One of the most unfortunate things about government budget cutbacks is that when you delete a monitoring program you’re not only throwing out the data from a single year, but you’re throwing out all that you’ve invested over decades.
Regular monitoring is vital to keeping tabs on the status of species and establishing trends, then to figuring out what has caused the trend and whether there’s anything we can do about it, if it’s a negative trend.
Without it, species will disappear quietly off the face of the earth, perhaps due to causes we can manage and thus prevent their extirpation.
In lieu of government, because politics plays such an unfortunate role in consistent monitoring, non-profit groups are now taking on the job.
For instance, Bird Studies Canada has compiled data from the last 40 years to put together a picture of how this country’s birds are faring, and there are some warning signs.
Not surprisingly, there are fewer birds now than in the 70s on average, but some species are doing well, while others are declining.
Severe declines have been recorded amongst grassland birds, migratory shorebirds and aerial insectivores, or birds that catch insects in flight.
Loss of habitat is to blame for declines in birds such as longspurs, meadowlarks and the Greater Sage Grouse while it’s not known why numbers of aerial insectivores have taken a steeper dive than others.
Conservation actions, including controls on pesticides, have led to an increase in populations of raptors such as the peregrine falcon.
There have also been increases in waterfowl populations due in part to successful management of hunting and wetlands.
Healthy bird populations indicate a healthy ecosystem, so even if we’re not bird lovers, we should be concerned about and interested in their numbers. At the same time, they play a major role in control of insect pest populations as well as rodent numbers; and they are responsible for dispersing seeds and for pollination.
Because of migration, often their survival depends on the efforts of people in more than one country.
Certainly, as individuals, our efforts can help make a difference, whether that’s by participation in such programs as the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count or in BCS’s Project FeederWatch.
In fact, there are dozens of ways you can become involved listed on the BSC website: www.bsc-eoc.org/
The FeederWatch program, which is run jointly with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, begins Nov. 10 (close to the time bears should be thinking about hibernation and we can safely put out the feeders again), and runs until early April and anyone can get involved for just $35.
That enrolment fee includes membership, four issues of BirdWatch Canada magazine, educational materials, a bird calendar, information and data booklet, bird feeding handbook and articles on bird behaviour.
As a member, you will be part of a massive effort to chronicle winged visitors to your yard and feeder to form a vast picture of trends in bird populations around North America.
As part of this citizen science project you will become part of noting such events as the decline in populations of evening grosbeaks and fluctuations in winter finches such as the common redpolls, pine siskins and pine grosbeaks which feed largely on tree seeds.
To register, call toll-free 1-888-448-2473; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to: www.birdscanada.org
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.