Birds

Take Birds Under Your Wing

Someone recently asked me why the bird population in their garden had dropped dramatically. I was tempted to be alarmist, but the truth is that bird populations vary with the seasons. What may seem like a disappearance of birds from a yard may simply be part of these normal fluctuations.

Photo: Karen F

Bird populations vary according to a variety of factors. Changes in the food supply cause birds to move in order to feed optimally. Weather conditions can temporarily displace birds. High predator populations can also reduce their numbers. Occasionally, epidemics can cause a sharp reduction in populations. Habitat modifications, such as deforestation or land development, can alter the types and numbers of birds observed.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no cause for concern. There is!

Declining Bird Populations

In 2019, an in-depth study of bird populations in the USA and Canada reveals a staggering decline of 2.9 billion breeding adults across all biomes. Forests and grasslands lost 1 billion and 720 million birds respectively. Common birds, including sparrows, blackbirds, warblers and finches, suffered the most, accounting for over 90% of losses. This decline augurs the collapse of North America’s ecosystems.

Blackbird. Photo: MikeLane45

Birds play a crucial role as pollinators, seed dispersers, scavengers and predators. They contribute to the nutrient cycle and consume insects. Their decline can disrupt these vital ecosystem processes. For example, a decline in seed-dispersing birds can affect plant regeneration. Similarly, a decline in predatory birds can lead to an increase in the pest population. Birds also link different ecosystems through their mobility.

How can we help?

So, what to do about it? Clearly, action needs to be taken at various levels of government, and simply being aware of the problem can help. But let’s face it, our leaders generally drag their feet on such issues. So here are a few actions we can take ourselves that can have a real impact on bird populations.

Making Windows Safe for Birds

Self-adhesive window films.Source: Amazon

Every year, up to a billion birds die as a result of collisions with windows in the USA and Canada. Birds mistake window reflections for habitat during the day and, at night, are attracted by the reflection of lights. To avoid this, install screens or use sticky tape or film, paint or string on windows to disrupt reflections. Encourage companies to create bird-friendly murals on windows. Support bird-friendly building legislation and launch municipal night-light reduction campaigns. These measures can significantly reduce the number of bird deaths caused by collisions with windows.

Keep Cats Indoors

Photo: Alina Vilchenko 

It’s estimated that cats, both domestic and feral, kill over 2.4 billion birds a year in the U.S. and Canada, making them the leading cause of bird mortality after habitat loss. To protect birds and keep cats healthy, keep them indoors, create an outdoor enclosure or keep them on a leash. Reduce feral cat colonies in your neighborhood and on public land, as ownerless cats have short, difficult lives and are responsible for more than two-thirds of cat-caused bird deaths.

Replace Lawns With Native Plants

Canadian wild ginger, among others, is an excellent native ground cover for replacing areas of lawn.. Photo : Michael Wolf

Birds are losing their habitats through land development. Lawns and paved surfaces offer little food or shelter for birds. Replacing lawns with native plants can encourage wildlife and provide food, shelter and nesting areas. Native plants also enhance the beauty of yards and neighborhoods.

Don’t Use Pesticides!

Pesticides are often toxic to birds and the insects and plants they feed on. Birds can be affected directly by contact or by eating contaminated seeds or prey. Indirect damage occurs when pesticides reduce the insect population, a crucial food source for birds. Avoiding the use of pesticides can therefore protect their populations.

Reduce plastic waste

Some 4,900 million tonnes of plastic have accumulated worldwide, harming the flora and fauna that ingest them or become entangled in them. Plastic takes over 400 years to degrade, and 91% is not recycled. At least 80 species of seabirds ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. To protect our planet, avoid single-use plastics, opt for reusable items and recycle. Campaign for a ban on plastic bags, polystyrene and straws, and encourage companies to phase out single-use plastics and offer incentives for reusable bags.

Take Part in the Bird Census

Photo: Aaron J Hill

Scientists need data from people all over the world to understand bird health. By observing and reporting birds in various locations, citizens can contribute to science and conservation. You can also mobilize community groups, organize bird walks and support the organizations that coordinate these projects. Your contributions can help identify where birds are thriving and where they need help.

Visit Birds Canada or the National Audubon Society for more information on citizen science programs.

Mathieu manages the jardinierparesseux.com and laidbackgardener.blog websites. He is also a garden designer for a landscaping company in Montreal, Canada. Although he loves contributing to the blog, he prefers fishing.

4 comments on “Take Birds Under Your Wing

  1. One nest of chickadee chicks needs ~ 10,000 caterpillars to raise them to independence. Not enough caterpillars around and they won’t nest there either. That is just one nest. Consider all the birds that are around. Native plants are the best to provide this.

  2. Grow more native bushes and plants and stop being too tidy. Simples.

  3. Christine Lemieux

    Great article. Hard statistics on bird numbers, but easy things I can do myself.

  4. We love to sit and watch the birds outside the window. Thanks for all your tips to keep them visiting!

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!