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Comments By Kim: Not so friendly skies

Bird decline nationwide

I’ve always been interested in birds. Not just those commonly hunted in North Dakota but many others as well. I’ve never been very far away from a bird identification book, usually carrying one in my vehicle for quick reference.

Geese have always been a favorite of mine but so too have been raptors. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing eagles soar or hawks riding on the wind? And when I say favorite it is always a close call. There’s plenty of smaller birds that have captured my attention as well.

Birds are fun to identify and listen to and observe. As any bird watcher will tell you, they are a pretty reliable barometer of what’s happening in our environment. Sure, populations of various birds can have big swings up and down for many reasons, but when their numbers shrink for several years running there is cause for concern. Something happened. Something caused the loss.

The answer is almost always traced back to human interference, some of it perhaps in the unavoidable natural course of events but, sometimes, it is a case of “shame on us.” Habitat loss is a big factor in the nation’s overall declining bird population. So too is the use of pesticides and other applications deemed important to agriculture production. Then there’s wind generators, overhead power lines, feral cats, crop changes, weather and who knows what else contributing to the demise.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates are that industry sources kill up to 1.1 billion birds every year out of an overall population of 7.2 billion. It’s a disturbing trend, especially to those who grew up listening to the sounds of many different kinds of songbirds and watching them flit from food source to water to cover and back again.

Most North Dakotans can remember when Western meadowlarks were common throughout the countryside or when large gatherings of chickadees descended on a backyard feeder or birdbath, increasingly rare sights today. Those birds are among the countless species whose numbers have become vastly diminished over a period of several years. It is troubling.

Gone too, almost anyway, are the butterflies, moths, and honey bees that used to add color and interest to flower gardens and the like. Those are just the species that used to be common sights. Normally unseen, but in equal peril, are many different types of insects, aquatic and otherwise. Insects are considered by many to be an integral part, the bricks in the foundation of our ecosystem, for years and years.

I’ve written about declining bird populations before, and probably will again. It is bothersome. The numbers from the recent Christmas bird counts in our area, which can be skewed by weather conditions, nevertheless reveal a continuation of a trend that became evident several years ago and has only gotten worse. Sad.

Thankfully, if that’s the proper way to put it, the declines have been troubling enough that people have begun to take notice. One response is an increase in pollinator plots, seemingly small, but certainly one of the ways people can help birds and insects. Pollinator plots raise awareness as well, which is a critical factor to helping our feathered friends.

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