The annual fall migration is in full swing, and our team has been rescuing many migratory birds over the past few weeks, including Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii), Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus), ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla), and merlins (Falco columbarius). Migratory birds of all shapes and sizes face numerous perils when they partake in their annual journeys across continents and oceans. This week, we’d like to go over steps that we can all take to help reduce the number of injuries sustained by migratory birds this fall.
Step 1. Keep cats indoors.
This can be a touchy subject for many pet owners, but the truth of that matter is that domestic cats kill between 1.7 and 4 billion birds in the United States every single year. (i) This can be devastating to bird and mammal populations in geographically isolated areas, including islands. Scientists have documented thirty-three species that were driven into extinction due to predation by domestic cats. (ii) To make matters worse, most of the birds and other animals that are killed by house cats are simply killed for sport. Cats simply hunt birds, because that’s what their instincts tell them to do. As a compromise, you can try to make your cats more noticeable to birds, making escapes easier. (iii)
Step 2. Stop using pesticides and rodenticides.
The use of chemical pest deterrents can be highly effective at killing pesky insects and rodents, but eliminating pests creates a few problems for birds and other non-target animals. (iv) By eliminating pests like mosquitoes and rats, humans are removing a valuable food source for animals that would normally hunt these pests. That can lead to hunters, such as birds of prey, becoming malnourished and weak, eventually leading to starvation. In an even worse scenario, unwanted pests may ingest a small, non-lethal amount of poison. In this case, the pest typically becomes much easier to catch, and the poison that it previously ingested will now pass into the predator that captured it. If a predator consumes enough poisoned prey items, then a lethal dosage of poison can build up in its system, leading to its death. You can read more about the concept of bioaccumulation by clicking here.
Step 3. Create a bird-friendly area for migrating birds.
At this point we may sound like a broken record, but that doesn’t change the fact that habitat loss and fragmentation is the number one threat to wildlife in the United States. (v) Habitat loss shouldn’t be thought of just as bulldozing fields to make new parking lots or cutting down trees to build skyscrapers. Healthy habitats need to have plentiful food sources, shelter, clean water, and open space for birds to fly around. If you remove one of those elements, then the habitat can’t support birds and other wildlife. Planting native trees and shrubs can help by providing shelter for birds. Native plants can also provide fruits and berries; a valuable food source for birds. (vi) Adding a bird bath or small pond to an area can provide a source of fresh, clean water for migrating birds to bathe and drink. Using bird feeders can also provide a valuable food source, but make sure to place them far enough away from windows to prevent bird-on-window collisions. To read more about bird feeders, click here.
Step 4. Stop birds from flying into windows.
This final step isn’t completely under our own control, but we can take steps to reduce bird-on-window collisions as much as possible. While it appears that most birds are just stunned after striking a window, many actually sustain serious internal injuries and require further treatment. There are a variety of different ways to prevent birds from flying into windows. A popular method of prevention is to add UV window clings to a window. Many species of birds can actually see beyond the visible spectrum of light and into the ultraviolet spectrum making these clings quite bright and noticeable for them, but mostly undetectable for humans. Another method includes adding vertical blinds to a window and keeping them closed when possible. (vii) To read more about preventing birds from colliding with windows, click here.
We hope that you’ll take the time to put these practices to use, and help us to Keep Them Flying this migration season!
Ian Martin, Education Coordinator, 2016