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Modern Threats to
Bird Populations

General Information

Conservative estimates are that more than a BILLION birds are killed annually in the USA as a result of human activities. Licensed hunting and pest control account for a small portion of these deaths, but the vast majority of deaths result from a variety of other human activities.

Let’s take a look at some of these activities to determine what we as responsible citizens can do to curtail these needless losses to wild bird populations.

 

Pet cats that are allowed to roam free account for some 4 MILLION bird deaths EACH DAY in North America, or over 1 BILLION songbirds each year. This figure does not include the losses resulting from feral or wild populations of cats. Cats are efficient predators, and even capture some of the most secretive birds, such as Yellow Rails.

SOLUTION: By simply controlling the activities of our favorite pet cats, we can make a significant contribution toward conserving populations of songbirds.

 

The Domestic Cat
Figure 1 - The Domestic Cat

Windows
Figure 2 - Windows

As many as 80 million songbirds are killed each year by collisions with plate glass windows. Most die of skull fractures and internal injuries. Birds see reflections of trees, and fly directly into the window, often at high speeds.

SOLUTION: This problem can be minimized by placing silhouettes of falcons on the outside of the plate glass windows (See left side of this photo). Falcons are natural predators on wild birds, and will usually cause a bird to veer away from the window, thus avoiding a collision.

 

More than 57 million birds are killed each year from collisions with vehicles. This averages out to about 15 bird deaths per mile per year.

SOLUTION: Most of these are probably not avoidable, but many can be prevented by careful driving, especially in local areas where birds are known to cross roads frequently.

 

 Road Kills
Figure 3 - Road Kills

Communications Towers
Figure 4 - Communications Towers

As many as 5,000 birds can be killed in one night at a single tower site. Communication towers are particularly hazardous to birds that migrate at night. Many species of birds migrate just above the treetops, and collide with towers and guy wires. On misty overcast nights, the lights on the towers disorient the birds, and as they fly around the towers, many are killed by collisions with the guy wires.

 

Nearly a million songbirds are killed each year by collisions with lighted tall buildings. Once again, birds that migrate at night suffer the most. Southern exposures present the greatest risk to birds coming north during the spring migration. Northern faces of buildings are the greatest risk during fall migrations.

SOLUTION: Darken high rise buildings during the spring and fall migratory period.

 

Tall Buildings
Figure 5 - Tall Buildings

Loss of Breeding Habitat
Figure 6 - Loss of Breeding Habitat

The continued loss of critical breeding and migratory stopover habitat to human development poses a devastating threat to wild bird populations. The construction site pictured has been totally wiped clean of the mature secondary forest that once existed here. Without suitable breeding habitat, birds cannot maintain their populations. Without key migratory stopovers, birds cannot even reach their breeding grounds. As human populations increase, this problem will likely worsen.

SOLUTION: Thoughtful land use planning can go a long way toward identifying and conserving those habitats that are critical to birds and other forms of wildlife. Development that does occur can be planned to preserve some habitat areas.

 

Despite conservation efforts, millions of songbirds are needlessly lost each year. The challenge is to educate people to those things that can be done to minimize the threats to our native and migratory bird populations.

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