Songs of the heart
We spent some time over New Year’s on a farm near Orillia amid snow and serenity. Our only visitors were birds hungry for seeds and suet. Among the more prominent: both nuthatches (red- and white-breasted), hairy and downy woodpeckers, Blue Jays, chickadees, juncoes and a pair of American goldfinches. Sometimes a pileated woodpecker joins with wild turkeys and numerous other friends, some of whom are currently enjoying southern climes.
I first became interested in birding while living in England in the 1980s. You grow up knowing the twenty birds that visit your backyard and, suddenly, you see birds around you that are unknown and unnamed. The tiny English Robin was the first on my life list that had grown to more than 100 species upon return to Canada. I got so keen that I would meet groups of local birders in the dark on Wimbledon Common at 3:30 a.m. so we could hear the dawn chorus as birds awoke and greeted the day with song starting well before sunrise.
There’s a study in the journal Science that says the number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by nearly three billion, or 30 percent, since 1970. Of course in the nineteenth century, it wouldn’t be unusual for a billion birds to fly over in one giant swarm on their way to or from nesting grounds so the numbers have been falling for a long while. It is also true that the number of Blue Jays and American crows in Toronto has never fully recovered from the West Nile virus that arrived in the 1990s.
Donald Trump blames wind turbines for everything from causing cancer to killing American eagles. His tirades hide the fact that some of his anti-conservation executive orders are killing many more birds than wind farms. Of course, feral cats kill millions of birds a year; humans in general contribute their atrocities as well. One day, we’ll awake, listen, and the dawn chorus will be no more. I’m not looking forward to that sound of silence.