This is what it sounds like
September 19, 2019 8:19 PM   Subscribe

The population of birds in North America has dropped 30% since 1970, according to a Cornell study published today in Science. A summary of the study here.

While the population of humans rose by nearly 4 billion since 1970, the number of birds in North America alone fell by 3 billion, with common birds such as warblers, sparrows, finches and blackbirds all among the affected populations.

On Java, more birds live in captivity than fly in the wild. In Europe, the number all common birds has dropped 6%, forest birds by 15%, and farmland birds in by more than half.

Potential causes include pesticides with neonicotinoids, habitat loss, and the massive drop in insects and other food sources.

Here are seven simple actions you can take to help birds:

1. Make Windows Safer
2. Keep Cats Indoors
3. Plant native species
4. Avoid pesticides
5. Drink bird-friendly coffee
6. Protect our planet from plastic
7. Watch Birds, Share What You See
posted by Theiform (44 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
seems fine
posted by incomple at 8:29 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Destruction of.the Great Salt.Lake habitat by human encroachment and mercury poisoning, theft of water due the lake and its wetlands.
posted by Oyéah at 8:53 PM on September 19, 2019


With DDT, the birds died because the poison affected them via the insects they ate.

Now we've gotten so good at killing insects without poisoning birds that birds are dying via the insects they can't eat.
posted by clawsoon at 9:22 PM on September 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


enticed by borderline subconscious urge to complete the thread title i learned that bird-safe coffee and birds-eye view window decals are things whilst trying to think of something clever to say about untethering the leipidoptera or what my mother's like, or something, and suppressing the mild disappointment that cornell scientists didn't provide a data audialization of the bird decline (some radio show once poured BBs into a metal bin for different durations to illustrate wealth disparity). overall, a rich and varied experience concisely, evocatively delivered!
posted by 20 year lurk at 9:34 PM on September 19, 2019


on the one hand there’s no birds anymore but on the other hand electric sheep get cheaper by the day so like it’s a wash i guess
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:06 PM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Random bit of Blade Runner that just popped into my head.
"Do you like my owl?"
"Is it artificial?"
"Of course."
I'd honestly rather have the attack ships on fire.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:10 PM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


Like, I have a reputation around here as a climate negativist, but seriously, this is serious to the point that we didn't do shit in the 70s when we should have and now we're all panicking near 2020 and it's like, sorry...




Like, what else can be said?
posted by hippybear at 10:13 PM on September 19, 2019 [12 favorites]


Birds are gone, insects are gone, plants are going (or migrating like mangroves)...

The storms... they come and just sit there...

The jet stream pulls cold down to places it's never lingered before and then just stays there...

The jet stream ignores places it's usually affected before.

I mean...




I guess don't read about the monarch butterflies if you don't want to have a "what else can be said" attitude.
posted by hippybear at 10:18 PM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


This is timely considering the Global Climate Strike happening tomorrow (or today, depending on your time zone). Participate if you can!
posted by delight at 10:51 PM on September 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


Yes, you can really see and hear the difference from when I was a kid. I'm not 100% certain about the hearing part because I don't hear as well. But I specially miss the partridges and pheasants. I don't know why I miss them the most, I must have been fascinated by them as a child.

The good thing is that if you actively do something, they will come back. It's not hopeless. Getting to the point where we as societies take action is hard, but I think the EU commission is dedicated to change some things about extinction and climate now. So we just have to push them to do more.

Some people think that the meat and dairy sectors are about to be disrupted completely. I'm very skeptical of engineered food, but I think it makes sense that it will be able to compete with animal production for the whole huge part of the food sector that is already completely industrialized. Like milk powder, or frozen beef patties or other pre-made foods. If lawmakers and farmers were smart, they would take this as an opportunity to change agricultural practices completely.
posted by mumimor at 2:40 AM on September 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


We do 4/7 of Theiform’s bird-encouragement actions, and the others are largely not relevant to us. It’s been pleasing to see our yards go from occasional visits by some local avians to a steady thrum of many, many varieties, though the aim of the actions is more systemic.

I will say that my friends’ climate panic/despair has at times negatively impacted my ability to take these steps. One friend was on a kick a few years back about how you should really only use sustainably sourced, organic, never-been-in-a-mile-of-pesticides birdseed, as well as not shopping at either of the two major U.S. big box hardware stores (due to their owners right-wing politics, I assume). That, combined with the “it’s all over, Earth is doomed” garbage, was enough to make me stop trying.

When pressed about what I should do to get this stuff, my friend’s answer was “uh, it’s real hard.” We’ve since planted more native plants that theoretically attract and feed birds, but what I mostly see them eating are my gone-to-seed herbs. The various seed- and fruit-bearing plants are growing, though.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:50 AM on September 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


Fewer people might help, but no one wants to hear that. Economists hate it because they want unlimited growth (i.e. more people), which capitalism depends on. Some religions hate it because not having big families is a sin or something. In every thread about populations aging or immigration you hear people even here lamenting about how we need more people. It's a pyramid scheme, and it's about to end as badly.

