Friday, June 22, 2007

Deathwatch for our birds

First, honeybees began mysteriously disappearing by the millions.

Now it's birds. At least 20 bird species have lost an average of 68 percent of their populations over the past 40 years.

If this trend reported by the Audubon Society in the first of three landmark studies continues, it's possible future generations only see living or stuffed birds preserved in zoo display cases.

Extinction for some species may be just over the horizon.

Numbers of the bobwhite, a robin-sized bird that thrives in meadows, have plunged 80 percent—from more than 31 million to 5.5 million.

The northwestern U.S. evening grosbeak's shrinking numbers are also just as stunning—a 78 percent decline, from 17 million to 3.8 million.

Global warming, which the Audubon Society will report on in a future report, may play some part in this astonishing decline.

But the real culprit is humankind's hunger to spread its economic footprint—large industrialized farms that roll over bird habitat; urbanizing once remote America with endless vistas of new housing subdivisions where forests once stood; planting industrial parks where underbrush served as nesting places.

Nary a thought has been given by the architects of economic and industrial expansion to the displaced, unprotected and vulnerable bird species. They did not just up and move: they began to die off.

What quality of life could there be, and what sort of world would humans inhabit, without the sounds of songbirds, the sight of feathered friends feeding or in flight?

America's development patterns must change. Otherwise, the deathwatch will go on until the last bird trill vanishes.

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