It’s OK to feed wild birds – here are some tips for doing it the right way

Costa’s Hummingbirds are frequent visitors at feeders in Arizona and southern California. Julian AveryCC BY-ND

Millions of Americans enjoy feeding and watching backyard birds. Many people make a point of putting food out in winter, when birds needs extra energy, and spring, when many species build nests and raise young.

As a wildlife ecologist and a birder, I know it’s important to understand how humans influence bird populations, whether feeding poses risks to wild birds, and how to engage with birds in sustainable ways.

There is still much to learn about the risks and benefits of feeding birds, particularly through large integrated national citizen science networks like Project FeederWatch. But we now have enough information to promote healthy interactions that can inspire future generations to care about conservation.

A long-term relationship

Birds have been taking advantage of human civilization for thousands of years, congregating where grains and waste are abundant. This means that people have been influencing the abundance and distribution of species for a very long time.

Studies show that providing food has myriad effects on birds’ decisions, behaviors and reproduction. One significant finding is that winter bird feeding increases individual survival rates, can encourage birds to lay eggs earlier in the year, and can also improve nestling survival.

All of these factors alter species’ future reproductive performance and can increase total bird abundance in later years. It’s not always clear how increased abundance of feeder birds impacts other species through competition, but rarer and smaller species can be excluded.

This interactive diagram, based on citizen science data, shows how North America’s top 13 feeder species fare when they compete at feeders. Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Supplemental food has also led to reduced reproductive success in a few species. This may happen because it improves survival odds for less healthy birds that otherwise would be unlikely to survive and reproduce, or because it leads birds to eat fewer types of natural foods, making their diets less nourishing.

Changing bird behavior

Research also shows that birds are extremely promiscuous. One review examined 342 species and found that in approximately 75%, birds had one or more side partners in addition to their nest mate.

It’s not always clear why birds cheat, but several studies have found that supplemental feeding can reduce the amount of infidelity in certain species, including house sparrows. This hints that feeding birds might alter their behavior and have an effect on genetic variation in urban populations.

For birds that provide pollinating services, like hummingbirds and lorikeets, there is some evidence that providing them with sugar water – which mimics the nectar they collect from plants – can reduce their visits to native plants. This means they will transfer less pollen. Since much bird feeding happens in densely populated urban areas, it’s unclear how much impact this might have.

Some bird populations depend completely on feeding and would collapse over the winter without it. For example, Anna’s hummingbirds in British Columbia rely on heated feeders. Other species, such as hummingbirds in the southwest U.S., have become more locally abundant. Northern cardinals and American goldfinches have shifted and expanded their ranges northward with the availability of food.

Data from Project FeederWatch show Northern Cardinal populations expanding into the upper Midwest, northern New England, the Southwest and southeastern Canada. Virginia Greene/Cornell Lab of OrnithologyCC BY-ND

In one incredible instance, garden feeders seem to have played a role in establishing a new wintering population of migratory blackcaps in the United Kingdom. This group is now genetically distinct from the rest of the population, which migrates further south to Mediterranean wintering grounds.

Don’t feed the predators

Scientists still know little about how bird feeding affects transmission of pathogens and parasites among birds. It is not uncommon for birds at feeders to carry more pathogens than populations away from feeders. Some well-documented outbreaks in the U.S. and U.K. have shown that feeding birds can increase problems associated with disease – evidence that was collected through feeder watch citizen science projects.

Because we still have a poor understanding of pathogen transmission and prevalence in urban areas, it is extremely important to follow hygiene guidelines for feeding and be alert for new recommendations.

Feeding can also attract predators. Domestic cats kill an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds in the U.S. every year. Feeders should not be placed in settings where cats are present, and pet cats should be kept indoors.

The band on this black-capped chickadee’s right leg assigns the bird a unique number. Scientists band birds to study their ranges, migration, life spans and other questions. The feeder holds suet, a high-energy food made from animal fat. Julian AveryCC BY-ND

Feeders can also support both native and introduced birds that outcompete local species. One study found that feeders attracted high numbers of crows, which prey on other birds’ chicks, with the result that less than 1% of nearby American robin nests fledged young. In New Zealand, bird feeding largely benefits seed-eating introduced species at the expense of native birds.

Clean feeders and diverse diets

The good news is that studies do not show birds becoming dependent on supplemental food. Once started, though, it is important to maintain a steady food supply during harsh weather.

