10 January 2010

Avian holocaust

Some months ago I added a quote from Margaret Atwood's Payback to the side bar on this blog in which she expressed some hope for albatross species. In an essay published in The Guardian yesterday she writes:
In the United States, power lines kill 130 to 174 million birds a year – many of them raptors such as hawks, or waterfowl, whose large wingspans can touch two hot wires at a time, resulting in electrocution, or who smash into the thin power lines without seeing them (think piano wire). Cars and trucks collide with and kill between 60 and 80 million annually in the US, and tall buildings – especially those that leave their lights on all night – are a major hazard for migrating birds, leading to between a hundred million and a billion bird deaths annually. Add in lighted communication towers, which also kill large numbers of bats, and can account for as many as 30,000 bird deaths each on a bad night – thus 40 to 50 million deaths a year, and due to double as more towers are built. Agricultural pesticides directly kill 67 million birds per year, with many more deaths resulting from accumulated toxins that converge at the top of the food chain, and from starvation as the usual food of insectivores disappears. Cats polish off approximately 39 million birds in the state of Wisconsin alone; multiply that by the number of states in America, and then do the calculations for the rest of the world: the numbers are astronomical. Then there are the factory effluents, the oil spills and oil sands, the unknown chemical compounds we're pouring into the mix. Nature is prolific, but at such high kill rates it's not keeping up, and bird species – even formerly common ones – are plummeting all over the world.

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