For the Birds: Pesticides and Birds -- A Perilous Mix

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Feeding bug to junco fledgling
Photo by Mick Thompson

By Christine Southwick

Did you know that 67 million birds die each year from pesticide poisoning, and that more than 600 million are exposed, with probable breathing and breeding impairments? This figure comes from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

Many experts believe birds are amongst the most vulnerable species when it comes to pesticide exposure and serve as sentinels of the quality of the environment. One reason they are most susceptible is that they are very mobile and difficult to exclude from areas that have been treated with pesticides and there is little that can be done to prevent them from landing in areas that have recently been treated. Their susceptibility relates to their high rates of ventilation and inhalation of vapor and fine droplets, which makes them at risk from pesticides that are spayed. They also ingest pesticides through their food, and by preening and grooming and by absorbing them through their skin and feet.” Defenders of Wildlife.

American Robin pulling worm from lawn
Photo by Christine Southwick

When a rock is thrown into water, concentric rings radiate out from the point of entry. Think of pesticides as having the same effect. Pesticide drifts in air, gets tracked by feet or paws, and percolates into aquifers and streams which spread these toxic chemicals even further.

Pesticides, which include herbicides and insecticides, are poisons meant to eliminate unwanted weeds, vermin, and destructive insects. But pesticides are indiscriminate killers.

Bewick's Wren with spider
Photo by Craig Kern

In addition to both resident and migrating birds, pesticides kill:
  • Beneficial insects appear to be especially susceptible (estimated cost of pollination loss per year $200 million per year plus $520 million per year loss of beneficial insects);
  • Needed weeds like milkweed that Monarch Butterflies use as its sole nesting plant;  
  • Amphibians—salamanders, frogs, toads, 
  • And anything that eats these poisoned items.
Suggested reading
Bringing Nature Home
by Douglas W. Tallamy

How can you help? 
  • Rely on healthy practices and plants rather than poisons. Especially avoid using d-CON rat poisons and lawn chemicals.
  • Plant native plants—they require less water, and no fertilizers to grow well here.
  • Hand-pull, cut weeds, and learn to live with a few weeds.
  • Be willing to see a bug hole or two in your plant leaves—that means that caterpillars that turn into butterflies have been born here.
  • And bring birds into your yard by feeding, and offering water year round. They eat lots of bugs and they will help keep your yard healthy.‎


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