Waking up to the sound of birdsong isn’t as common as it used to be; populations of many of our beloved songbirds are down across North America. Research conducted by the U.S.-based National Audubon Society found that songbird decline is widespread and startling—some species are reduced by 75 per cent or more (see chart on pages 52 and 53). And the disappearance isn’t restricted to North America. In the U.K., for instance, both the common house sparrow and the starling are now listed as endangered by Britain’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
“Birds are a very good indicator of the health of our environment,” says National Audubon spokesman Geoff LeBaron.
Many scientists blame the decline on the loss of prairie grasslands, healthy forests and wetlands, coupled with urban sprawl, industrialized agriculture and, yes, even global warming. Combined, these factors leave birds with fewer places for foraging and nesting.
To help increase bird populations, LeBaron suggests minimizing pesticide and chemical use in the garden and replacing exotic plant species with native ones. He also advises keeping cats indoors where possible (the Audubon Society estimates that outdoor cats kill millions of songbirds every year in the U.S. alone), and reduce the risk of window collisions by affixing a falcon silhouette or coloured stickers to window panes; or use narrow tape on the outside of the window to break it into a series of smaller panes—if the tape is on the inside, the outer part of the glass will produce a reflection and birds will think they can fly through it.
Dick Cannings, a biologist with Bird Studies Canada, says all birds, especially migratory ones, need lots of little places to touch down on. And even the smallest urban lot can offer water, food and shelter. A shallow pond or a cement dish filled with water gives birds a drinking source and somewhere to bathe, which helps them maintain healthy feathers. (Be sure to change or disturb the water often in order to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching.)