Lonesome Sparrow

Wednesday 26 June 2019

When I went out to check the rain gauge this morning, my song sparrow was singing. He was quite close in the mountain-ash, and was going at it full-bore. His song isn’t quite right – he doesn’t seem to always hit the right notes – but he is certainly enthusiastic. Like our pastor used to say about our gospel quartet (and I was never sure if it was meant to be in jest), he may not be good but he’s loud.

   Hearing the song sparrow singing makes me happy. It also makes me sad because – most days – it’s the only bird song I hear. Other than Mr. Song Sparrow, our bird chorus isn’t.

   We’ve had a pretty birdy yard through the 40 years we’ve lived here. I think our “yard list” is 79 species. Bad news: our total list since 2000 includes only 48 species, many of those represented by only occasional individuals. Despite the neighborhood still being pretty bird-friendly; despite the fact that our yard has more and better trees and shrubs than it had 20 years ago; despite the fact that we leave out a little bird feed throughout the year; and despite the fact that we have both a bird bath and a fountain to attract the birds, our avian inhabitants have almost disappeared. If it wasn’t for a few scrub jays, flickers, purple finches, and chickadees (two species), on some days we could qualify as a Bird-free Zone.

   Our bird-dearth is not just a local occurrence. In Canada and the United States, some 60 percent of the bird species have decreased in numbers, some of them significantly. There isn’t just one cause – cutting of the Central and South America forests where many of our birds go in winter, tremendous losses in the  insect populations that many of our birds need for food, climate change making some areas less inhabitable with no suitable areas for the birds to move into, etc. Taken together, it’s one of the many ecological crises we face for which don’t seem to have a cure. We’re not to the point at which our “non-endangered” list is shorter than our “endangered” list, but we’re headed in that direction.

   Coincidentally, today I received notice of this year’s Birdathon. Similar to walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons, the sponsor of a birder pledges so much money to the birder’s charity for each bird species seen during a day. For a birder, it will always be a fun day, but – in most of the United States - it must be getting harder and harder to see enough species to support the charity in the way it could be covered 20 years ago.

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© Sanford Wilbur 2019