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[dupe] Bird populations have declined since 1970 across nearly all habitats (scientificamerican.com)
122 points by emptybits 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments



New Zealand used to have a dawn chorus of birds before it was settled by Europeans.

"When Captain Cook came to the Queen Charlotte Sound in 1770, his botanist, Joseph Banks, described the dawn chorus he heard in his journal. 'This morn I was awakd by the singing of the birds ashore from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile, the numbers of them were certainly very great who seemd to strain their throats with emulation perhaps; their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells....'.

The dawn chorus doesn't exist now for two reasons: forest was felled and converted to farmland, and bird/egg eating mammals were introduced.

New Zealand is trying to stop the decline in our bird numbers and threatened species, and we are even succeeding in small areas. We have been leading the world at completely eradicating pests from some islands, and fencing off some forest areas within our cities, and eradicating all mammals (rats/stoats/cats) within them.

Fortunately New Zealand is quite progressive on environmental issues (although we need to do way better), and about 5% to 10% of our parliament is the Green Party (who regularly have real power by forming coalition governments or strategic voting on bills). I think much of their policy is whacko, but as a minority they work well to effect change and represent the large number of New Zealanders that care deeply about our environment.

I like this summary http://i.stuff.co.nz/environment/8206417/A-deafening-dawn-ch... (although maybe stop reading when she starts rabbiting on about her rooster!).


Here’s an encouraging story for New Zealand: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3VZSJKbzyMc

“Fools & Dreamers: Regenerating a Native Forest is a 30-minute documentary about Hinewai Nature Reserve, on New Zealand’s Banks Peninsula, and its kaitiaki/manager of 30 years, botanist Hugh Wilson. When, in 1987, Hugh let the local community know of his plans to allow the introduced ‘weed’ gorse to grow as a nurse canopy to regenerate farmland into native forest, people were not only skeptical but outright angry – the plan was the sort to be expected only of “fools and dreamers”.

Now considered a hero locally and across the country, Hugh oversees 1500 hectares resplendent in native forest, where birds and other wildlife are abundant and 47 known waterfalls are in permanent flow. He has proven without doubt that nature knows best – and that he is no fool.”


I recently watched that documentary and really loved it.


While visiting New Zealand, I heard a type of morning bird that sounded almost like a xylophone. I'm not sure what kind it was. It was the most unique sounding bird I've heard.

I can't imagine what it would have been like to hear a chorus of those birds back when they were far more numerous.


I'm guessing you heard a bellbird - some of their single tone calls sound like a ringing bell. First recordings I found weren't a great example of the sound, but it also has some "dawn chorus" recordings: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/bird-son...


>about 5% to 10% of our parliament is the Green Party

Was curious about this. It represents about 6-12% of the vote. Australian green party regularly gets 10-15% of the vote but only ends up with one seat in parliament. Whereas the entirely pointless and self servingly corrupt national party gets 6% of the vote and 16 seats.

New Zealand has a different voting system. [0] tldr: if you want democratic outcomes, you need democratic processes.

The beautiful thing about multi party systems is you can elect both the party that cares about farmers, and the party that cares about the environment and have them work out some compromises.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_New_Zeal...


From what I can tell between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year. Maybe we should tax the rich to save them all? How can we save 100,000 each year. Do we think Capitalism is causing these extinction?


The gigantic estimates of species extinction are just guesses. We only know of about 1000 species that have gone extinct the last 500 years.

https://weather.com/science/environment/news/2019-01-02-exti...


Broadly speaking, "people growing food" is causing these extinctions. Ending capitalism might reverse these changes to the ecosystems, insofar as people suffer mass starvation, are killed in revolutionary struggle / civil war, or are exterminated by a dystopian post-capitalist state; aside from this you should, broadly speaking, expect the inferior yields of collectivized agriculture to worsen the environmental degradation (by requiring more farmland), not improve it.


Well if history is any measure the move away from capitalism will kill off a good percentage of the population. So I guess from an ecological standpoint it would be good to have a communist revolution every couple decades then quickly go back to capitalism so the people left can live nice lives.


There must be something more than habitat loss or pesticides.

Outside of Central Asia sparrows are introduced species, adapted to live on remains of our towns. Urban environments is the natural habitat of sparrows, like rats with wings. They don't belong to the wilderness. If sparrows are also disappearing then the loss of natural habitat is not the only answer.

Edit: from this graph [0] it seems that the loss is concentrated on introduced species (such as sparrows), shorebirds and insectivores.

[0]https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/silent-skies-bill...


It sounds like you are referring specifically to the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) which is not native to North America and is indeed strongly associated with urban environments.[0] But the native New World sparrows to which the article refers are a separate group of species and are dependent on natural habitat.[1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_sparrows

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_sparrow


Maybe not only birds.

Today, I drove home from Las Vegas to Portola Valley. I went 95->6->120 over Tioga pass, then home.

