What birders can do to reduce threats to birds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A recent study published in Science concluded that 29% of the bird population of the United States and Canada, i.e. 3 billions birds – have been lost since 1970. And a report just released by Audubon concludes that climate change is threatening nearly two-thirds of our birds.

What can we birdwatchers do when the problems are so huge? Individual actions may seem insignificant, but fostering what Audubon calls a “culture of conservation” can be important locally, and it can ripple regionally, even nationally and internationally. How?

In 1993, a small group of people in Toronto, wanting to do something about all the birds killed in tall lighted buildings during migration, banded together to form the Fatal Light Awareness Program. Volunteers scoured downtown early in the morning, picking up dead and injured birds, and keeping the public informed of the death toll. More and more people encouraged residents of high-rise buildings and high-rise building managers to turn off lights or draw curtains at night during migration. Today, residents of many other cities, inspired by their work, have “Lights Out” programs. It’s the ripple effect.

Daniel Klem, for decades the only researcher to study bird kills at windows, came to people’s attention in 2009 after determining that every year in the United States, half a billion to a billion birds are killed at windows. This number caught the attention of prominent ornithologists, who were skeptical until their own research confirmed Klem’s figures.

He documented that vertical strips of duct tape, stickers, parachute cords, or even just markers placed on the outside of the glass are spaced no more than 4 inches apart (just
2 inches apart if the lines are horizontal) keeps most birds away, perhaps because 4 inches is less than the wingspan of even the smallest songbirds. Now the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy, Audubon and others are also publicizing ways to reduce mortalities at our own windows. It’s the ripple effect.

See also  Help migratory birds by dimming the lights

Many researchers once believed that the number of birds killed by domestic cats was too low to pose a problem for populations. Pioneering research by Stanley Temple in Wisconsin has established that the toll is a billion or more each year. Today, more and more people and organizations are trying to make windows safer for birds and working to get people to keep cats indoors and to enact cat leash laws and ordinances. It’s the ripple effect.

Over the years, Bird watching published articles and columns suggesting ways we as individuals can help birds, many of which are archived at whereshouldthebirdsfly.org. My book, 101 ways to help birds, published by Stackpole in 2006, focuses on the big and small ways we can help birds through our shopping, driving and travel habits, our backyard habitat, and the organizations and support agencies working on a larger scale. This information and more is available on my webpage, lauraerickson.com/ways-to-help.