We Lost Three Billion Birds

My husband and I have binoculars and a bird guide on a window ledge in our dining room. Sounds dorky, right? Well, I’m old enough to not care much about being a dork these days so onward.

We have a few bird feeders in our backyard and if I was home about this time of year and through the winter, we would be watching for birds and trying to identify them. Sometimes we would use our trusty guide book or use Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID app. There was also a time when we would send information about which birds showed up in our backyard.

So when I came upon this story in the New York Times about the loss of 3 billion birds since 1970 I was shocked, then deeply saddened, then alarmed.

Now, when I say shocked, I wasn’t surprised that there was a population loss. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, agricultural practices, invasive species … the list goes on. But really … danger, Will Robinson!

3 billion birds since 1970.

3 billion birds. 50 years. Gone.

Now, this graphic is beautiful. The colors, the structure, the information is clear and helpful. This is the online version in the Science Section:

Birds Are Vanishing From North America – The New York Times

Clearly, hit hardest are the Grasslands. The article mentions that even Robins and Sparrows, and Starlings (those invasive species) experienced significant declines.

Robins and sparrows.

a full-blown crisis.

David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society

Isn’t everyone shocked and alarmed?

Can you imagine a world without birds? I don’t know about you but that gives me the willies. In fact I recall a moment while walking in our neighborhood when I realized there were no bird sounds. It was the eeriest feeling. I went out every morning listening specifically for a chirp or a call. What a relief when I finally heard one.

Conjuring a world without birds is a thing I don’t dare imagine, like the death of a child. Their fate is our own.

Joel Sartore Photographer

Can you picture 3 billion birds?

So, while writing this post, I realized that I wanted to show you what losing 3 billion birds looks like. Can you picture it? I can’t. If I had to explain to my 7-year-old niece what a loss of 3 billion birds looks like what would I show her?

I couldn’t find anything but this piece, Drowning in plastic: Visualising the world’s addiction to plastic bottles by Reuters came to mind.

It is insane to see the relationship of plastic bottles to iconic structures like the Eiffel Tower.

1.3 billion bottles. “Every day the equivalent of a bottle pile half the size of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is sold around the world.” Reuters

Would the story have greater impact and meaning among non-bird experts and fans if there was a way to see scale; a tasteful rendering and relationship of the number of birds to something familiar like the Statue of Liberty or covering an area the size of Texas or ?

I’m thinking yes. Do I have an exact solution? No, but I’d love to explore it some time in the future. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to help conservation efforts and take every day I see birds (even those pesky Starlings) as a gift.


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