxes.
Leave them alone! During migration, eating and resting is critical for birds to refuel along their journey. Chasing flocks on the beach may be amusing to dogs and kids, but it is also illegal. Disruptions either by people or dogs can be a serious threat, for without adequate reserves, a bird will not survive its long journey.
Buy organic and eliminate pesticide use in your garden. Pesticides have health risks to birds and well as people. Birds are very sensitive to chemicals and exposure to them through their food and water sources can result in toxic levels in their bodies. Organic, fair-trade coffee and chocolate also ensure the protection of bird habitat, as unlike conventional methods, the land is not cleared of trees.
Say "Enough is enough!” Everything you buy comes from the earth and has many hidden environmental and social costs. By reducing your material appetite, you help to protect the environment. Learn to appreciate what you already have.
The way we choose to live has a huge impact on bird populations. Thankfully, there are many ways we can work to protect migratory and resident bird species. So pick up those binoculars and get to know the creatures you share your world with. What you love, you will naturally want to preserve. Then the other steps of conservation will follow easily.
Lindsay Hartley has a B.A. in Biology/Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria. She is passionate about the natural world, and exploring the link between nature and personal well-being.