Birds also need access to native plants, which provide them with habitat, food and insect prey that can both supplement diets and support species that don’t eat seeds at feeders. Diverse food resources can counteract some of the negative findings I’ve mentioned related to competition between species and impacts on bird diets.

Good maintenance, placement and cleaning can help minimize the likelihood of promoting pathogens at feeders. Initiatives like Project FeederWatch have recommendations about feeder design and practices to avoid. For example, platform feeders, where birds wade through the food, are associated with higher mortality, possibly through mixing of waste and food.

Treatments on this window at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center prevent birds from thinking they can fly straight through the building and colliding with the glass. Julian AveryCC BY-ND

It’s also important to manage the area around feeders. Be sure to place feeders in ways that minimize the likelihood that birds will fly into windows. For instance, avoid providing a sight line through a house, which birds may perceive as a corridor, and break up window reflections with decals.

There are lots of great reasons to bring birds into your life. Evidence is growing that interacting with nature is good for our mental health and builds public support for conserving plants and wildlife. In my view, these benefits outweigh many of the potential negatives of bird feeding. And if you get involved in a citizen science project, you can help scientists track the health and behavior of your wild guests.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]

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Opinion: Endangered Bird Couple Returns To Chicago’s Shore

A Piping Plover glares at Jones Beach, Long Island, N.Y. A couple of these endangered birds have reappeared in Chicago.

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond/Getty Images

Monty and Rose met last year on a beach on the north side of Chicago. Their attraction was intense, immediate, and you might say, fruitful.

Somewhere between the roll of lake waves and the shimmer of skyscrapers overlooking the beach, Monty and Rose fledged two chicks. They protected their offspring through formative times. But then, in fulfillment of nature’s plan, they parted ways, and left the chicks to make their own ways in the world.

Monty and Rose are piping plovers, an endangered species of bird of which there may only be 6,000 or 7,000 in the world, including Monty, Rose and their chicks. They were the first piping plovers to nest in Chicago in more than 60 years.

After their chicks fledged, they drifted apart. Rose went off to Florida for the winter, and Monty made his way to the Texas coast. They’d always have the North Side, but were each on their own in a huge, fraught world.

And then, just a few days ago, Monty and Rose were sighted again, on the same patch of sand on which they met, matched and hatched their chicks last year. Montrose Beach on the North Side of Chicago. (The name predates their romance, by the way.)

“They’re both back, and it’s kind of amazing!” Tamima Itani of the Illinois Ornithological Society told the Chicago Tribune.

Leslie Borns, the steward of the Montrose Beach Dunes, told us, “Monty and Rose survived the winter and their long migration, and returned to this one place in the world. It’s so amazing.”

Louise Clemency, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the couple has already picked up where they left off — or as Ms. Clemency phrased it, “engaging in courtship behavior.”

That means scraping in the sand, not sending a text message that says, “Hey, you up?”

An Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist has placed a cage over the nest of Monty and Rose. It doesn’t afford much privacy, but does protect them and any new fledglings from predators like gulls or coyotes, or for that matter, certain members of the city council.

In these times when so much has to be closed, the care so many humans have taken to care and provide for a couple of small birds is a kind of reassuring signal. Life goes on. Love finds a way. Family sustains. The fate of two small piping plovers still amounts to something in this crazy world.

Bald eagle dies of gunshot wound in Indiana, reward offered

A bullet struck a protected bald eagle in Indiana, leading to the bird’s death, officials said Sunday.

Indiana Conservation Officer Ryan Jahn was investigating the shooting of the bald eagle Saturday in Lawrence County, officials said.

Build UP’s Ruben Morris is changing the trajectory for his students by helping them earn their high school diploma, an associate’s degree and a paid apprenticeship to …

“The eagle was found alive south of the White River near Dixie Road, but later succumbed to the gunshot wound,” Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

A bald eagle in Indiana was hit by a bullet and later died from its wound, officials said.

A bald eagle in Indiana was hit by a bullet and later died from its wound, officials said. (Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement)

BALD EAGLE RESCUED IN MISSOURI AFTER BEING SHOT IN WING; SHOOTER COULD FACE $100G FINE

A reward was being offered for information that leads to an arrest, according to the agency.

