sparrow

Birds are the most endearing friends of humanity, so why is it that we are hearing less often the Good Morning call of sparrows and why is it is increasingly more difficult to see the enchanting spectacle of a dancing peacock?

A recent study stated that over the last 5 decades the number of birds declined by about 3 billion, or almost 30% in just two countries –the USA and Canada. The situation is not much better in Europe.

In India there have been several reports of large-scale deaths of birds in recent times.  Thousands of birds were found dead in Sambhar Lake of Rajasthan in 2019. In 2021 hundreds of parrots experienced mass deaths in Faridkot in Punjab. In the Thar desert power lines alone cause nearly a hundred thousand deaths in a year.

Different factors may be relatively more responsible for this in different places, but most parts of the world are reporting a scary situation regarding the overall decline and increasing threats to the most endearing friends of humanity.

Most of the birds are so pretty and cute that we can watch them for hours with undiminished delight, but their usefulness to humanity as well as to maintenance of balance of nature goes much beyond that. Their role in pollination, dispersal of seeds and helping to control harmful pests by gobbling millions of them is invaluable. Even some of the less than endearing birds perform a very useful role as scavengers, and they do this work very efficiently too.

So it is very distressing to learn from the recently released report on State of the World’s Birds, an annual review, that out of the total number of about eleven thousand known surviving species of birds in the entire world, nearly 48% or 5,245 are now believed to be experiencing a decline of their population. 1481 or about 14% species face a much bigger risk as these are in fact categorized to be threatened with extinction. Among these 798 are vulnerable, 460 are endangered and 223 are critically endangered.

One major reason for decline of birds relates to the overall fast decline of natural forests, grasslands and wetlands. Monocultures, often of exotic trees, that are taking the place of natural forests cannot at all provide the same conducive conditions for a diversity of birds as provided by natural forests in which a single dense cluster of diverse trees can be a comfortable home to thousands of birds of many species.

Ever since Rachel Carson sounded her grim warnings in 1962 in her classic book Silent Spring regarding the terribly disastrous impact of chemical pesticides on birds, more and more evidence of the massive distress and mass deaths caused among birds due to the toxic impacts of chemical pesticides has been pouring in. According to one published estimate, pesticide ingestion kills about 2.7 million birds annually in Canada alone.

This may be one reason why even those species which are fed by human beings and like to live closer to them also face threats. It has been found that impact of pesticides makes it difficult for several migratory birds to negotiate the long distances which they could earlier cover as a routine.

We can only shudder at the impacts of aerial spraying, worst of all the kind of mass military spraying carried out ruthlessly by the USA in Vietnam. In fact there have been reports of some US agencies even using migratory birds for biological warfare research, and one such foreign collaboration project was even indicted by the Public Accounts Committee of the Indian Parliament.

More routine cruelty, more likely to be unintentional, is suffered by tens of millions of birds daily in narrow cages where creatures endowed with a natural free-flying spirit cannot even stretch their body properly or move even a few inches. Many poultry farms are known to keep birds in such congested and otherwise terrible conditions that some of them may turn self-destructive or neurotic.

Beautiful birds, living happily in nature, harming no one, are being killed and trapped in very cruel ways all the time, sometimes for meat, sometimes for certain body parts sold for profit, sometimes for trafficking and trade of live birds, sometimes for a highly distorted sense of game and adventure.

Ultimately cruelty to birds can also harm human beings in very costly ways by spreading diseases and even pandemics.

Hence there is a very strong case for being more protective towards birds and let them live their natural life in their natural habitats.

Protection of wetlands, grasslands and natural forests; a big shift towards organic and natural farming; prevention of poaching and hunting and a huge reduction in the use of chemical pesticides can contribute much more to protecting birds.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.


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