For the Birds: Habitat loss—a preventable disaster

Sunday, August 7, 2011

MacGillivray's Warbler--morning bath before flying on.
Photo by Chris Southwick
By Christine Southwick

Your gas tank is almost empty. The last place you stopped, the pumps were dry. You know another place – it is miles away, but you should be able to just make it. When you get there, the filling station is gone, replaced by a parking lot. Now what?

If you were a bird with this scenario, you would probably fall to the ground, too exhausted and too hungry to travel on. If you were lucky you might find enough water, food, and shelter to recover and travel to your breeding or wintering grounds. If not, you, and possibly your whole flock, would die, never to fly again. This is happening throughout the US. Indeed, the Evening Grosbeak population has plummeted by 91% since 1967, due to rest stops and watering holes on their flyways being poisoned by pesticides, drained and plowed for crops, or made into strip malls.

Migrating White-crowned Sparrow eating bugs
Photo by Whitney Hartshorne
Habitat loss is the number one cause of bird deaths.

There are fewer and fewer places for birds to perch and feed, raise their young, and find open water. Distances between resting and refueling stops often become so great that many birds traveling thousand-year-old migration routes will die from lack of water, food, and safe stop-overs.

How can you help?

If you must cover a ditch, offer water and shelter to replace that which you have eliminated.

Have a sick tree, or one you fear in your yard? Make a snag out of the bottom twenty feet or so. Dead trees will shelter cavity nesters, and provide food too; and it is fun to watch the birds that use them. Trees are the lungs of the earth, so plant a tree or fruiting bush to replace what you took away.

Snag created by homeowner,
used by Pileated Woodpeckers etc.
Photo by Diann MacRae
Don’t make your gardens so clean that they become sterile for wildlife. Gardens that don’t have bugs, can’t feed birds, salamanders, garter snakes, frogs, dragonflies, or any other wildlife.

If you clear an area, don’t do it between March and August. Wait until Labor Day, by then the young have left their ground nests.

Keep a hedgerow of weeds along an edge or corner of your yard. Make a brush pile for hiding and escape routes for birds. Brush piles, and brambles provide shelter during the winter cold also.

When you change the landscape to suit your tastes, ask yourself who and what you are depriving of water, food, and shelter.

Unless you are willing to face a Silent Spring, you need to provide the four necessities: water, food, shelter, and a place to raise young.

You can make a difference. Start now!

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she's sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.


Anonymous,  August 7, 2011 at 4:18 PM  

Please keep housecats in your house. Our neighbor's cat kills a lot of birds and douglas squirrels even with a belled collar.

Anonymous,  August 8, 2011 at 8:30 AM  

The Overland Trailer Court property (152nd off Aurora) is about to be developed. The 1.2 acres will be paved and 32 mature trees will be replaced with an apartment house. One doyen of Shoreline politics said (1/17/08 City Council meeting), "still have the birds, we still have the streams". Where will that be?

Environmental Realist,  August 8, 2011 at 9:04 AM  

If you aren't happy about property being developed, buy it and make it what you want.

DKH August 8, 2011 at 4:03 PM  

I just contacted the planning department and have posted an article on the Overland site.

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