Wild Birds Across America Are at Risk—Here's How You Can Help Protect Them
"Hope" is the thing with feathers, wrote Emily Dickinson, and it's true: Spotting the first phoebes of spring is utterly uplifting. But birds are also a bellwether of our planet's health. According to a recent study, North American populations have fallen 29 percent over the past 50 years, and the National Audubon Society predicts that if climate change progresses unchecked, two-thirds of the continent's avian species could go extinct. Here are five ways to help keep our world filled with song.
Grow native plants.
"It's the number-one thing you can do at home to attract birds," says John Rowden, PhD, senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society. They provide nectar, fruit, seeds, and insects to eat, as well as habitats. Plus, they've adapted to their locales, so they flourish sans pesticides or chemical fertilizers. (To find varieties for your area, plug your zip code into the native-plant database at audubon.org.) Come spring, welcome birds with a bath for grooming and sipping, and replace the water every few days. If you also set out feeders, clean them at least once a month to prevent disease.
Keep cats indoors.
They kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds a year in the U.S., per a study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Give felines perches near a window—even watching birds can help calm their predatory urges.
Protect birds in flight.
They can get disoriented by reflections and fly right into glass, especially during migration periods. To prevent this, the American Bird Conservancy recommends adding visible patterns to outside panes with strings hung vertically (spaced no more than four inches apart) or horizontally (no more than two inches apart), removable decals, or UV films. (See abcbirds.org for suggested ones.) "If you find an injured bird, pick it up," says Rita McMahon, director of the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation center in New York City. "If its legs move, it's probably stunned." Warm it in your hands to prevent hypothermia (wash them afterward), and put it in a box or brown bag in an enclosed space, like a bathroom. Wait about an hour, then listen for activity. Open the box and let it fly around. To catch it, turn off the lights (it will stop flying), return it to the box, and let it fly away on its own in your yard or a park. If it doesn't perk up, call a wildlife rehab center for help.
Brew a better cup.
"When you buy shade-grown coffee beans, you provide food for more than 70 North American migratory species, like orioles and warblers, that spend winters bulking up on coffee farms across the Caribbean and Central and South America," says Amanda D. Rodewald, PhD, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Look for the Bird Friendly coffee certification logo.
Grab your binoculars.
And share what you see. "Much of our ability to understand the impact of climate change comes from community science data," says Rowden. Track and input what you spot on Cornell's eBird app, the world's largest biodiversity-related citizen science project. Seasoned birders can assist Audubon's Climate Watch by answering survey questions on assigned locations. The next session begins May 15.