Birds, Climate, Ecology


Rachel Carson loved all life, valued all life, and taught us about its miraculous evolution. She evoked its wonder and its interconnectedness. Her empathy extended even to the smallest creatures. In her field notes, she worried about the well-being of a tiny, one-legged sanderling she saw hopping in the surf. How had it, how would it, survive? From her earliest published writing, she warned about the decline of fish and birds and habitat in the face of pollution, development, even the warming of the oceans that she would learn before her death was the result of human-induced global climate change. Her writing and her advocacy about the coast and oceans, factory farms, woodlands, pollution, and climate culminated in Silent Spring. It elevated ecology into the mainstream of American life. Ever since, we understand that human beings, our health and well-being, are inseparable from our surroundings, from other species. What harms one, harms all.

Carson and we are often led to these perceptions by following birds, by watching and wondering about how and whether they will survive, as well as offer song and beauty. To see birds, we learn that they have evolved and are marvelously adapted to particular places, or ecosystems. We find the endangered Red-cockaded woodpeckers where there are southern longleaf pines, American avocets along marshes and mudflats, whimbrels walking on the beach, American oystercatchers near rocks and beds of oysters, wild turkeys in forests where there are acorns and other nuts, and robins wherever earthworms can be found.

Black Skimmer

If forests increase, so do turkeys, as they have in the Eastern U.S. If longleaf pines are clear cut, red-cockaded woodpeckers begin to disappear. If sea-level rise inundates beaches, marshes, or small islands, our sea and shore birds are affected. The Black Skimmer, the marvelous bird known as Rynchops that opens Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind and breeds on small offshore islands is the most likely to be destroyed. And global climate change alters the ecology and ecosystems of everything. Recent studies have shown some 400 North American bird species at risk from climate change.

Since the Rachel Carson Council was founded, our American bird populations have plummeted by some 70%, or about 2.9 billion breeding adults. Migrating birds return from their lengthy journeys emaciated for lack of places to stop or sufficient food where it once was found.

What affects the birds, of course, affects us. We depend on a steady temperate climate, on clean air and water, on safe places to dwell, on food from the land as much as any bird. It is why the Endangered Species Act protects entire ecosystems, not just the species that is in danger. It is why, as we report on birds, as we watch and wonder, you will find here more than just the state of bird life. Ending chemical pollution, stopping climate change, preserving ecosystems, tracking inequities — which of us gets hurt most when the lives of birds and everything around us is disrupted or destroyed – is how the Rachel Carson Council protects and preserves the birds. And ourselves.

The Latest on Birds Climate and Ecology

The Oak Tree – A Bird Sanctuary?
We associate birds with particular habitats and many with certain trees — Blue-winged warblers in locusts, kinglets in hemlocks, Red-cockaded woodpeckers in longleaf pines, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers on birches. And these days, many of us are putting native plants in our yards and gardens to attract and help pollinators like bees or butterflies. My parents would have been puzzled by the clover and buttercups I let sprout in my lawn, or the milkweed, joe pye, goldenrod, and other weedy stuff that filled the fields I roamed in as a boy before development paved almost all of Long Island. Read more

How Many Birds Are Killed by Wind Turbines?

Too many for now, but renewables and birds can co-exist. Countless studies have shown that climate change will cause far-reaching and devastating impacts to wildlife and humans alike. Renewable energy development is a critically important component of the transition away from fossil fuels, making our air cleaner and reversing the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, we have also learned that wind energy development has a substantial negative impact on birds. But just how many birds are killed by wind turbines? Read more

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