As I write, a little red squirrel is raiding the bird feeder. He is a pest. He is a smaller pest than the gray squirrels who raid the feeder, but still a pest. He eats a lot more seed than the birds who visit, but I feel bad for him and refuse to try to trap or exterminate him or her. That critter deserves to be around just as much as the birds — and I.
We have a lot of birds at the feeders this winter. I never put the feeders out until a week before Christmas, as I was so focused on the busy season at the farm and juggling hard family matters at the same time that I kept procrastinating cleaning feeders and putting out seed. I was afraid that my delay in feeding the birds would keep them from visiting, but I seem to have more than ever. A few showed up the day I put the feeders out and the numbers increased every day to the current numbers. I have five cardinals, three males and two females, who come regularly. I also have seen four or five bluejays at the same time. I have a handful of chickadees, a tufted titmouse now and again, and a score or more juncos.
I say I have more birds than ever, but I have been home more than usual the last couple of weeks. I found the stresses of the season harder than ever and I have been feeling my “age” more of late, so have been in recovery mode, finding watching the birds relaxing and enjoyable. Even if there are more birds than usual at the feeders, there are some missing characters that concern me a bit. I have yet to see a sparrow of any sort. I haven’t seen any mourning doves, and just last year there were lots of them. I haven’t seen any grosbeaks for a couple of years. I have seen no finches of any sort at the feeders and only a couple of woodpeckers at the suet.
This absences prompted a discussion with my brother, an avid outdoorsman, who informed me that he had read in a wildlife journal that partridges have been dying in Vermont because of the mosquito borne illness, West Nile virus. We remarked about other absences that we noted over the summer. I never saw a thrush, red-winged blackbird, starling or cowbird all summer, all of which flitted about the farm in substantial numbers years past. I saw only a few goldfinches, and just a couple of barn swallows. We used to have some Baltimore orioles about, but I saw none last summer. We had some resident bluebirds most years, and I saw none last summer. When I was a kid, we used to see an indigo bunting or a scarlet tanager now and again and I haven’t seen either in decades.
A mystery illness killed lots of birds in the mid-Atlantic states this year, though not many in New England according to the Audubon Society. Those deaths may very well affect the numbers here in the North, however. New illnesses for birds, lack of habitat due to human development, pesticides killing insects that birds rely upon for food, light pollution messing up migration patterns, all have affected avian population with there now being only about two thirds of the birds in the United States as in the 1970s.
I miss them. We all should miss them. I don’t care how much you argue with me that humans haven’t created climate change or caused the loss of animals and birds on the planet, the evidence shows otherwise all across the globe. We have made a mess and are taking down the innocents, ourselves included, because of our decisions to make the world a “better” place for humans. We humans are a mess, and our mess is now flooding the planet.
We need minds focusing on our precious Earth. We need technologies that clean up our messes. We need agricultural techniques that can grow huge amounts of food without messing up the ecosystem. We need plans for development that leave enough green space to preserve the delicate balance of air, soil and water so we don’t burn ourselves up or chill ourselves out. We need to focus on fixing the things we have broken — our oceans, our ozone layer, our soils and rivers and grasslands and forests. Not just here in the U.S. have we broken things, but all across the globe.
We are stewards of the globe and we have done a darn poor job of taking care of it and the creatures on it. We are missing out on a lot and it’s our own fault. We individuals are too quick to say there is nothing we as individuals can do to make it better, and that is where we failed and are failing. We are all responsible for the little plot we occupy in this world, and we can make changes to our lifestyles that will help make the changes that just might make it easier on the species disappearing from our feeders and our planet. We can make changes if we care and we own small businesses. We can make changes if we care and we own large businesses. We can make changes and we care if we make changes in our elected officials who make the policies. We can make changes if we care.
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport. You may reach her at email@example.com.