Thursday, September 26, 2013

Silence of the Songbirds

Silence of the Songbirds is written by Bridget Stutchbury who is a professor at York University here in Toronto.  I found this book not only very easy to read (especially for people who do not like a lot of technical/scholarly writing) but it was captivating.  It was also, one of the most depressing books that I have ever read, which I learnt as I (an admittingly overly emotional person) began crying in the corner of the TTC subway (can you say embarrassing?).

What I personally liked most about the books was it's almost "textbook" layout. Each chapter was about a different threat that songbirds face, many little bits resonating throughout other chapters. Each chapter, along with all it's doom and gloom, gives some insight to little everyday things that people can do to make their lives a little more "bird friendly".  The chapters range from talking about coffee plantations, to city lights, habitat fragmentation, cats, to buying your groceries. Being a birder, I loved recognizing the names of all the species she talked about and learning extra little tid-bits about their lives.  My most interesting read was with hooded warblers and their surprising promiscuous lifestyles!

From conducting research in the tropics, to birding around the University in Toronto, to sitting and watching birds bustling outside, the book made me really connect and understand on a basic level what was going on with bird populations and why it was important.  It made me connect with certain species just through words, such as the Scarlet Tanagers Brilliant colours, or the magnificence of how such small beings could travel such far distances (for example some warblers travel from the Boreal Forest all the way to South America such as Chile or Brazil!)
"Birds are not just bio-indicators of environmental change; they are nature's blue-collar workers, helping to sustain the environment that we share with them"
There were many ways throughout reading this book that surprised me.  My biggest surprise were the list of fruits and veggies that were most harmful for birds in the way that they are grown...infact many of them are my favourites. It was also shocking to learn just how many birds die each year from hitting buildings. It was estimated that a single building in Chicago would cause 1500 bird deaths each year.  Although Toronto itself has many issues with migratory birds hitting buildings, it is the first city in the world to implement a migratory bird protection policy for building designs and lighting.  Wow!  To learn more about birds and buildings, or find out how to volunteer, visit the website of a wonderful group called FLAP.

 Keeping it short and simple...here are the main ways Mrs. Stutchbury suggests that YOU can easily play a role in saving birds.

Buy shade coffee or sustainable coffee that is organic and fairly traded
Why? It increases tropical forest habitat for birds and other wildlife; conserves soil; provides fair profits for farmers; fewer pesticides in the environment.     
                                   
When buying produce from Latin America, such as bananas and pineapples, choose organic when available.
Why? Reduces the amount of dangerous pesticide use in the tropics; fewer birds killed; safer for farmers and consumers.

      Buy organic, or avoid altogether when possible, the North American crops that pose the   greatest risk to birds. These include alfalfa, brussels sprouts, blueberries, celery, corn, cotton, cranberries, potatoes, and wheat.
Why? Same as above! (Makes me so sad though, since corn...is an all-time favourite of mine!)

Buy wood and paper products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Why? Increases amount of forest being logged sustainably and responsibly; better habitat for birds and a healthier forest.

Buy disposable paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, etc) that are made from recycled paper and that are not bleached with chlorine (Such as Kleenex brand).
Why? Reduces logging pressure on forests; increases habitat for birds; creates less pollution

Turn off the lights at night in city buildings and homes during peak migration periods.
Why? Fewer birds killed and injured by hitting the buildings; also saves electricity

Keep your cats indoors!
Why? Fewer birds killed; healthier and longer lives for pets.