Humans have always had a special relationship with birds. We have hunted them and their eggs for food, clothed ourselves in their feathers, caged them for our entertainment, even worshiped them as gods. Today, birds act as environmental warning signals, keep insect populations in balance, and bring joy to our lives with their beauty and song. But this is not the reason that we must protect birds. We must protect them because we are bound together in one ecosystem, fellow inhabitants of a fragile planet.
What went wrong?
The history of extinction is long and complicated. Sadly, humans must take responsibility for much of the damage. Pesticides have poisoned birds and animals, oil spills have ruined miles of shoreline, and farming and lumbering practices have despoiled our land and water. Most serious is the extensive destruction of the habitat of breeding birds. We must work together to make our planet a haven in which all species can flourish. The Carolina Parakeet is an example of a bird that was once endemic but is now extinct due to relentless persecution.
What can we do?
Globally, we can join international conservation efforts.
Nationally, we can lobby Congress and join groups such as the American Bird Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy.
Locally, birders can get involved with shorebird and songbird censuses, encourage towns to build parks, and steer new construction to areas already developed.
At home, we can get to know our local birds, conserve water, recycle waste, limit use of pesticides, and become informed.
Introducing nonnative species into our bird population has had a major impact on some species. The range of the introduced House Sparrow has spread throughout all of North America where the bird competes with native species.
Balancing industrial needs and the needs of birds is difficult. Some birds can only exist in specific habitats. Overcutting of old-growth forests poses a serious threat to the home of a variety of species of birds, such as the Spotted Owl.
A conservation success story
We nearly lost the magnificent Peregrine Falcon. Pesticides working their way into the eggs of the Peregrine Falcon made their egg shells too thin to survive. Rachel Carson alerted the world to the dangers of DDT with her classic Silent Spring in 1962.
Fouling our own nest
Oil spills are devastating to birds. Many are poisoned by the ingestion of the oil. Others die of hypothermia, exhaustion, and starvation. Most oil spills are caused by our negligence and carelessness.
We can help!
Ospreys have returned after a serious threat from pesticides. Volunteers have erected many nesting platforms. These platforms have played an important role in the recovery of this spectacular bird of prey.
Knowing the life history of birds helps us to protect them. Bird-banding programs provide ornithologists with valuable information on the movements and ecology of birds.
Every year hunters must purchase the new federally issued duck stamp. The proceeds from these stamps are used to protect millions of acres of wetlands.
Sharing our world
Areas can be shared by humans and birds if the humans are determined to make it work.
Our moral duty
Roger Tory Peterson talks about conservation...
"The thing about watching birds is that it makes you much more aware. The feelings come first, and then the names of things, 'What is it?' and then you begin to notice 'Where is it found? What are its habits? How do these things interrelate?' The concepts come later, but you have to know the names of things first. So you become aware of things and eventually you become more and more interested in the human animal. You become interested in yourselves the different kinds of people. We are certainly about as diverse as any animal on this earth. The human animal is, of course, the one that holds the whip hand and everything else has to submit. It is our duty to protect things because these other creatures have no voice, no vote, and we are the ones that tend to control everything. Some of us do it well, some of us don't. It is our moral duty to protect wildlife."
Transcribed from a video recording of Dr. Peterson published on the Peterson Multimedia Guides: North American Birds.