There are still birds at my feeders, guess I should enjoy them while I can.
posted by maxwelton at 3:51 AM on September 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


In the fall, back when I was a kid, we'd have enormous flocks of birds migrating through. Rivers of them overhead, mostly starlings, grackles, etc., and you could hear their collective voices as they passed.

I can't recall exactly when the flocks stopped appearing, but I know it's been a long, long, long time since I last witnessed such an event here. I miss it.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:29 AM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


We saw this firsthand as we did a road trip across Canada and the US this summer. Talked to several farmers and people who live in the country and heard their tales. It was also noticeable to me how quiet the mornings were in certain areas that I'd visited several years before.

As other people have said, it is important to realize that something can be done. If you're looking for an example of where a turnaround happened when things looked bleak, look to Monterey Bay. (Yes, in that case it's about fish rather than birds, but bear with me.) In the 1930s it was, quite literally, a sewer where almost nothing could live. Now it's a sanctuary with a thriving ecosystem. However, it took the work of committed people who realized they might never see the results of their actions.

"Fewer people" is an argument white supremacists are using. If you look at the screeds from a couple of recent racist mass shootings, environmentalism was one of the arguments.
posted by rednikki at 4:48 AM on September 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


The canaries are dying.

That seems... significant.
posted by MrVisible at 5:22 AM on September 20, 2019 [18 favorites]


If you want to stop the growth of the human population, the single most efficient solution is to empower women. If women are free to choose and have independent income, they will have fewer children. This is happening in some places, and less so in others, so the population is unevenly distributed. Some places are being depopulated which leads to bad economy and many problems derived from that. Immigration solves the problem and it brings women to places where their options are bigger and better -- a win-win situation.
posted by mumimor at 5:35 AM on September 20, 2019 [30 favorites]


You know, 1970 was already following environmental devastation. The pollution of the rivers (several of which caught on fire), the air, the paving over of wetlands. This is 30% worse than bad.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:28 AM on September 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


Yeah, comparing now with 1970 is scary enough but we'd get a much scarier picture if we compared now to 1800. Unfortunately, the next generation is mostly going to be comparing to now. This problem is called "shifting baselines."
posted by Redstart at 6:42 AM on September 20, 2019 [12 favorites]




The Arctic Ice Melt analyses use 1980 to 2010 average as baseline. This makes sense in one way: 30 years is a significant climatological metric, and 1980 is when the satellite analyses began. However, things were already getting pretty bad in the early 2000s.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2019


> Fewer people might help, but no one wants to hear that.

yes, because it is wrong. not like morally wrong or whatever, but factually wrong.

the damage is not caused by too many people. the damage is caused by a few people — people who have names and addresses.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2019 [21 favorites]


the damage is not caused by too many people. the damage is caused by a few people

That sounds like -- to coin a phrase -- supply-side environmentalism.

The damage is caused by a few people making and extracting products consumed by the many. If we weren't buying it, they wouldn't be digging it up/drilling it/manufacturing it/etc.

Chopping off the heads of capitalists would be satisfying (I'm all for it!) but it wouldn't get the world off oil, meat or whatever. Those industries serve markets that are roughly proportional to the population and its wealth. That's you and me, bub. There's no free lunch. And there's no such thing as "environmentally-friendly" anything, at scale.
posted by klanawa at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


Fewer people might help, but no one wants to hear that.

They sure don't. The popular opinion on left and right alike is that the population alarmists were wrong. Their direst predictions didn't come true, so we can stop worrying about population growth. After all, things feel about the same for most of us. We're not seeing huge new expanses of polluted urban wasteland, just more of the same things we're already used to - attractive new housing developments, shopping centers, and office buildings, maybe a convenient new bypass that makes it easier to get from A to B. Most of us don't see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the drastic declines in amphibian populations, or the microplastics that are becoming pervasive in our environment.

Yes, there are too many people. Or if you don't like the subjective judginess of "too many," let's just say "enough to cause a lot of problems." Habitat loss is one of the biggest causes of the bird population declines found in the study. Where did all that bird habitat go? It got turned into human habitat. Another possibly important cause is pesticide use. Does anyone think increased use of pesticides is unrelated to the increased number of people? The companies responsible for huge greenhouse gas emissions exist because a huge market for their products exists. It's not just the owners of oil companies who are damaging the earth, it's all of us who buy their products. The more of us there are, the more oil is extracted and sold.