I've driven this route over several decades. My recollection (corroborated by a few Kodachrome slides) is that my windshield would be smeared with bug impacts by the time I got to Lee Vining, necessitating a stop at the humongously overpriced gas station so I could use their window cleaners. Since about 15 years ago, not so much.

I had a total of three bugs at Lee Vining today. I bypassed the gas station and window cleaning, went over Tioga.

If we're really missing the quantities of bugs my anecdote may illustrate, it's no wonder the birds are missing, too.


I remember walking through the grass on the way home from school and seeing hundreds of grasshoppers jump out of the way. I saw a grasshopper the other day walking my kids to school and realised it was the first I had seen in many years.

Mum used to yell at me all the time to hurry though the screen door so the flies wouldn't get in. Now we could leave the screen open all day and we'd be lucky to see a fly come in.


There's really only one insect we care much about - bees - and the keywords there are colony collapse disorder. Given that bees are given homes and food, it makes you wonder what is happening to the rest of the insect ecosystem.

Even worse, there is a whole universe of microbes which we know even less about than insects...


Curious how many times you and millions of others thought you could slaughter all those insects with your cars before it would harm them. Roads are one of the main reasons for declining animal populations and insects are impacted as much as or more than any animals.


Is this true? I always thought the decline was more often caused by removing habitats. Would be curious to know how this is measured and communicated.


Living in rural Illinois I can attest that bugs have pretty much vanished. You used to be eaten alive outside, not so much near any crop fields (i.e. most of the state). I never even get bit at night.

I’m sure that is the largest impact on birds, no food.


Remember when you had to scrape your windshield down after a car trip? I noticed the birds vanishing in my area, but I had no idea it was happening on this scale.


A lot of that is aerodynamics improving in newer cars. I drive a Jeep Wrangler and it catches a lot more bugs than our modern Honda


I drive old cars, and have had the same exact model for over a decade, and cross the country often between the west coast and midwest.

It used to be that I'd have to clean my windshield at gas stops and the car would need its bumper and hood washed of insect genocide on arrival.

These days neither are necessary, it's very apparent.


You obviously haven’t driven through southern Oregon on highway 97 during sunset. Had to use the windshield wipers because I couldn’t see from all the bug carcasses on the windshield.


I haven't, but have certainly experienced driving through regions where there are still insects. Northern MN for example, that was reminiscent of what it used to be like driving through NE.

That's besides the point though, at least along the route I drive most often, which is i80 between SF and Chicago, there's been a very visible decline of insects over the past ~1.5 decades according to the windshield gauge.


He's comparing two different years in the exact same region to show decline, his point isn't that there aren't any insects left on earth.


Outdoor domestic cats, apparently, kill billions of birds annually. Have a cat? Don't let it outdoors.


I wonder what impact it would have if everyone put a collar jingle bell on their cat.


My sister's cats have multiple bells and they still murder all the time.


Definitely less than not letting their cats outside.


True. Especially if you like to live with rats and mice.


A water-bucket trap can kill dozens of rodents in a single night. Your cat is not that effective.


I’ve found a slow cat to be fast enough to catch mice, but too slow/obvious to catch birds.


>Outdoor domestic cats, apparently, kill billions of birds annually.

who else is going to kill those billions of old and ill weak and dying birds? In wilderness this is done by a plethora of predators. In developed areas pretty much only cats are left to perform that duty. Without cats it would probably be the rats walking around eating the finally fallen dead birds lying around. Your choice.

And don't forget another aspect - rats eat bird eggs imparting massive damage at that stage, and the only predator available that can effectively control rats in the areas inside and surrounding human developments is cats.


It is not possible to control rodents by predation.


I thought the Bay Area was unnervingly devoid of birds, I guess I was right.


Tangentially related, but is Scientific American worth subscribing to? I really like reading paper magazines and am a subscriber to Science, but feel like I could use lighter reading if it’s not too sensationalist


No. It used to be great but then they went way downmarket about 20 years to increase readership. After several years of declining quality I quite when I noticed they had adjusted the font size and spacing to have about the same number of pages (and ads) in each issue while reducing the actual content by ~20%.

I mean, it's not terrible but it used to be solidly educational whereas Nature or Science is relatively hard work to read unless you really love getting into the weeds. Scientific American used to sit in the middle ground between Popular Mechanics or National Geographic and actual journals, but you'll probably find it disappointingly shallow.


More to the point then, is there anything that sits between the high quality generalist journals and generalist scientific magazines (Nat Geo. and the like)?

I can and do read Nature and Science, but outside of my PhD field I find it pretty slow going and often feel like I'm missing out on what could be interesting findings due to not having sufficient background to fully understand the problem space.


Not that I'm aware of, sadly. There's New Scientist from the UK but that's more of a weekly newspaper and thus a bit shallow. There's some great online magazines of course (Quanta is pretty good) but for longform writing I still like hard copy cause I'm old.


I personally read Ars Technica (and am a subscriber), which I feel fills this niche (maybe that's not what you are looking for?)

Even though most of their articles are IT-oriented, they cover quite well major scientific publications in various domains.


Other live discussion about same topic/study:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21018916


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