Introduction by Claire Catania, Interim Executive Director/Development Director
On September 19, 2019, just one day before four million people around the world participated in Climate Strike, a shocking new research study was published in the journal Science. The study revealed a dramatic decline in bird populations over the last 50 years. North America now has 2.9 billion fewer birds than in 1970. This amounts to more than a quarter of the total North America bird population being lost in less than a single human lifetime.
Yet, even in the midst of this news, there is reason for hope. Along with the study, the organizations behind the research provided a primer on "7 Simple Actions to Help Birds". Seattle Audubon is committed to advancing many of the suggested actions and strategies through our education, conservation and science programs.
The following article first appeared in last month's edition of our quarterly newsletter, EarthCare Northwest. Please take a few minutes to read and understand some of the impacts humans have on birds in our area and think about the ways you can act to protect birds and their habitats.
BIRDS IN A HUMAN WORLD: UNDERSTANDING URBAN HAZARDS
By Joshua Morris, Urban Conservation Manager
Cities are relatively new in the history of the world. Urban areas expose birds to novel pressures that did not previously exist in their evolutionary histories. Seattle Audubon’s Urban Conservation Program is raising awareness of these threats and working with partners to mitigate their impacts.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting in your home or office, perhaps reading your copy of EarthCare Northwest, when suddenly: THUD! A bird hits the window and it’s time for an impromptu feathered funeral.
If so, you’re not alone. This is a common occurrence that can happen anywhere. Birds did not evolve with transparent or reflective surfaces in their environments and cannot see them. And to be fair, humans have the same problem. Just Google “people walking into glass” the next time you’re in need of a laugh.
Birds of all stripes are affected, from Anna’s Hummingbirds to Peregrine Falcons. And the impact, forgive the pun, is staggering. A 2014 study estimated that 600 million birds meet their end on a pane of glass each year in the U.S. Nearly half of those deaths occur at single-family residences. This makes windows the second greatest human-related impact that directly kills birds. (We’ll get to the first in just a moment.)
Luckily, there is a simple solution we can all take to make our glass more bird-friendly. The trick is to add “visual noise” to the outside surface of our windows. Products like American Bird Conservancy’s BirdTape or Feather Friendly’s bird collision deterrent window films break up window reflections and provide the visual cues birds need to avoid disaster. When applying these products, make sure there are no gaps exceeding 2 inches between the visual elements. This will help keep even the smallest hummingbirds safe.
Please note that single or small groups of stickers, like hawk or leaf silhouettes, do not work, unless you apply so many of them that there are no gaps larger than 2 inches between them. Yes, this will probably obscure your view, but your morning coffee will no longer be disrupted by that telltale THUD.
I love cats. Seattle Audubon loves cats. Our Interim Executive Director is fond of sharing photos of her own indoor cat, Professor Phinnaeus, around the office. My partner, Matt, and I are thinking about enrolling in Seattle’s foster cat program. When we do, we’ll be keeping the fluffball inside.
That’s because cats top the charts when it comes to contributing to the decline of earth’s biodiversity. They are on the IUCN’s list of top 100 invasive species. They’ve been linked to the extinction of 40 bird species, 21 mammal species, and two reptile species around the world. One 2013 study, published in the journal Nature, estimated that domestic cats kill around 2.4 billion birds each year in the U.S. alone.
2.4 billion. That’s not a number that we can easily wrap our heads around. If all outdoor, free-roaming cats in the U.S. focused on hunting a single species at a time, it would take them just a month to work through all American Robins in the country. Twenty-two days later Red-winged Blackbirds would be gone. Thirteen days is all they’d need before we never heard a Western Meadowlark again, and after four days we’d have said goodbye to the last American Goldfinch. By then end of the year, 33 species would be lost and cats would still be on the prowl.
This is a HUGE problem, but it is also one with a relatively simple solution. If you are a cat guardian, the most important thing you can do for birds and wildlife, and for the health of your kitty, is to keep the cat inside. For those looking to balance safety with access to the outdoors, leash training your cat is a noble pursuit, as is the construction of an outdoor enclosure or “catio” for your feline friend. Indoor cats are conservationists!
Seattle is the 14th rattiest city in the U.S., according to Orkin Pest Control’s latest analysis. This comports with my personal experience. I live in Capitol Hill, and whenever I take a moonlit stroll through Cal Anderson Park, I am escorted by a troop of rodents. I like animals, but sometimes I’d prefer to walk alone.
I support efforts to control rodent populations, but the widespread use of anticoagulant (blood-thinning) rat poisons is a serious threat to birds. The poisons cause internal bleeding and it may take several days for a poisoned rodent to die. Meanwhile, the sickened animals make easy meals. Raptors that consume too many poisoned rodents may themselves become poisoned and die. This kind of secondary wildlife poisoning in raptors seems to be common in North America, but no studies have been done in the Puget Sound area. Our friends at the Urban Raptor Conservancy are working to fill that knowledge gap by sampling dead raptor liver tissue for these poisons. This data will be critical for understanding the scale of the problem in our region and for effective advocacy against anticoagulant rodenticide use. Please check out their website at urbanraptorconservancy.org for more information and to learn about alternatives to anticoagulant rodenticides.
Josh Morris is Seattle Audubon’s Urban Conservation Manager. He coordinates Seattle’s Urban Bird Treaty City Coalition, is a member of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict Steering Committee, and serves on Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission. He’s been a project scientist, a high-school chemistry teacher, a legal assistant, and, for one curious month, a chocolate vendor on Monterey’s Cannery Row. He holds a master’s degree in International Environmental Policy and is a certified naturalist.