Andrew has been writing for decades, publishing articles online and in print. His many interests include literature, the arts, and nature.
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.
Main Reasons for Decline of Songbirds
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cars - millions of cars zooming around means many millions of birds killed on our roads when they're hit, squashed, knocked and shocked.
- 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.
- 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 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 -
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.
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
Sorbus Sheerwater, rowan family.
If You Live in Australia
Trees and Shrubs
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
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 20, 2016:
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!
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on March 11, 2016:
Thank you for the visit and comment, appreciated. Getting the message out there is all important.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 10, 2016:
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.
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on March 08, 2016:
Appreciate your visit and comment, thank you. Awareness of issues is vital, then there's the possibility to help.
craftybegonia from Southwestern, United States on March 08, 2016:
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.
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on March 07, 2016:
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.
muhammad abdullah javed on March 06, 2016:
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.
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on March 06, 2016:
Interesting comment Alicia, thank you. I shall do more research on the subject of indoor cats.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 05, 2016:
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.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 03, 2016:
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.
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on March 03, 2016:
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.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 03, 2016:
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.