The killing of a bald eagle is a violation of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Violators face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.

As of 2008, bald eagles are no longer considered endangered in Indiana.

Researchers still track data on bald eagles to monitor the health of the population and learn more about their behavioral patterns.

https://www.foxnews.com/us/bald-eagle-dies-of-gunshot-wound-in-indiana-reward-offered

Oldest Known King Eider Found 23 Years After Oil Spill Care

Oldest Known King Eider Found 23 Years After Oil Spill Care

December 20, 2019

Male King Eiders are super colorful sea ducks commonly found in the Arctic waters of the Bering Sea.. CC photo by Ron Knight

A new bird banding report shows something truly remarkable: the oldest known King Eider – a species of sea duck – was a 24-year-old oil spill survivor cared for by International Bird Rescue. This finding proves once again that rehabilitated, formerly-oiled birds can survive many years after treatment and release back to the wild.

The latest discovery involves a male King Eider that was oiled as an adult during an oil spill in Alaska in 1996. The recovered bird survived 23 years after oiling and release, and according to federal banding information, this may well be the oldest known King Eider.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Lab, which administers the scientific banding or ringing of wild birds in the U.S., the previously oldest recorded King Eider was an unoiled female that was at least 22 years 1 month old when she was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in Nunavut, Canada.

In 1996 rescued King Eiders were cleaned of oil after being flown to Anchorage from the Pribilof Islands. Photo © International Bird Rescue

This important news underscores what Bird Rescue has been advocating from its beginnings: oiled birds can and DO survive to live normal lives when rehabilitated after oiling, with appropriate resources and skilled staff. This is especially true when wildlife experts follow the protocols that have been refined over our nearly 50-year history.

Watch the video: Every Release Matters

“Bird Rescue has developed and remains at the forefront of the State of the Science for oiled wildlife treatment and rehabilitation,’ said Catherine Berg, NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator for Alaska. At the time of the spill, Berg was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Oil Spill Coordinator for Alaska.

“Seeing this kind of evidence of rehabilitated bird survival is truly a tribute to their dedication to the advancement of the science and to improving the care of injured birds.” Berg added.

The long-lived eider is also a testament to both Bird Rescue’s and the State of Alaska’s commitment to the successful concept of having a centralized response center to care for affected wildlife, rather than attempting the care and cleaning of animals in a remote, inaccessible location. All the birds from this spill were transported from a remote island for care in a centralized facility run by Bird Rescue in Anchorage.

The long-lived King Eider carried the Federal Band #1347-54950.

The reported King Eider was originally oiled during the M/V Citrus Oil Spill that began in mid-February 1996 in Alaska’s Pribilof Islands around St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, approximately 300 miles from the nearest mainland, and 750 miles from Anchorage. One hundred eighty-six birds, mainly eiders, were rescued near St. Paul and transported by U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft to Bird Rescue’s Anchorage emergency response center. After medical stabilization, washing, and rehabilitation, the cleaned seabirds were again transported (a four hour flight) back to St. Paul Island, where their release was celebrated by the community and with the participation of schoolchildren.

Bird Rescue is proud of its work and the body of knowledge regarding the care of oiled wildlife that it has cultivated and shared since its inception in 1971. Data such as band returns on these species provide critical feedback to our rehabilitation processes, and clearly we are on the right track.

The deceased eider (Federal Band #1347-54950) was found near English Bay on St. Paul Island earlier this year. The metal band number was reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab and they shared the information with Bird Rescue.

Male King Eiders are known for their very ornate and distinctive plumage. The male’s black and white feathers are accented by a reddish orange bill, bluish crown and greenish cheek. They are common in the Arctic waters of the Bering Sea.

This is the fourth King Eider from the 1996 spill that has been reported through the Bird Banding Lab.

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More Than 1000 Migratory Birds Found Dead at Rajasthan’s Sambhar Salt Lake

M

By TWC India Edit Team

2 days ago

TWC India

Representational image of migratory birds River Ganga

(IANS)

In a shocking episode, more than 1,000 migratory birds were found dead under mysterious circumstances at Rajasthan’s Sambhar Salt Lake on Monday, November 11.

