Column: On My Watch: The Need to Protect Our Birds Grows and Grows


By Anne W. Semmes

Wood Thrush. Contributed photo

From my window, from my writer’s desk, I’ve been enjoying the parade of birds to my neighbor’s purple-berry laden inkberry plant. The birds, some surely migrants, showed such restraint in their feeding, the harvest was lasting. And then, suddenly, that feeding station was all gone – swept away by a landscapers cleanup!

Heartsore, what came to mind were Rachel Carson’s words from her “Silent Spring,”  On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound.

Carson’s words were quoted in a recent news report of the near-30 percent decline of bird populations in the U.S. and Canada. There are now 2.9 billion fewer birds than 50 years ago.

It’s all there on the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website. (birds.cornell.edu)

All this bad news while seeing ospreys soaring as a volunteer Osprey Steward for the Connecticut Audubon Society (CAS).

Indeed, in Connecticut, “Certain populations have increased by 30-percent where we have good habitat,” notes Patrick Comins, CAS executive director. The decline is “where the forests have been fragmented, where there’s a lot of development…Its birds that are in our backyard.” That glorious singer, the wood thrush, “has declined around 70 percent.” Add red winged blackbirds, common grackles, and yes, even those European starlings I last saw feeding on the inkberry.

So, rallying to the cause the CAS just sent out a list of “Six things you can do here in Connecticut to help declining bird populations.” (Found at ctaudubon.org) And number 5 is, “Landscape for birds,” including, “ Plant native trees and shrubs that produce fruit and berries.”

First on the list is “Advocate,” working in concert with others. Writer and climate activist Bill McKibben has pointed out that, “If 3 or 4 percent of a population advocates for a cause, it’s often enough to force a change in the system. But if those same 3 or 4 percent take action individually, it’s not enough to make a difference.”

This week there was a mighty swell of advocacy organized by the Greenwich Point Conservancy with Town community leaders to protect the waters and surround of Greenwich Point from the building in Stamford Harbor of a commercial “mooring” and transfer station – viewed as an

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“industrialization” –  in plain view from Greenwich Point.

“Long Island Sound (LIS) is very important to birds,” Comins noted,“ and we have to be very careful with what commercial uses are proposed.” The important guide developers need to adhere to he cited was, “The Long Island Sound Blue Plan,” found on the CT DEEP website.

The bounce back of the osprey this Steward learned was in large part to its successful foraging for fish in Long Island Sound, particularly the menhaden – hence the concern over the effect of any commercial development in these waters.

“LIS is very important to a wide variety of fish eating terns, to ospreys, to migratory loons, and northern gannets,” notes Comins. “The fish populations are absolutely critical to saving both breeding and migratory population stopovers for birds. The CAS, in partnership with Audubon CT and others are advocating for new legislation, he reports, “that would bring a more scientific management process to important forage fish.” He directs those interested activists to check out https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2236.

Coming to Audubon Greenwich in less than a month (November 9) is a woman who has dedicated much of her life to protecting and conserving a storied at-sea bird, the albatross, forever immortalized in poet Coleridge’s poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Hob Osterlund, traveling from her home on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’I, where she concentrates her efforts on the Laysan albatross, will speak on the recovery of that bird that once happily nested there “millions of years ago…before the arrival of humans.”

Reaching out to Osterlund, I could not wait to learn news of that oldest living bird ever recorded, a Laysan albatross famously called “Wisdom.” “Yes,” she responded, “Wisdom is at least 68 years old. She laid an egg again last season. Sadly, the chick did not survive this year–in fact, the overall reproductive success at Midway Atoll [the far off “mother ship”]  was only 26 percent, one of the lowest ever. It’s getting harder out there for seabirds.”

How in the world has Wisdom avoided ingesting the deadly and prevalent plastic afloat on the sea? “Be mindful of your choices as a consumer…Cut down on the use of plastic,” is number 6 on the CAS “Six things.”

Add to that list, do what we can together to keep Greenwich Point, its bird life, its shellfish life, its wildlife pristine.

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