We have lost large numbers of birds since the 1970s, half a century, a long time period. When we don’t understand what they need, we continue to try to do what seems to be best for us, and sometimes forget the needs of the insects, birds and animals that got us there. Much of this had to do with habitat needs, as all these ecosystems worked in tandem like a well-oiled machine.
We are at the juncture where we are forced to cater more to these living things that make our life easier, which is where the USDA and many nonprofit organizations like American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, and the Nature Conservancy, to name a few, have come in to help return us to the fold.
Our valuable grassland birds alone, like the Eastern Meadowlark, have suffered over a 50 percent population loss. Three out of four meadowlarks are no longer with us and it shows clearly in the past 50 years. Talking with people like AM, a farmer that has been doing his work for the same period of time, he says that things are nothing like they once were. “Meadowlarks were everywhere, and most of them remain on farms, but they are not nearly as prevalent as they used to be. The loss really shows.”
Many of these Prairie Pothole and Northern Great Plains breeders spend their winters in Oklahoma, Texas, and the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico. Farmers there learned to let their pasturelands rest after grazing and rotate their stock while they increase infrastructure to pump groundwater to all the pastures used during spring and summer. This also permits native grasses and plants to grow for the birds that depend upon them in the winter.
In Oklahoma, we diligently look for our longspurs and sparrows to add to our Christmas Bird Counts. We silently thank the USDA for the work that they have done in the Natural Resources Conservation Service for our Crosstimber Region ecosystem. So many of the northern breeders winter in Oklahoma, like our familiar LeConte’s Sparrow.
We also think about the Long-billed Curlew in the spring, if we get to see them. Some of us also give thanks to the ranches that have been diligently working on 20,000 acres in southeastern Montana to enhance that habitat. It is going to matter.
Many other nonprofits and volunteers have worked to protect the Swainson’s Hawk in Argentina from monocrotophos poisoning.
The advocation for cancellation or restriction of more than a dozen organophosphates and carbamate pesticides likely helped to reduced bird mortality. This has been neutralized by the advent and spread of neonicotinoids. Those of us that found dead birds on the ground in Oklahoma can testify to that, writer included.
Breeding Bird Surveys and eBird data show us where problems lie and we must come up with the solutions to help birds thrive. We also address declines via nearly one hundred BirdScapes to restore bird populations. Long may they have the funds to do their work.
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.