Melba Lara: In the past half a century, the U.S. and Canada have lost 3 billion breeding birds. The downward trend is outlined in a new "State of the Birds Report," published by 33 science and conservation groups. In this week's climate conversation, we'll hear about what's happening to the birds in our region, and how climate change is playing a role here. WBEZ's Clare Lane, spoke with Professor Amanda Rodewald, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Clare Lane: So your report says birds are declining in almost every kind of habitat? What's happening here in the Midwest?
Amanda Rodewald: Yeah, well, like other regions in the country, we're seeing big declines. Grassland species, and even some forest species are really tanking in terms of their population numbers. But in the Chicago area, in particular, this is an extraordinarily important region for migrating birds. So really, you're also, you know, seeing a lot of declines in species that might breed elsewhere, but that are passing through during spring and fall migrations.
Clare Lane: And what role is climate change playing in the decline of bird populations overall?
Amanda Rodewald: Yeah, that's a terrific question. And it's complicated too. Climate change is directly and indirectly affecting different species. So we know that there are some changes in climate, whether it's due to increasing heat or drought or sea level rise that can impact the habitats and the food resources that many birds depend upon. Some storms, you know, we're seeing increasing intensity of storms, those can directly kill a lot of migrating birds. We know that as the climate makes some areas less suitable for human activities, that's actually pushing some of the areas that we're using for agriculture, or where settlements are, into areas that might currently be in natural habitats. So that's another way that climate can affect birds.
Clare Lane: And your report talks about how some of the same actions we can take to restore bird habitats can also benefit humans. Do you have a few examples?
Amanda Rodewald: Yeah, and this is a really important point, people have so much to worry about these days. And so it can seem like well, why do we need to really focus on birds? And so the rationale there is that birds are canaries in the coal mine. We live in the same environments as birds. And if conditions aren't healthy for them, they're unlikely to be healthy for us. And so some of these "win win" actions are, if we think about climate, right, we know with increasing temperatures, particularly in urban areas, heat islands are an enormous problem for human health and safety. Well, planting trees in urban areas, not only can help reduce temperatures in those heat islands within cities, but it also provides great habitat for birds that are migrating through the area.
Clare Lane: And you're talking about, you know, planting vegetation, planting trees. Are there any ways that individual bird enthusiasts can help out?
Amanda Rodewald: Oh, absolutely. Planting native plants in your gardens, reducing use of pesticides, reducing the risk of collisions that birds face as they're migrating through areas so, by putting decals on your windows. Keeping your cats indoors, and buying bird friendly products, like bird friendly coffee. So there really are a number of simple actions people can do. And of course, if we really think about at scale, you know, the decisions people make in their local, regional and national elections, make a big difference in terms of policies that can support bird conservation.
Melba Lara: That was Professor Amanda Rodewald, speaking with WBEZs Clare Lane about the 2022 State of the Birds Report. And if you have a question for our weekly climate segment, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is WBEZ.
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