Wednesday, August 8, 2007

To Feed Or Not To Feed

I came across an interesting article this past week that caused me to dig up some research I'd read a few years ago. It seems that some researchers are changing their tune when it comes to songbirds. I'd recalled reading an article several years ago from 'The King James Version of Birding,' The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Now mind you, the article I'd remembered reading was ten or more years back, and I no longer had a copy of it. The gist of what I'd remembered was that backyard bird feeding wasn't recommended. I'd thought I remembered reading that they felt it disrupted the natural flow of nature. So, reading an article this past week about the 'Rewilding Of New York' and other urban areas, it seemed the new train of thought was, we need to do all we can to turn around the steady decline of songbirds in North America, as their natural habitats are being destroyed by urban sprawl.

I dug up what I thought to be the old articles I'd read on why not to feed wild birds, and there now seemed to be new research that has reversed the older theory.

Rewilding New York If You Build It They Will Come Back by Amanda Park Taylor

It all started with a little fiberglass pond I found in the garbage two years ago. I am lucky enough to have access to a small garden behind my apartment in Brooklyn, and when I saw the fiberglass tub atop a dumpster in DUMBO, it struck me as an ideal mini-pond, so I threw it in my car and drove it home. After letting it languish for years, just a couple of months ago I finally got around to putting the thing in and immediately noticed more birds in the yard. This, of course, led to the purchase of a bird feeder (something to eat with your drink?), which led to the purchase of a birdbath (the pond’s too deep for quality bathing), then some research into garden plants that birds can eat. In other words, I’m turning my little postage stamp of outdoors into a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.

The real term for this is rewilding — returning environments to states in which they can support wildlife. I was doing it for the joy of watching the little avian posse gather each morning; serious environmental types do it to help animals cope with the encroachments of humankind.

Not long after my pond was installed, the Audubon Society released a study detailing a dramatic decline in populations of songbirds in the United States. Twenty common species have lost at least half of their members. Bobwhite quail have declined 82 percent in the last 40 years — whippoorwills have decreased in number by some 57 percent (so lonesome). The causes are just what you’d expect: rampant development; the spread of industrial agriculture, which eliminates buffer zones, conservation areas and hedgerows around farms; global warming; pesticide use; and increasing conversion of land to grow corn for biofuels.

Aha! What I was doing for pleasure, I realized, was in fact an important bit of assistance for beleaguered birds. And it is something that anyone with a fire escape, balcony, porch or garden can do. The Audubon Society recommends planting trees and native plants to increase bird habitat and food supplies — a friend of mine had a nest of sparrows in a fire-escape flowerbox this year. If everyone with outdoor space made room for just a few birds to nest, or eat, it could make a real difference. If you don’t have the space for plants, you can hang a birdfeeder outside your window — they say that watching a fish tank lowers blood pressure and increases wellbeing in the watcher, but in my humble opinion those fish have nothing on a couple of sparrows at a feeder. Who needs TV?

If you have a house outside the city, or know anyone who does, learn about planting for wildlife. Many easy-to-grow plants and trees provide valuable nutrition to birds and other animals. Stop using pesticides and herbicides: they are bad for you, bad for me, and bad for them. Birds, and bats, are bug- and seed-eating machines: if you create an environment that supports them (birdhouses! bat-houses!) they’ll repay you by eating the bugs you used to spray away. And plant trees, anywhere and everywhere you can — they’ll house and feed creatures while taking up carbon dioxide, aka helping cope with global warming.

“I found a baby eagle!
It is going to die!”
She had indeed found a baby falcon on the
streets of Greenpoint.

Last week I was at a pet store buying goldfish (I’m hoping they’ll eat mosquito larvae in the pond) when a woman came rushing in, out of breath, carrying a cardboard box. “I found a baby eagle! It is going to die!” She shrieked, and opened the box: she had indeed found a baby falcon on the streets of Greenpoint — it was terrified, but thankfully didn’t look like it was going to perish. I took her over to BARC, the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition, where we left the fledgling in the capable hands of animal experts (who told us if we ever found another to touch it as little as possible, and take it immediately to a wildlife specialist).

All the way home I puzzled over the idea of falcons in Greenpoint, which struck me as a kind of miracle. Could I build a falcon platform atop my house? That could certainly help address those citywide rat problems much in the news of late...

No comments: