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What Can We Do to Stop The Worldwide Decline of our Wild Songbirds?

Updated on February 26, 2017
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has been writing for decades, publishing articles online and in print. His many interests include literature, the arts and nature.

Yellowhammer, a European songbird at risk.
Yellowhammer, a European songbird at risk. | Source

Songbirds - How to help stop their decline

Imagine a world without the songs of birds. Imagine an eerie silence where once there was the song of a nightingale, a mimic thrush or a wren. What if skylarks were no longer around to fill warm, blue spring and summer days with their unbroken songs?

The plain truth is, songbirds are in decline the world over, from Australia to the UK, from the fringes of Europe to the USA. In Canada and India. As human populations rise and more land is cleared to grow much needed food crops and for house building and industrial expansion, it's inevitable that wildlife is going to suffer.

So just what can ordinary people like you and me do to help stop the decline of songbirds?

This issue of environment versus human need isn't new, it's been going on for millenia, ever since humans stepped out of their caves in search of food and water. Basically, as we've progressed as a species more and more disturbance has taken place, up until now, when some might argue we've reached a kind of tipping point.

The figures for numbers of songbirds killed each year worldwide are alarming to say the least. It runs into the hundreds of millions. If you look at the National Audubon Society website they estimate that between 1.3 and 4 billion birds are killed each year by cats alone, in the USA.

But cats aren't the only cause.

Red Whiskered Bulbul, a songbird from India.
Red Whiskered Bulbul, a songbird from India. | Source
Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them
Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them

A detailed and revealing book that sets out just how serious the situation is for many species of songbird.

 

Main Reasons for Decline of Songbirds


  1. Loss of habitat - Intensive farming has led to more acres of wild land being used for crops. As orchards, copses, trees and shrubs and wild fringes are cleared this means there is nowhere for songbirds to feed and nest. Rapid sowing methods and quick growing crops lead to all season growing which means more disturbance in fields and around farms.
  2. Use of pesticides - Many farmers use pesticides to keep bugs and pests away from food crops. These are powerful chemicals - especially the neonicotinoids and glyphosates - and in a recent study reported in the National Geographic they accumulate in water which local birds then drink. Not only that, seeds to be sown are coated with the same neonicotinoids, and can be ingested by birds. In South America migratory birds often fall foul of chemicals that are banned in the USA but are used widely in countries with few restrictions on pesticides.
  3. Collisions - Birds fly into windows, high tension lines, towers, windmills and other structures that are high or made of transparent materials. Estimated numbers are difficult to collate but it must run into the low millions each year.
  4. Cars - millions of cars zooming around means many millions of birds killed on our roads when they're hit, squashed, knocked and shocked.
  5. Hunting - some people like to kill birds both big and small with guns! This goes on all over the world but there are hotspots like Malta where shooting anything that flies is seen as a national sport. Again millions of birds slaughtered.
  6. Predation - cats - wild, feral and domestic, plus natural predators like hawks and falcons and members of the corvus family, kill millions of small birds each year.

How do we know songbirds are in decline?


Long term surveys by universities, agencies and ornithological societies are extensive and ongoing. Surveys vary in the way they're carried out but one typical example from the US Department of the Interior involves many volunteers recording songs and sightings of a particular bird over a season in pre-determined places within a given area. It could be in a park or urban space. This process is repeated and data checked against previous surveys for comparison.


Create Wild Spaces and Corridors

Many people nowadays are landscaping their gardens, patios and driveways by covering soil, grass and scrubland with paving slabs, bricks, stone and other materials.

Creating even a tiny wild space in a garden can help small songbirds survive, and if there are lots and lots of tiny wild spaces joined together - green corridors - these soon start to add up. Which is good news for the birds.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch | Source

Create a Garden Attractive to Song Birds

One of the best things we could all do to help the birds is to create special spaces for them in the garden. Providing natural food, shelter and nesting space is surprisingly easy and doesn't cost the earth. Even if only a tiny space is allocated this could mean the difference between birds being there or not.

To help you decide I've compiled a list of suitable plants that are guaranteed to attract the right kind of bird to your garden.

If You Live in the USA

Shrubs and Trees -

Black Chokeberry

Fringe Tree

Washington Hawthorn

Northern Bayberry

White Spruce

Staghorn Sumac

Dogwood

Buttonbush


Flowers


Cardinal flower

Sunflowers

Virginia Creeper

Milkweed

Purple Cornflower

Trumpet Honeysuckle

Goldflame Honeysuckle


Classic Songbird - The Nightingale

The Nightingale has a remarkable song full of all kinds of liquid wheets, crisp tucs, rapid chuck-chuck-chucks and other loud wondrous bubbling, sweet sounds. The best time to listen to a nightingale is undoubtedly in the middle of the night, when traffic noise has ended and there aren't noisy crowds around to frighten the birds away!

They love dense lowland woods, thickets and overgrown hedgerows. You may be lucky and actually spot the bird as it sings but more often than not the song is heard and the bird never seen. This is because the nightingale for most of its life is a shy, secretive creature, a lover of shadowy tangles of shrub and undergrowth.

As the wilder fringes and woodlands are tidied up, landscaped or cut down, this bird will move on to look for more favourable habitats. Little wonder it is in decline.

Arizona wildflower garden, good for songbirds.
Arizona wildflower garden, good for songbirds. | Source

Talk, Write and Take Action

Talking to neighbours, local folk and farmers is a good way to elicit action and initiate positive steps towards helping songbirds. It's surprising just how interested people can become once they're sparked.

Writing letters to local councillors, agencies and support groups to arrange meetings or to point out things in the environment you live in can also arouse interest and help get things done for the benefit of all.

UK garden full of shrubs and flowers to attract songbirds.
UK garden full of shrubs and flowers to attract songbirds. | Source

Cat Owners - Will a Cat Collar and Bell Help?

Cats, both domestic and feral, hunt birds by instinct. There's no getting around the fact that many birds are killed by the silent, stalking feline. As a cat lover I wouldn't want cats to be kept indoors to prevent them killing birds but I would consider a cat collar with a bell, that might act as a warning for birds.

If You Live in the UK

Trees and Shrubs


Holly

Hawthorn

Guelder Rose

Dogwood

Blackthorn

Elderberry

Gorse

Dog Rose

Bramble

Berberis darwinii

Sorbus Sheerwater, rowan family.

Buddhlia

Flowers


Sunflower

Foxglove

Thyme

Lavender

Honeysuckle

Purple Loosestrife

Wallflower

Teasel

Cornflower

Australian songbird - Red Browed Finch
Australian songbird - Red Browed Finch | Source

If You Live in Australia

Trees and Shrubs


Eucalypts

Silky hakea

Acacia

Sweet bursaria

Burgan

Leptospermum

Correa

Hardenbergia

Melaleuca

Banksia

Grevillea

Xanthorrhoea

Kangaroo Thorn

Mountain devil

Bottlebrush

Wattles

Jasmine morinda

Plum Pine

Native Grasses

Roundup the Herbicide

Roundup is used by millions of people as a quick and effective weedkiller. But is it as safe as the company claims? I suspect not. It is made up of glyphosates, chemicals that eventually bind with metals in the soil to produce potentially harmful effects. Roundup can also end up in ground water, especially near farms, and birds need water several times a day.

I've seen people smother their driveways and fringes with this awful stuff, instead of using their hands to pull out weeds!!

Songbirds - Conclusion

We can't stop the march of progress in the world - out there, far from our front door and gardens - but we can influence and take some control over our immediate environment to help save the songbirds from decline.

Songbirds are a symbol of beauty and fragility, they're amongst the most susceptible of birds and will vanish if they don't have the right habitats, food and nesting space. Some say they act like the coalminer's canary - giving us a warning that something is seriously wrong with the environment.

So I say create more wild spaces where possible - in gardens, parks and woodlands. Grow more wild flowers and grasses; put shrubs, bushes and trees in pots if necessary and nurture songbird friendly places, dense, entangled and free from pollution.

© 2016 Andrew Spacey

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  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 15 months ago from Houston, Texas

    Cats can definitely be kept as house pets with no outdoor access. They do adjust. I agree that natural preserves are vital for not only the songbirds and other species...but even for we humans who desire to see nature as it was intended. We also need our green spaces. We have lots of activity in our yard and garden with all the shrubbery, trees and flowers. Our birdhouse is routinely used and watching the various birds in our birdbath is a joy and delight each and every day. So we do our part!

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 15 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you for the visit and comment, appreciated. Getting the message out there is all important.

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 15 months ago from Stillwater, OK

    I'm pleased to see that you have joined me in this matter of great importance. Songbirds' hardest journey is across the Gulf of Mexico, and many of them die in transit in both directions in both spring and fall. You did a fine job on this piece, and I commend your efforts.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 15 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Appreciate your visit and comment, thank you. Awareness of issues is vital, then there's the possibility to help.

  • craftybegonia profile image

    craftybegonia 15 months ago from Southwestern, United States

    It is sad that some animals are declining to the point of being in danger or extinction. Love your photos. We hear of bears coming down the mountain and wild cats sometimes prowling neighborhoods, animals are desperate for a place to live and for something to eat. Thank you for taking the time to inform us.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 15 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you for the visit and comment muhammed, much appreciated. Vulnerable species need our help and if I can bring the message to a few more people so be it.

  • m abdullah javed profile image

    muhammad abdullah javed 15 months ago

    Very interesting write chef de jour, thanks for sharing, it not only speaks of concerns but also present a perfect solution for the protection of innocent species.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 16 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Interesting comment Alicia, thank you. I shall do more research on the subject of indoor cats.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 16 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is an important hub containing useful information related to the sad loss of songbirds. I'll tweet the hub because the information needs to be shared. In my personal experience, however, I haven't found it impractical or unfair to keep cats indoors.

    My last two cats and my present three have been indoor cats and seemed/seem perfectly content. Cats can be taken for a walk with a leash and harness if the owner desires. Some people that I know build or buy outdoor enclosures for their cats to enter when they wish, as DrMark mentions. Indoor cats generally live much longer than outdoor ones and wildlife stays safer.

  • DrMark1961 profile image

    Dr Mark 16 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

    Many years ago people said the same things about dogs (that it was impractical and difficult to enforce them being kept inside all of the time). How often do you see dogs running around on the streets there in the UK? Cats can be locked up just as easily, and people that allow there cats to run around and kill wildlife should not be allowed to keep cats. If people want to let their cats out at night, they must release them into an enclosure.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 16 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thanks for the visit and comment, appreciated. Pet and feral cats do kill many birds each year as research shows and common sense informs, yet to keep cats inside on a permanent basis is impractical and would be extremely difficult to enforce. If owners were to restrict their cats in daylight hours and allow them out at night this would help.

  • DrMark1961 profile image

    Dr Mark 16 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

    We are going to continue to lose habitat as the human population increases, but your suggestion as to the cat population is not strong enough. No one that has a cat should allow it to be outside where it is stalking and killing songbirds (and other small wildlife, all of which have the right to live.)

    Why do cat owners feel that their pets have the right to wander outside, killing wildlife? Cats should be indoor pets, only.

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