Located near Phulera in Jaipur, Sambhar Lake witnesses a vast number of winged visitors during the winter season. Tourists and ornithologists from across the world regularly visit the region as it plays host to various migratory species of birds including the Northern Shoveler, Green Bee-Eater, Cinnamon Teal coming from Siberia, north Asia and other places. As the winter season progresses, the forest department is running against time to identify and address the cause of such mass deaths.

While the carcasses were immediately buried, officials have sent samples of the birds’ visceral remains to the forensic science laboratory in Bhopal. Experts say no signs of bird flu were observed till now, and the likely contamination of water could be the trigger. Further examination of birds’ internal organs could help pinpoint the cause of death.

Sambhar Salt Lake, Rajasthan

(Credits: Bhagirath/BCCL Jaipur)

While officials claim that the death toll is 1,500, the locals claim that the number of dead birds could be around 5,000. The dead bodies were found around a section of the Sambhar Salt Lake named Ratan Talab. Different species of waders and ducks, including the likes of pallas’ gull, ruddy shelduck, ruddy turnstone, gull-billed tern, redshanks, black-winged stilts, common coots, plovers, avocets, shovelers and sandpipers, were among the waterbirds whose dead bodies were found at the lake.

The officials buried the bird carcasses in a ditch. While a total of 669 dead birds were buried, many others were left unattended as it was difficult for the forest department personnel to go into the slippery muddy areas to retrieve their carcasses.

The incident of mysterious bird deaths is a second in Rajasthan within a week. Thirty-seven Demoiselle cranes were found dead in Vijay Sagar Lake in the Alwar district of Rajasthan on last Thursday. However, no link has been found in the two mass-death incidents, as the cranes supposedly died after eating poisoned grain. Officials have sent their viscera too for investigation.

The Sambhar Salt Lake is India’s largest inland saltwater lake. Located in Jaipur district of Rajasthan, it spreads across 190 to 230 square kilometres.

The lake has always attracted a host of migratory birds that travel tens of thousands of kilometres, typically to escape harsh winter conditions. However, the developmental activities around Sambhar in recent years, including the extension of salt pan operations, new settlements and changes in the weather, have reportedly decreased the number of birds flocking to the lake.

(with inputs from IANS)

Helping NYS birds

To friends of wildlife – speak up to help the birds in NYS!

COMMENTS DUE BY NOV. 8th

USDA/Wildlife Services is introducing plans to address perceived “problems” here in New York State.  These plans include lethal and non-lethal strategies.  Consider telling them that their lethal strategies, including poisons, are unacceptable.  It is easy and quick to leave a comment – there are only a few days left to comment – comments are due by November 8.

New York is considering “wildlife damage management” against native birds including owls, kestrels, egrets, herons, plovers, hawks, woodpeckers, osprey, and many many more.

Here is the link to leave a comment:  https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=APHIS-2019-0070-0001    (copy/paste this link to go to the comment page)

In the comments section, you can simply say you oppose killing birds, or you can mention the decline in birds and their habitats and why such plans are inhumane and detrimental.

Please share this message and the link with family and friends – thank you!

Final Plan for Arctic Refuge Drilling Could Cause Extinctions, Admits Government

The decision to open the refuge’s entire coastal plain to development, combined with climate change, ‘may result in extinction’ for some birds.

 

By Andy McGlashenAssociate Editor, Audubon Magazine

September 17, 2019

Birds in This Story

 

Gyrfalcon

Falco rusticolus

 

Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

 

Spectacled Eider

Somateria fischeri

Permanently Protect the Arctic Refuge

A new bill in Congress would permanently protect the Refuge from drilling.

Take Action

The U.S. Department of the Interior last week took a major step toward the first-ever oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In a decision that outraged but did not surprise environmentalists, the agency announced its final plan to develop one of the world’s last great wildernesses, acknowledging that its chosen course might wipe out some bird species and harm other animals that make their home on the pristine reserve.

The Trump administration had multiple options when planning to open the 19.3 million-acre sanctuary to drillers. After Republicans in Congress and President Trump directed Interior in 2017 to create a leasing plan for the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, the department laid out three possible scenarios for energy development there. But on Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had chosen the most extreme plan, one that makes the entire coastal plain eligible for leasing and comes with the fewest restrictions on industry’s footprint.

