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Subhankar Banerjee: The Vanishing
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It’s not been a good era for migrants — and no, I’m not talking about those “caravans” of desperate human beings from Central America heading for the U.S. (and the wrath of Donald J. Trump). I’m thinking about birds — shorebirds, in fact, which are surely the greatest migrants on the planet. The Hudsonian godwit, for instance, flies more than 9,000 miles yearly to its Arctic breeding grounds. Since 1974, however, populations of that bird have taken a 70% nose (or beak) dive, part of the great shorebird die-off of this era. In fact, bird populations of many sorts are dropping across the planet. These include mountain birds that have nowhere higher to go as global temperatures increase and the common farmland birds of France whose populations have fallen by a third, though some like the meadow pipit (at 68%) have experienced far more precipitous drops. Then, there are the birds of the Mojave Desert in California and Nevada. In those largely protected national park or preserve areas, according to a recent study, bird populations are down 42% in the last century, possibly thanks to climate change. And none of this is out of the ordinary, since it’s now estimated that 40% of all bird species are in decline globally and one of every eight is threatened with extinction.

I’ve always remembered John Jay Audubon’s 1813 description of a vast flock of passenger pigeons flying unceasingly overhead for three days. “The light of noon-day,” he wrote, “was obscured as by an eclipse.” Such flocks were once estimated to have more than a billion birds. A single Wisconsin nesting area was, in the nineteenth century, said to contain 136 million of them. Thanks to habitat destruction and overhunting — pigeon pot pie was popular fare, being “the cheapest protein on land” at the time — the last of those birds, “Martha,” died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

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Now, it seems many other species of birds, including snowy owls (which I’ve tried but never succeeded in seeing), are following in Martha’s wake or at least suffering severe declines. According to Audubon researchers, the bobwhite, for instance — a bird I used to see every summer but no longer do — has suffered a stunning 82% decline in this country. All of this shocks me. I was from my early teenage years a birdwatcher. I have no idea now what first attracted me to birds. All I can say is that watching them was a strange thing for a young teenager growing up in the middle of Manhattan to do, especially in an era when no boy in his right mind would fess up to such an activity (for fear of being drummed out of the corps of boys). It was a secret I shared only with my best friend. I can remember well going with him to New York’s Central Park during spring migration season, when birds passing overhead have remarkably few places to land in the big city, and being shown species I wouldn’t see again for decades by what were then the stereotypical Audubon types — little old people in tennis sneakers (exactly what I now am). It was a thrill at the time and remains so in memory (as every year my old friend and I still return to that park to do it all over again).

It couldn’t be sadder to imagine that someday, thanks to what TomDispatch regular, environmental activist, and wildlife photographer Subhankar Banerjee terms “biological annihilation,” so many of the birds I saw may no more be there for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren than the passenger pigeon was for me. Birds are, of course, only one small part of a staggering process of human-caused obliteration now underway across this planet, as Banerjee explains today. It may be the saddest story of all at a moment when humanity just can’t seem to get a handle on its tendency to destroy.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Global Warming 
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  1. Patriot says:

    Bird decline is a direct of human population growth, because humand destroy the natural habitat that birds require to survive.

    I’m in Australia, which is almost as large as the USA, but only has 24 million people (USA has ~ 330 million). There are birds everywhere here, and great diversity.

    I pray that Australia doesn’t open the immigration flood gates, like the USA did. I’ve seen Los Angeles, California. What an ecological and social dystopia – a real nightmare. Sydney and Melbourne are already approaching that.

  2. anon[997] • Disclaimer says:

    Bird decline is a direct of human population growth, because humand destroy the natural habitat that birds require to survive.

    yes, human overpopulation = habitat destruction, the number one cause of animals going extinct

    the environmental groups already revealed themselves to be big whores so don’t anticipate any help from them on the subject

  3. anon[997] • Disclaimer says:

    It couldn’t be sadder to imagine that someday, thanks to what TomDispatch regular, environmental activist, and wildlife photographer Subhankar Banerjee terms “biological annihilation,” so many of the birds I saw may no more be there for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren than the passenger pigeon was for me. Birds are, of course, only one small part of a staggering process of human-caused obliteration now underway across this planet, as Banerjee explains today.

    i wonder if Benrjee calls for his fellow Asians to do the right thing and reduce their populations?

  4. Where are the Rocket Scientists castigating the tree-huggers? I know you’re out there. Raise your ugly heads.

  5. anonymous[340] • Disclaimer says:

    Almost TDS-free, but for the opening. And once again, I can repeat the same comment:

    I guess he used to be an antiwar dissident. But Mr. Engelhardt* now seems dually exhausted by Donald Trump and Global Warming (or Climate Change, or whatever it’s to be called this month). High on his own fumes, a tool of the Establishment.
    ——–
    *I usually don’t read the work of the rotating “TomDispatch regulars” that Mr. Engelhardt gift wraps in these little teasers. But they, even alone, are an easy way to keep in touch with the NPR-NPC segment of the country.

    • Agree: Per/Norway
  6. donand says:

    In a couple of weeks I’ll be 83. Way back when, I was raised on a Midwest farm that still had its wilds and was left to run freely, ever fascinated with all the wildlife, bar none. Ow, the wonderful butterflies, spiders, moths, crawdads, frogs, and all those birds. How many of you can remeber the bug plastered windshields of those times? According to recent reports, insect extinction is leading that of birds and may be one of the instigators. Here in N. California, the insects were almost absent last summer, even the mosquitoes and flies. Of the woodpecker racket, we hear only a rare whistle. When the insects are gone, what of flowering plants. Even worse, the ocean is dying. Yes, global warming likely was involved, but the petrochemical storm led the way, especially in latter days the industrial agricultural pesticides without which our plastic wrapped urbanized world couldn’t exist. It’s time for us to go.

    • Replies: @anon
  7. anon[851] • Disclaimer says:
    @donand

    i remember when growing up in the late 1970’s, all the butterflies drawn to the lilac bush

    butterflies, bugs, insects everywhere – now nothing

  8. Global warming, while real, is not the main culprit. Other studies have shown the decline of flying insects – which, along with their larvae, are a food source for birds.

    Bee numbers have declined. The reasons are not fully understood but, among other factors, the effect of Roundup/glyphosate on the intestinal bacteria of bees is implicated.

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