Whale swimming - photo by Guille Pozzi - photo by Guille Pozzi

Bird Calls

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I am having a cup of tea on the patio in Kruger National Park listening and thinking about how we are losing birds all over the world, mostly due to human-induced causes. We are fragmenting their habitats, assaulting them with pesticides, and leaving lights on needlessly in buildings at night. We live in glass houses (figuratively and literally) and birds die from colliding with buildings. According to Toronto's Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), bird biologists estimate that one in ten birds on average will hit a building each year. And according to Sibley bird guides, almost one billion birds die globally each year from window strikes.

The good news is that we also are learning to live with birds. As of 2011, more than twenty-one cities in the United States and Canada had a Lights Out program to help save birds, create dark skylines, and save energy.

Skyscrapers' reflective windows resemble open sky to birds, and at night, birds are drawn to lights. Lights Out programs encourage city residents and building owners to turn off lights to help birds navigate, particularly during migratory seasons. Many building owners place decals on windows and other clear glass structures so that birds can tell that the glass is an obstacle in their flight paths.

Some programs also have volunteers who rise before the birds and patrol city streets rescuing live birds that have hit windows, placing them upright in warm, dark paper bags until the birds are well enough to fly away. Those that are seriously injured are taken to wildlife rehabilitation centers. The dead are used for research. In addition, in some programs volunteers count the dead so we can learn how many birds are actually dying.

Using a bird metaphor, birds are "the canary in the coal mine," and we ignore their decimation at our own peril. We cannot afford to ignore the many threats to birds around the world. They consume insects, disperse plant seeds, pollinate, and provide food for predators. When we lose birds, we lose healthy ecosystems – the very ecosystems upon which we humans depend. If our ecosystems become unhealthy, so do we.

Sipping my tea, I hear a lion's roar interspersed with the bird song. Yes, the bird songs in South Africa are different from the songs of the birds that pass through Arroyo Seco, yet all of these species face many of the same challenges. As we learn to care for birds, we also learn to care for ourselves. Although it is dawn, I'm happy to celebrate the Lights Out programs around the world.

Photos are copyright protected and may not be reproduced without permission. Photos are used with the permission of Tara Waters Lumpkin.

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