Don’t Pollute My Nest

BY ON October 18, 2011

Bird on branch with berry in its mouth

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Those beautiful words can be used to describe the heavy burden birds carry in their tiny bodies – the weight of pollution. Science helps us understand the natural world, and just like our children are adversely affected by the air they breathe, the science proves birds are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of air and water pollution.

Sad, but true: Pesticides kill birds…

Each year, five billion pounds of pesticides are applied worldwide. Pesticides, by their very nature, are poisons meant to kill pests that harm crops. So this statement from American Bird Conservancy comes as no surprise:

“Unfortunately, in addition to killing target pests, many of these toxic chemicals also pose severe risk to birds, killing them outright or causing decreased breeding success, physical malformations, or impaired ability to migrate or avoid predators. It is now almost impossible to find any place on the planet where pesticide residues are not detectable. As a result, millions of birds die every year.”

Strange, but true: Mercury poisoning alters hormones…

For years, scientists have kept tabs on marine mercury pollution by monitoring mercury levels in seabirds. An in-depth study at the University of Florida concluded that mercury pollution alters the hormones of white ibises, a species of coastal wading birds that live along the mid-Atlantic.

“We knew that mercury can disrupt hormones–what is most disturbing about this study is the low levels of mercury at which we saw effects on hormones and mating behavior.” ~ Peter Frederick, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Professor

Scientists set up an experiment to find out why ibises in the Everglades were having difficulty breeding; they suspected mercury concentration was the culprit.

“In 2006, about 55 percent of the high-mercury-diet males were nesting with other males. Frederick said the degree of male-male pairing was proportional to the degree of mercury in the diet.”

Notable, but true: Mercury’s rising…

In another study by the BioDiversity Institute in Gorham, Maine, seabird eggs were analyzed and mercury was found in eggs. The amount of mercury was directly related to the mother bird’s dietary uptake. Since different species have different foraging patterns, their eggs yielded information about various parts of the coastal environment:

“Their mercury levels apparently reflect local pollution, which is influenced by such variables as nearby coal plants, municipal waste combustors, or medical waste incinerators.”

Not surprising, but true: Climate is at the root of the problem…

To get to the source, and to help understand the effects of pollution on birds, each year the annual State of the Birds report studies changes in bird species. This year the report found that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or suffering from population decline. And for the first time, the report added climate change to the factor list.

Remarkable, but true: Science, citizens and policy-makers can heal…

In a post I wrote about Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking book Silent Spring, Carson provided scientific evidence of the devastating effects of the pesticide DDT, which was killing off magnificent birds like Bald Eagles.

The Environmental Defense Fund urges citizens to influence regulatory decisions that work to curb air pollution of all types, for all types of creatures:

“…practical long-term government and corporate solutions founded in science-based research; all of which ensures safe, clean air and water for ALL living things”.

Scientists, policymakers, and citizens have the ability to work together to protect every living being – even our littlest ones. The alternative? Like birds, our children will be carrying the weight of the sky.


Photo Credit: Ben Scott


TOPICS: Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution