Birds are among the most delicate of all animal groups, and any slight change in the ecosystem throws them off their pace and threatens to wipe them out. Compounded with the many diseases they face, it is estimated that one in every eight bird species is facing global extinction, with 40% of the more than 10,000 species in apparent decline. The forces driving birds into a corner are both natural and human-made, and their situation has evolved into a matter of urgency. Among the many dangers that they face, the most severe ones include the following.
In search of self-sustenance, humans have knowingly and unknowingly disrupted the ecological balance from one end of the world to another. Agriculture is the top source of food for humans, and it has impacted the existence of 74% of birds worldwide. Agriculture is the sole force behind 80% of deforestation on the planet, especially in tropical regions, which, coincidentally, happen to house almost all bird species. The destruction of natural habitats is directly linked to the decline of birds around the globe. The use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides has not only introduced new avian diseases but has killed off many insects that constitute 80% of all birds’ diets. Germany, for instance, has lost 75% of its flying insects to farm pesticides. Some pesticides have been known to kill small birds and interfere with the fertility of the larger birds, which is an ironic situation since birds are the best natural pest control option as they feed on most of the pests.
Forests have been the natural homes for all kinds of animals, creating a food chain that maintains the ecological balance. The high demand for timber has, however, led to wanton destruction of forests without any replacement. Most of the birds that depend on these forests cannot survive without them. Birds have been forced to share small pockets of the remaining forests, which are not sufficient enough to support high numbers. Lack of food and breeding grounds brought about by uncontrolled logging has led to many bird species dying out or relocating to other parts they are not used to, this destroys diversity. Eight bird species have been confirmed extinct in the last decade due to deforestation.
Hunting And Trapping
Another human-driven force decimating bird numbers without any sign of stopping is hunting and trapping. Demand for exotic birds has created a black market in all parts of the world, which in turn has increased illegal poaching and smuggling of rare birds. In 2015, the Helmeted Hornbill was pushed from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered thanks to its much sought after casques. Some of the birds currently listed as endangered due to hunting include the European Turtle Dove, the Snowy Owl, the Atlantic Puffin, the Grey Parrot, and Black Legged Kittiwake. Parrots, in particular, are targeted by smugglers owing to the high prices they fetch in the black market. The Australian Palm Cockatoos, for instance, can fetch up to $30,000 in the black market. The Caribbean islands, West Indies, and Central Africa are the main areas where birds are snatched for illegal trade with the markets situated in Asia and Eastern Europe.
Climate change has become an unstoppable force that is driving species to extinction without relenting. It affects all the aspects of birdlife from breeding to feeding to migratory habits. For example, since 1970, the bird population in North America has reduced by a staggering 2.9 billion. Wildfires that have become the norm as the tropics become hotter and drier have been known to kill large numbers of animals, as was evident in the recent Australian wildfires that have killed an estimated 1 billion animals, among them birds. Thanks to Climate Change, 49% of breeding forest bird species like the black-throated blue warbler stands a risk of declining in numbers. Sixty-six percent of long-distance migratory birds are now highly vulnerable, as well as 56% of coastal nesting species. Another dangerous aspect of climate change is the high concentration of carbon in the atmosphere due to the reduced number of trees that used to absorb the gas. The excess carbon is forced into oceans, which in turn affect marine life numbers that are food for the birds.
Every problem has a solution, and the declining number of birds in the world is no exception. Birds play a critical role in our survival, and they are responsible for vital processes like pollination without which humans would not have food. Logging of indigenous forests should be banned altogether, especially in the tropical rainforests, because these forests provide shelter, breeding grounds, and food for the birds making them irreplaceable. Restoring forests will also address the climate change issue that is also caused by the destruction of forests. The introduction of environmentally friendly methods of farming could also help reduce pollution that is a leading cause of avian diseases. Regulation of fishing needs to be enforced to preserve food for the birds.
Reversing the effects of global warming cannot be achieved overnight, but the small steps taken today will eventually amount to something substantial 50 years in the future. Shutting down black markets that deal with bird smuggling will help stifle out the demand for the birds, consequently reducing poaching. Harsher penalties need to be drawn up to discourage people from engaging in illegal trafficking. Establishing bird sanctuaries around the world to protect the critically endangered birds is another effective way of restoring bird populations in the wild.
What The Future Holds?
With more people getting involved in the campaign to save the planet, the future for birds looks bright. Many governments around the world have banned fertilizers and pesticides deemed harmful to the environment, and the impacts of these measures are starting to manifest themselves. The one thing that seems to be working in favor of birds is their ability to reproduce fast, unlike mammals. Most birds have short gestation periods, smaller birds like the Northern Mockingbirds need only 15 days to multiply, this makes it easy for species long considered endangered to bounce back if they are carefully managed and protected.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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