One reason no one wants to say there are too many people is that there isn't much we can do about it. And some of what we could do would be as least as bad as the problems we're trying to solve. No one wants to be told how many kids they can have, or that they can't have any at all. We don't want anyone to get the idea of killing off whole groups of people to make more room for their own group. But if we pretend human population growth isn't a problem, it can lead to bad decisions like giving a country's current citizens financial incentives to have more kids instead of addressing local population decline by encouraging more immigration.
posted by Redstart at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


One reason no one wants to say there are too many people is that there isn't much we can do about it.

We can reduce poverty and gender inequality.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:30 AM on September 20, 2019 [17 favorites]


the damage is not caused by too many people. the damage is caused by a few people

Yes, but it's easier to blame brown people.

We know what can be done to help--the same activism and legislation that worked in the 1970s. And both catastrophism and nattering about population isn't it.
posted by happyroach at 11:44 AM on September 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


We can reduce poverty and gender inequality.

This. It turns out that when you educate women and make reproductive choices available to them -- and when families aren't eking out a living on subsistence farming -- that the birth rate drops significantly. This has been shown over and over again in all parts of the world.
posted by Slothrup at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


Educating women and making more reproductive choices available to them are two of several reasons why we are not experiencing the population disasters imagined in the 1960s and 70s. (Add to them health care and public health improvements, growing total wealth, and modernity in general. Works for just about every nation.)
Depending on your population model, the total human number should peak sometime before 2100. Empty Planet (Bricker and Ibbitson) cites peak in mid-21st-century.

That's without extra population drops due to war, plague, or climate change.

it's easier to blame brown people - most population growth is shifting to parts of Africa. China is going to peak soon, then India. Europe, the Americas, other parts of East Asia are looking at various forms of plateau or shrinkage. South Korea's fertility rate just fell to .9 - that's .9 children per every woman in that nation.

So, wrt this thread, if you think humanity's sheer size is driving down the size of the bird population, we're headed in the right direction.
posted by doctornemo at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, grasslands. Wow.
posted by doctornemo at 1:23 PM on September 20, 2019


Planting native species is great but really almost anything you plant is likely to be an improvement over grass. We had to move out of our house for a year while we were doing some construction on it and the place we ended up renting was a couple of hundred metres away. Both the front and back yards had large areas filled with plants (perennials, shrubs, and naturalized annuals) and as a result there were tons of insects (so many insects in that house) and because of all the insects there were a lot more birds as well. The difference in birds and insects between the two houses was an eye opener for us and we're doing similar landscaping for our house now. If you've got a yard that's mostly grass see if you can add some other plants to it. And while you're at it spread some clover seeds over the grass.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2019


My impression is that someone like me who lives in an advanced industrial economy is responsible for much, much more pollution and habitat loss than the typical poor person living in a poor country. One less Canadian does a lot more for the planet than one less Tanzanian. My one child will probably put as much burden on the planet as the ten children of a subsistence farmer.
posted by clawsoon at 1:40 PM on September 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


This. It turns out that when you educate women and make reproductive choices available to them -- and when families aren't eking out a living on subsistence farming -- that the birth rate drops significantly. This has been shown over and over again in all parts of the world.

Absolutely. Healthy, well-educated women who have access to birth control and abortion, who don't need to have six kids so three will live to grow up, will have small families. It also helps that children are not economic assets they way they are in subsistence farming or subsistence industrial cultures (where they can be put to unskilled labor very young) but are economic liabilities to bear and rear. Modern life is geared to small families.

I'm also glad that the Cornell Bird Lab did not take an anti-cat position. "Keep your cats indoors" - well, that's what I already do, because it's dangerous for the cats as well as the birds for them to be allowed to roam. There are coyotes, bobcats, and even mountain lions in my nice leafy 'burb. I'm planning a nice "catio" for them, as soon as I can afford a sturdy, trash-panda-proofed one.

I used to feed birds in my backyard, but, alas, the seed attracted rats, and they kept using my garage as a ratty hospice, and I hated finding the corpses, so I put away my birdseed. Landscaping to attract birds looks like a great alternative (and, bonus, in drought-prone California, needs less water) so I'm going to do that instead.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


One less Canadian does a lot more for the planet than one less Tanzanian.

It's somewhat more complicated than that. The "global poor" pollute far more per unit of energy they consume, and in many cases in much more immediately damaging ways that kill them and everyone immediately around them. Not because they lack virtue or intelligence or work ethic, but because they have no other choice if they want to keep breathing.

However, the overall much higher rate of energy use of those in the US, Canada, Australia, and other developed nations more than outweighs their more efficient use of the energy they consume.
posted by wierdo at 6:24 PM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm also glad that the Cornell Bird Lab did not take an anti-cat position. "Keep your cats indoors"

Now I'm trying to picture what the anti-cat position is, if it's beyond "keep your dang cats indoors." Are there a bunch of anti-cat fanatics out there who want to do... bad things... to all cats?
posted by Justinian at 6:24 PM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


when you educate women

lol what

You don’t need a college degree to make decisions about procreation. You need autonomy, safety, access to birth control and abortion, and to not be a second class citizen (or worse).

