Thursday, June 28, 2007

State of common birds

I don't know where my goldfinches are this summer. Or the indigo buntings, for that matter. Both species were so plentiful at my thistle feeders last year that I lost count when I hit 25 goldfinches and 30 buntings at one time. This year I have two goldfinches that come around everyday, but no buntings. The disappearance of the bright little birds isn't just around here; friends in the St. Francois Mountains and Outer Ozark Border haven't seen nearly the numbers as they did in years past, either. Goldfinches prefer brushy, weedy areas but are equally at home in towns and yards with a decent tree canopy. I don't think the finch eye disease could knock down a population within a year, but something has happened to them. And I haven't heard of any disease that has affected the indigo buntings.

Using 40 years worth of Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data, the esteemed Audubon Society has published an article outlining the state of our common birds. Once prolific throughout their range, certain birds have started disappearing by the millions from the landscape. In the article, the top 10 disappearing birds and the reasons for their decline are listed. Grassland-dependent Eastern meadowlarks and field sparrows make the list, along with the prairie-grassland-savanna staple, bobwhite quail. Habitat destruction is the main culprit of the disappearances. The ethanol boom will put the nail in the coffin for many birds who have become dependent on brushy turnrows and set-aside lands funded by Farm Bill conservation programs. There's more money in corn than conservation programs these days.

Naturally, with the destruction of the boreal and other large scale forest landscapes, forest interior bird populations are declining as well. Audubon offers hope! Don't buy products made with unsustainably grown wood. For wetland birds, get involved with wetland protection programs. Stop invasive species from encroaching on grasslands and woodlands. Finally, get involved with citizen science programs like the Christmas Bird Count.

If someone has more goldfinches than I do this summer, I'd like to know what you're doing to attract them. However dizzy their call is, I secretly enjoyed having to swat them out of my way to get to my car last year.

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