Such an aggressive approach, the BLM acknowledged in its final environmental impact statement, combined with the effects of climate change, could drive birds to extinction, as E&E News first reported. Species that nest in the refuge “already are experiencing decreasing populations, and many could suffer catastrophic consequences from the effects of global climate change in one or more of their seasonal continental or even global habitats,” the document says. “These effects combined with development-related impacts across the ranges of many bird species may result in extinction during the 85-year scope of this analysis.”

Some 200 bird species rely on the refuge, including hardy year-round residents like American Dipper, Gyrfalcon, and Rock and Willow Ptarmigan. The area fills with birdlife each summer, including migrants from every U.S. state and six continents, such as Red-throated Loon, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Whimbrel.

According to the BLM report, development could require energy companies to pump out large volumes from the coastal plain’s limited water bodies, resulting in food and habitat loss for loons and other waterbirds. Additional species could lose nesting habitat to roads and other infrastructure, and a variety of birds will likely be injured or killed in collisions with drilling rigs, communications towers, and vehicles.

Birds are far from the only wildlife with habitat at stake on the coastal plain, a strip of tundra, rivers, and wetlands wedged between the Brooks Range foothills and the Beaufort Sea. Federally threatened polar bears, which nurture their cubs in dens along its rivers and shoreline, will likely be killed as interactions with humans become more common, the impact statement says. Caribou migrate roughly 1,500 miles each spring to give birth on the plain, where there’s plenty to eat, sea winds to keep mosquitoes at bay, and few predators to threaten their calves. With new development, the biggest threat to caribou is displacement through oil and gas activities.

While the impact statement mentions some potential threats to wildlife, many experts believe it is not explicit enough when addressing the potential risks and even likelihood of extinction for a variety of species. “Oil and gas infrastructure in the Arctic Refuge, when considered in conjunction with climate change, poses an existential risk to several Arctic bird species,” said Audubon Alaska in a press release. Moreover, choosing such an aggressive development plan despite the toll it will take on wildlife “just goes to show how far this administration is willing to go to extract oil and gas, even in what should be a protected area,” says Susan Culliney, the group’s policy director.

The Arctic Refuge provides potential breeding habitat for Spectacled Eiders and hundreds of other species of birds. Photo: Danita Delimont/Alamy

In several high-stakes fights over the past 50 years, advocates for preserving this rare expanse of untouched wild have prevailed over the oil companies, Alaskan politicians, and native corporations that have pursued drilling. Political headwinds—produced in part by the public outrage after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska—have blocked past attempts to open the refuge. A bill to do so made it through Congress in 1995, but President Bill Clinton vetoed it. Democrats and some Republicans have voted to stop other such efforts. A 2017 Yale University poll found that 70 percent of Americans oppose drilling in the refuge.

But that dynamic shifted in December of 2017, when Republicans in Congress, backed by the administration’s call for “energy dominance,” tucked into a tax bill a provision to establish a fossil-fuel leasing program on the refuge’s coastal plain. Sometimes referred to as the 1002 Area, the coastal plain is considered the ecological heart of the refuge, but federal scientists estimate that it also sits atop 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The bill gave Interior until 2021 to conduct the first of at least two lease sales, each offering 400,000 or more acres. Department officials have pledged to hold that initial sale this year.

One reason for the aggressive timeline is to give industry a foot in the refuge’s door during President Trump’s first term, since having leases in place would complicate a future administration’s efforts to block drilling there, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said last year.

As a result, the regulatory process—typically measured and deliberate—has been rushed, confusing, and even misleading, according to reports from federal agency employees. A comprehensive review for any leasing program over such a large area would typically take two or three years. But the administration compressed that timeline: The draft environmental impact statement was published last December, only eight months after the review began. Investigations have found that, in its hurry, Interior omitted relevant information, and even altered reports from career scientists to downplay potential environmental impacts. And the rush for leasing this year didn’t leave time for seismic testing to give energy companies an idea of where oil deposits most likely exist, which can only happen when the tundra is frozen.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt called the final environmental impact statement “a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years.”

Energy development in the Arctic Refuge will likely harm polar bears and other wildlife. Photo: Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy

Many Alaskans support drilling in the refuge—perhaps not surprising in a place where, over the past four decades, oil revenue has averaged about 85 percent of the state budget—but questions linger around the purported economic benefits of doing so. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that lease sales would generate only half of the $1.8 trillion in revenues claimed by the Trump administration. More recently, a New York Times analysis found that sales may generate just $45 million across the entire coastal plain.

Although some Alaska Natives advocate tapping into the oil reserves, the Gwich’in people have been outspoken opponents. They live outside the refuge but hold sacred the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates there each spring, and subsist by hunting the animals. The plan announced last week “demonstrates that this administration and the Alaska delegation will disregard our way of life, our food, and our relationship with the land, the caribou, and future generations to pander to industry greed,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a statement.

Even before the administration’s plan was announced, there was pushback on Capitol Hill. Hours earlier, the House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit energy development in the refuge. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, but it stands little chance of passing the Republican-majority chamber where pro-drilling Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski holds the powerful chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended,” Murkowski said in a statement, “so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are gearing up to fight the plan in the courts. While the plan is final, Interior still needs to issue a formal record of decision, expected in about a month. Once it does so, lawsuits will certainly follow, as they did when the Trump administration lifted protections from national monuments and gutted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws and regulations.

The plan is “categorically illegal,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, in a press release. “We will not tolerate the administration’s brazen attempt to paper over the impacts of this disastrous proposal, and we will see them in court for this reckless effort to turn this iconic American landscape into an industrial oilfield.”

***

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US and Canadian Bird Population Dropped by Nearly 3 Billion in 48 Years

America’s birds have taken wing. Ornithologists calculate that in the past 48 years, total U.S. bird numbers, reckoned together with Canada’s, have fallen drastically. There are now 2.9 billion birds fewer haunting North America’s marshes, forests, prairies, deserts and snows than there were in 1970. That is, more than one in four has flown away, perhaps forever.

Birds are one of the better observed species. Enthusiastic amateurs and trained professionals have been carefully keeping note of bird numbers and behaviour for a century or more.

A flock of avian scientists reports in the journal Science that they looked at numbers for 529 species of bird in the continental U.S. and Canada to find that while around 100 native species had shown a small increase, a total of 419 native migratory species had experienced dramatic losses.

Swallows, swifts, nightjars and other insectivores are in decline, almost certainly because insect populations are also in trouble.

Grassland birds are down 53%: more than 720 million fewer. Radar records of spring migrations suggest that these have dropped by 14% just in the last decade. More than a billion birds have deserted the American forests.

The 529 species studied were spread across 67 bird families, and of these 37 were less abundant than they had been. Where there had been concerted efforts at bird conservation, numbers were on the increase, especially for waterfowl and some of the raptors, such as the bald eagle, but while the gains are measured in millions, the losses are counted in billions.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenburg of Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, who led the study.

“We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

That America’s birds are in trouble is not news. Nor is the loss of the planet’s living things confined to the U.S.: researchers have warned that, worldwide, a million or more species of plant and animal face extinction.

Pest Control

Climate change creates unexpected hazards: as northern hemisphere springs get ever earlier, migrant birds may arrive too late to take full advantage of supplies of caterpillars, aphids or other foods. Birds have an important role in ecosystems: they control pests, they disperse seeds and they are themselves food for other predators.

The researchers argue that all is not lost: conservation action and legislation has been shown to work, but as ever more natural habitat is destroyed, as sea levels rise to damage coastal wetlands, as global temperature rises begin to change local climates, there needs to be much more urgency in response.

“These data are consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said Peter Marra, one of the authors, once of the Smithsonian Museum and now at Georgetown University in the U.S.

“It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effect can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods – and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

Officials hunt for suspected pigeon killer after 40 found dead in Somerset

AT RISK: The dead birds showed no obvious injuries or signs of disease, leading to suspicions there was a pigeon poisoner on the loose

AT RISK: The dead birds showed no obvious injuries or signs of disease, leading to suspicions there was a pigeon poisoner on the loose

OFFICIALS in Somerset are hunting a suspected bird poisoner after more than 40 pigeons were killed – including some that fell out of the sky dead.

Investigators including police and the RSPCA are looking into a spate of dead pigeons in Wells and say it is possible they were poisoned.

The birds started appearing in the High Street and beyond at the end of July – on roads, pavements and in people’s gardens.

The birds showed no obvious injuries or signs of disease, leading to suspicions there was a pigeon poisoner in the city.

As many as 40 dead birds have been reported.

One woman found three in her garden and there there was even a report of one falling out of the sky and landing on a woman carrying a coffee.

It was suggested the birds might have been suffering from “pigeon canker”, a disease prevalent during the breeding season.

