WHERE HAVE ALL THE BIRDIES GONE?
UNSCIENTIFIC BACKYARD SURVEY REVEALS STARK DECLINE
Climate change; record heat; massive floods; shrinking ice caps; spreading desserts. Our President thinks that Climate Change is real. Trump thinks it’s a “hoax.” By a factor of more than two to one, Democrats believe that climate change is a serious problem (68%) while Republicans (30%) don’t. Me? Yeah, I think climate change is real and we, The People, are contributing to it. On the other hand, the Planet Earth has been warming up for over 10,000 years now so it’s probably likely that our efforts to counteract climate change will turn out to be more or less futile. After all, the Sahara Dessert was once filled with lakes, streams, marshes and palm trees. And this is pretty much where we are probably headed again over the long term.
But right here on historic Capitol Hill in your Nation’s Capital, I’ve been noticing a trend of declining bird species in our backyard. For years now, (don’t ask me why!) every morning either my or my Indian dude put birdseed out as our small effort to make sure that nature’s wildlife thrives here in quintessential urban America. Now, I’m quite sure that some nature scientist guy will object on the grounds that we are intervening in the natural order of nature and natural processes, interfering into the natural lives of the city’s avian population, but, hey, it’s been a long, long time when the District of Columbia was covered in trees and Native Americans occupied Capitol Hill. So Mr. Nature Scientist Guy can just go stuff it.
We don’t do anything fancy – I can’t tell you the number of bird feeders that have been destroyed by squirrels over the years. Our prime birdseed repository is a three foot long planter base. You know, one of those orangish plastic bottom trays that comes with a planter from Home Depot. Plus, we toss some seed on the ground for those visitors, Mourning Doves for the most part, who prefer ground based feeding rather than on top of our picnic table. So it’s all pretty simple but we do try to make sure that we do our part every day even during winter when there’s two feet of snow in the back yard.
When I first moved to D.C. (admittedly many eons ago) Baltimore Orioles and Red Winged Blackbirds were very common. Used to see them all over the place but they disappeared a couple of decades ago is my guess. When we first moved to C Street over the seven years ago, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Hummingbirds, Robins, Morning Doves and the occasional Mocking Bird and Goldfinch and even more rare, a sighting or two of a Scarlet Tanager or Bluebird, were regular guests at our feeding station. I even planted one of those Scarlet Firebush vines to attract more Hummingbirds. Still, the vast bulk of our avian patrons were and are Grackles, Chickadees, Sparrows, all pretty much tending to the boring brown shades of the color spectrum.
But over the past couple of years we no longer see Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles or Red Winged Blackbirds and the Goldfinch’s and Bluebird’s have simply disappeared as well. This year, we had only one Cardinal pair, down from three just a couple of years ago. There was a single Blue Jay one morning but he never showed up again. And I’ve seen only two Hummingbirds this year (or the same one twice, who knows?) even though I planted that Firebush vine to attract them. Even last year we had maybe half a dozen iridescent blue, red and purple Hummingbirds to show up regularly. Even Robins were very scarce this year when they are usually everywhere come Spring. On the positive side of the ledger, our Mourning Dove couple population has increased to three pairs from last year’s two and this year, for the first time, we’ve had a few visits from common Pigeons.
I have no idea why there’s been this reduction in the range of bird species in our backyard. Have no idea if it’s because of our three years of record heat, pesticides, general climate change or some other reason. But it’s very noticeable. Even down on the Mall, used to be that between the Hirshorn Museum, The Castle and all the other museums and galleries, the grassy places used to be populated with hundreds of white Terns and Sea Gulls. I mean they were everywhere. But don’t see very many now. Same with Pigeons although they are still very much in evidence but greatly reduced in overall numbers. The whole decline is kind of sad. I especially enjoyed the shimmering Hummingbirds flitting around sticking their long, narrow beaks into juicy blossoms. We did have a young hawk who took up residence for a few days and he scared off most of the other birds. Was not all that sorry to see him (or her) leave although he was very much fun to watch diving after one scrambling “for his (or her) life” bird or another.