Let’s not with the patronizing “we just have to educate the stupid poor women” shtick. They’re not dumb, and they’re not children. They fucking know already. They’re just surrounded by shitty circumstances (including, but not limited to, shitty men).
posted by schadenfrau at 7:09 PM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't think what is meant is a college education for adult women, its access to basic education for girls. IMO it should be mandatory and supported economically everywhere, which it isn't now.
posted by mumimor at 1:05 AM on September 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


This is timely considering the Global Climate Strike

Actually, 27th September - the ending date of the 20-27 Global Climate Strike Action Week, when a bunch more countries around the world will be holding their strikes (New Zealand, Greece, Finland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Canada...) - was chosen because it’s the day, back in 1962 (!), that Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”, predicting... this.
posted by progosk at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, “educate women” does not mean “all women must go to college.” It means give all women a grammar (and ideally high school) education as well as options, opportunities, and rights.
posted by Monday at 11:44 AM on September 21, 2019 [5 favorites]




My partner and I do bird migration monitoring, and it is not a work of hope. We catch the birds as they head north and south, each year a little fewer and little skinnier when they hit the nets, we band them so they become more than numbers, so they can be hailed as heroes if they return, then we release and witness them shiny and chrome as they hurl their little 10-gram bodies on the fury road of storms, cars, windows, and your stupid fucking outdoor cats.
We show the birds to field tripping kids, teach them their names and journeys, let them hold the little gemlike bodies in their hand so they can feel that manic tiny heartbeat pumping to get to South America, then we tell them they're all dying and it's our fault. What can we do? Wish there was a better answer, but the least we can do is stand witness.
posted by Freyja at 5:49 AM on September 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


the damage is not caused by too many people. the damage is caused by a few people

That sounds like -- to coin a phrase -- supply-side environmentalism.


It's a seductive sounding argument until you look at, like, actual history.

How do you think we stopped poisoning our environment with leaded gasoline? Did we introduce a unleaded gasoline into the market that cost 10 cents more, and allowed leaded gasoline to be sold for 10 cents less, then throw up our hands and say "let the free market decide?" If we did that I guarantee you we would still be using leaded gasoline today.

Same deal with CFCs, if you could buy a refrigerator that was $50 cheaper with CFCs in it we would have no more ozone hole left today.

Pollution with toxic chemicals / CO2 emissions will be solved the same way, or not at all. Pollution is a supply side problem, not a demand side problem.
posted by xdvesper at 4:53 PM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Indeed, changing industrial practice is entirely possible, has been done before, and is thousands of times more effective than individual behavior changes.

It's worth noting that the biggest drop is in grasslands, where ag is most massive. Individual action has pretty much nothing to to do on that front that hasn't already been done.

The /second/ biggest drop is in boreal forests. And this begs for further explanation, imo. The habitat is surely changing due to climate change, but is otherwise relatively safe from direct human interventions (like windows or feral urban cats). So it should offer an interesting place to get a better perspective on what's going on.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:37 PM on September 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


The problem is too many people. I'm sorry, it just is. You can fuss and squirm and thrash around, and argue about it however you want, but ultimately, there are just too many damn people on the poor planet. The best way to solve the problem is, absolutely, to give women full access to health and reproductive care especially birth control and abortion but also give them the opportunity to be educated, give them equal pay for equal work, help keep them safe from domestic and other violence. Electing someone like Trump as president of the United States is a travesty for everyone but especially women. Sadly, it follows that every time our government kicks Planned Parenthood in the teeth, they're kicking the birds and the insects and all the rest of us too. The current administration is ramping us forward towards our doom at an unprecedented pace. We have got to get those f****ers voted out of office in 2020!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:12 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


xdvesper: Pollution with toxic chemicals / CO2 emissions will be solved the same way, or not at all. Pollution is a supply side problem, not a demand side problem.

With one caveat: Many companies which used nasty pollutants simply moved to places with less rules, and we kept buying from those companies. Our demand for the cheapest product as long as it only hurt people (and birds) we couldn't see is part of this.
posted by clawsoon at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2019


Pollution is a supply side problem, not a demand side problem.

Pollution is a problem of externalities where the true cost of something (including the pollution damage and any costs related to mitigating that either during manufacture or later in the life cycle of the something) has never been made a part of the price of the something. So it's left to everyone on the planet to pay the costs of these externalities rather than being figured in to the price for the manufacturer or the consumer.

It's like how electronics SHOULD probably come with the price of their dismantling/recycling/disposal built into the cost of the object, but because that isn't built in, people just landfill the stuff and leave it for someone else to figure out at some indeterminate point. Ditto disposable plastic water bottles. Ditto basically everything.
posted by hippybear at 6:04 PM on September 23, 2019


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