But autopsy carried out voluntarily vets proved ‘inconclusive’.

Wells City Councillor Celia Wride said: “I must say poisoning was my immediate reaction at the time.

“If this is a case of somebody putting down some killer feed for them we need to find out and do something about it. This is not the way to go about things.”

The matter has been referred to the police who passed it on to Natural England, the Government quango that advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on conservation and wildlife.

Natural England passed the matter onto the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which has responsibility through the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

It is an offence to injure or kill a wild bird under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, except under licence, and offenders can face an unlimited fine and/or six months imprisonment.

Tests for bird flu and West Nile Virus carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) proved negative.

A spokesman for the HSE said: “While HSE are unable to confirm the range of tests carried out by APHA as part of this post-mortem, the report provided did not state a view that disease was responsible for the pigeons’ deaths.”

Further analysis of tissue samples is currently being carried out by Fera Science Limited to determine if pesticides were used. This can take up to eight weeks.

If the toxicological report does indicate pesticide use, this information will be considered along with the field investigation report to try to identify whether the exposure took place from an approved use or not.

If abuse is suspected, then the information will be referred back to the police who are responsible for catching the pigeon poisoner.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “We are not sure what has happened, but we believe they may have been poisoned.

“The pigeons were taken to a vet by a member of the public and post mortems carried out.”

As well as being a deliberate act of poisoning the spokesperson said any potential source could also include poisonous substances not being safely stowed away.

Anyone with information that might help with the investigations is asked to call the RSPCA on 0300 123 8018 in confidence.

Ducklings keep getting stuck in fish ladder at Sullivans Pond

‘Ducklings in the river can’t be Dartmouth’s cat-up-a-tree call for the fire department’

The ducklings were staying close to their mother and away from the fish gate on Friday morning. (Emma Davie/CBC)
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Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency is calling it Duckgate.

Baby ducks have been getting stuck in a fish ladder at Dartmouth’s Sullivans Pond — and people are calling Station 13 on King Street to come to the rescue.

“Ducklings in the river can’t be Dartmouth’s cat-up-a-tree call for the fire department all the time,” said Coun. Sam Austin.

Firefighters from Station 13 attempt to help ducklings caught in the fish gate at Sullivans Pond last month.(Submitted by Stephanie Keddy)

The fish ladder provides a pathway for fish to travel easily to other bodies of water. It’s also a beautiful addition for those who frequent the park.

“Through practice you discover your design flaws and one of the pieces in the fish ladder that no one thought about fully is what would happen to ducklings when they get to the other side,” Austin said.

He said the lip of the fish ladder is too high for the ducks to hop over, plus there is a strong current. “It’s perfect for fish, but it’s too strong for ducklings,” said Austin.

The ducklings appear to be unable to get back out of the fish gate once they’ve gone into it. (Submitted by Stephanie Keddy)

But while passersby are calling with concerns about the ducks, it’s the people that the city and fire department are worried about.

“We’ve witnessed the ducks going down over the slide,” said Chuck Bezanson, a Halifax Fire assistant chief. “I think it’s almost like a fun park for them and they come running right back up.

“So, we respond because we’re more concerned residents will try to rescue the ducks and maybe … hurt themselves in the process.”

Bezanson said the fire department has been in touch with Hope for Wildlife to try to find a solution because it can’t be left up to the firefighters.

“Anytime that you take a firefighter and occupy him with a non-essential duty, you run the risk that the firefighter won’t be available to respond to someone when they do need them for a life-safety type of event,” he said.

Coun. Sam Austin says the city is looking at possible solutions to make the fish gate more duck friendly.(Robert Short/CBC)

A spokesperson for Halifax Water said potential solutions are being reviewed.

Austin said it’s still in the early stages, but he doesn’t think netting would work because debris from the river would get caught.

He said someone would have to regularly check to make sure it wasn’t clogged. But he said retrofitting may be an option.

“It’s not an easy fix because it’s already built,” Austin said.

The city and the fire department are urging citizens to stay out of the water.

“We all love the ducklings, but do not go in the river yourself,” Austin said. “The fire department is the appropriate one to call.”

Bezanson said the department isn’t worried about the ducklings — their mother, or Mother Nature, will figure it out.

But for now the firefighters are taking the calls like water off a duck’s back.