Birds and the Pandemic

The lockdowns resulting from the COVID pandemic have affected birds in mostly good ways. This “anthropause” as some have called it, resulted in less traffic on the roads, on water, and in the air, with a concomitant decrease in air and water pollution. Birds such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Red-tailed Hawk became more common in urban areas and White -crowned Sparrows decreased the volume of their songs which had previously increased because of urban traffic noise. And, perhaps most surprising, with more idle time and less chance to travel, more people became birdwatchers, something they could do alone or in small groups near home.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society both reported a surge in the number of birdwatchers and sales of birdseed and birdfeeders increased 45% and 50%, respectively. Wikipedia searches for several species of birds increased as well. There was almost a 50% increase in sightings posted on ebird in 2020 from 2019 and in a study in Canada and the U.S., researchers tracked 83 species of birds and found that their sightings increased by 10-20% even though the environment was unchanged.

From Wikihow

Many people reported an increase in bird sightings around their homes and offices, in the suburbs and the city. Not pigeons, House Sparrows and Starlings, they are ubiquitous in urban environments, but birds that are rarely or not often seen in those human dominated places. Seeing a Yellow Warbler in your backyard and a Cooper’s Hawk flying by your office window certainly makes for a more pleasurable day. But there are downsides because urban and suburban environments pose more threats in the form of windows, cats, polluted water, and lights.

North America, by one estimate , has lost three billion birds in the last fifty years. That’s based upon data collected on 529 bird species since 1970. That’s a loss of at least one-third of the bird populations. “Their results show that more than 90% of the loss can be attributed to just a dozen bird families, including sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches. Common birds with decreasing populations include Meadowlarks, Dark-eyed Juncos, Horned Larks and Red-winged Blackbirds,…… Grassland birds have suffered a 53% decrease in their numbers, and more than a third of the shorebird population has been lost.”

Although there was a slight decrease in the waterfowl population over the last year, the overall trend sees an increase. Most like this is because of the support of wildfowl hunters and organizations like Ducks Unlimited. I’m not a hunter and the percentage of people who hunt are declining each year, but the fact that this subset of people with an interest in birds, albeit narrow, has made a difference in the maintenance of waterfowl numbers, tells me that birdwatchers can make a difference in maintaining the populations of non-hunted birds. If those novice birdwatchers who took up the sport during the pandemic will stick with it, there will be more voices and actions, and hopefully money, to support what some hunters call “dickie birds.”

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