Birds of a Feather?



Q. Recent news articles estimate that we have lost over 3 billion birds in North America and Canada. Can it be that many? I do not hear birds sing anymore and it pains me to think we are at fault.


A. The numbers are correct. Over the last 50 years we have lost almost 30% of birds across the North American continent. The most likely causes are loss of habitat (especially grasslands and forests) and a wider use of pesticides. Relatively newer hazards include impacts with communication towers and wind power technology. Less birds means more insects and the disruption of other ecosystems. Your words remind me of Rachel Carson’s classic book, Silent Spring. In 1962 she wrote, “On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound.


It is important for us to accept that our ever-growing need to modify and reshape the world has displaced or destroyed the natural habitat of other beings, our extended family. We are not just losing birds we are losing nature. But I think you already know this, so maybe you are writing to ask what, if anything can we do to reverse this trend? Or, is there a chance we might not be at fault? I am a ley naturalist. I observe nature, human nature, and Big Nature. I watch and listen and sometimes understand. What I find most interesting these days is how inter-related everything is, and how little we seem to know about what is really happening.

The earth is evolving and so is everything that is related to the earth, including us. There is no reason to assume that anything will be left out of the equation, except that many people still believe they exist apart from nature, or somehow in charge of it. This belief keeps us from understanding and respecting our world; it presupposes that nature will fall in line with human demand. And that, as I see it, is where we may lose the ability to evolve naturally rather than artificially.


The answer, for now at least, is to stay close to what nature is showing us. Observe. Listen with your heart. The earth is a sentient being. This is not the first time the planet has initiated large-scale sequences. We are here to participate in life creatively and uniquely. Some of us are action-oriented, others need only mark themselves present and awake. Blame and judgment displace resources that none of us can spare right now. And hate is even more disruptive.


Like you, I feel an immense loss at humanity’s ignorance, yet I trust the wisdom of the earth. Birds evolved from a group of small, feathered dinosaurs. Over time, their sharp teeth evolved into beaks. These amazing facts fill me with wonder. I hope they will do the same for you.

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