A loss of beauty: sounding the alarm for some of nature's most interesting creatures.
Silence of the Songbirds: How We are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them
256 pages, hardcover
International Standard Book Number
ISBN International Standard Book Number
ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m 9780002007283
When migrating birds die after hitting glass windows at York University York University, at North York, Ont., Canada; nondenominational; coeducational; founded 1959 as an affiliate of the Univ. of Toronto, became independent 1965. , a patrol of biology undergrads This article is about the television show. For the educational term, see undergraduate education.
This article or section does not cite its .
You can Wikipedia by introducing appropriate citations. collects the corpses for their professor, Bridget Stutchbury. She transforms the black-throated blue warblers, ovenbirds and less common ruby-throated hummingbirds into taxidermy taxidermy (tăk`sĭdûr'mē), process of skinning, preserving, and mounting vertebrate animals so that they still appear lifelike. specimens stuffed with cotton.
This is not as macabre as may first seem, since youngsters today have little chance to experience the beauty and diversity of songbirds in the wild. Many children now live in bird deserts such as inner cities or suburban tracts with pocket parks and few mature trees. And these avian deserts are spreading. As this timely book hammers home with both grace and passion, the songbirds of our eastern forests in North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. are threatened with what seems to be almost inevitable decline.
In her daughter's grade two class in Toronto, Stutchbury passed her stuffed treasures around a circle and told the children about the sounds made by the birds, their diet and their dwelling places. She also told them the blue warblers eat the equivalent of 20 hamburgers a day to prepare for the long migration north and the tiny hummingbird flies non-stop for 15 hours across the Gulf of Mexico Noun 1. Gulf of Mexico - an arm of the Atlantic to the south of the United States and to the east of Mexico
Golfo de Mexico
Atlantic, Atlantic Ocean - the 2nd largest ocean; separates North and South America on the west from Europe and Africa on the east .
"Small hands cradle the birds and gently stroke their smooth feathers as though tender loving care can reverse the birds' fate," she writes.
The book hits its highest notes in passages such as this where Stutchbury is personally involved. It opens with an evocative description of York students arriving for field studies in Panama, minutely details the bird life of a forested Stutchbury family retreat in Pennsylvania, explains the techniques for spotting bird nests and somehow manages to convey in print the rhythm and sound of many bird calls.
I confess a predisposition to be drawn to this book. I spent the first eight years of my life in a very small Pennsylvannia town where five minutes' walk took me into the bird-filled countryside, and the next twelve years in Brantford, Ontario
Brantford is a city located on the Grand River in southwestern Ontario, Canada. This single-tier municipality was once part of Brant County. , where the banks of the Grand River afforded easy access to after-school birding. My present hometown, Ottawa, is also well blessed with birding opportunities. Finally, as I learned from the acknowledgements, it was an article by me in the Toronto Star The Toronto Star is Canada's highest-circulation newspaper, though its print edition is distributed almost entirely within Ontario. It is owned by Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd., a division of Star Media Group, a subsidiary of Torstar Corporation. that prompted an editor at HarperCollins to phone Stutchbury and suggest a book about her life with songbirds.
It is a life well worth sharing. The York professor forcefully transmits her passionate concern about the precipitous decline in numbers in numbered parts; as, a book published in numbers.
See also: Number of songbirds that migrate between their breeding areas in the eastern forests of North America and their winter escape in Central and South America South America, fourth largest continent (1991 est. pop. 299,150,000), c.6,880,000 sq mi (17,819,000 sq km), the southern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. and the Caribbean.
The decline worldwide over the past several centuries may be as high as 20 percent, although that figure is little more than a back-of-the-envelope estimate. Much more rigorous are studies in Britain, which found a 50 percent reduction between the 1960s and 1990s in a third of the songbirds surveyed. In North America, the Breeding Bird Survey The Breeding Bird Survey monitors the status and trends of bird populations. Data from the survey are an important source for the range maps found in field guides. The North American Breeding Bird Survey is a joint project of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the has recently charted a relentless decline of around one percent a year in the population of bobolinks, eastern kingbirds, Kentucky warblers and wood thrush.
There are practical reasons why birds are worth saving: they consume enormous amounts of insects that would otherwise devastate dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. food crops and their dispersal of seeds furthers the genetic diversity and robustness of plants. Yet other reasons may be even more important.
"Songbirds are beautiful to see and hear, and their fascinating behaviour reminds us of our own lives: moving to a new home, finding food. choosing partners, and the challenges of raising children," Stutchbury writes.
She is too honest a researcher not to point out the methodological limitations of breeding bird surveys but also too committed a bird champion to let pursuit of scientific perfection get in the way of practical action. So she dutifully du·ti·ful
1. Careful to fulfill obligations.
2. Expressing or filled with a sense of obligation.
du advocates buying organically grown fresh produce to encourage lower use of the short-lived, highly toxic highly toxic Occupational medicine adjective Referring to a chemical that 1. Has a median lethal dose–LD50 of ≤ 50 mg/kg when administered orally to 200-300 g albino rats 2. agricultural chemicals that have replaced the persistent but less toxic pesticides indicted INDICTED, practice. When a man is accused by a bill of indictment preferred by a grand jury, he is said to be indicted. by Rachael Carson in Silent Spring, a theme obviously echoed in this book's title.
Like the book's advocacy of shade-grown, fair-trade coffee, this proposal runs up against the reality that paying more for food out of concern over the fate of songbirds is not something as easily managed in households lacking the dual income of two university professors. The same cost objection could be made about the book's urging to buy only the toilet paper and other disposable paper products made from recycled materials, but in any case the idea is largely impractical for most Canadians since the recommended website (www.nrdc.org/paper) lists no products readily found in your local supermarket.
You'll notice that website is a U.S. one. Although Stutchbury supposedly writes about the North American North American
named after North America.
North American blastomycosis
see North American blastomycosis.
North American cattle tick
see boophilusannulatus. continent as one home of migrating songbirds, almost every fact and statistic cited is American. As someone who reports science news in a daily newspaper, I know too well how seductively simple it can be to Google factoids from U.S. sources. As well, in some instances, such as the percentage of food imports with pesticide residues, the comparable Canadian figures must be tediously extracted using the federal Access to Information law.
But is there any excuse for referring to the efforts of exclusively American groups to curb the bird-killing tendencies of cats on the prowl? Or to compare birds slamming into a cold front to hitting "a Jersey barrier on the turnpike"? The HarperCollins editors should know that Canadians don't drive on turnpikes and that only transportation bureaucrats in this country would call a poured concrete median a Jersey barrier.
The author was also not well served by her editors on the science side. Apparently no one thought to suggest inserting an explanation of what makes an isotope "stable" or noticed that the controversial pesticide fenitrothian is variously described in three separate references as used to control locust locust, in botany
locust, in botany, any species of the genus Robinia, deciduous trees or shrubs of the family Leguminosae (pulse family) native to the United States and Mexico. outbreaks, restricted to roach and ant traps, and popular in the 1970s. And then it is not even included in the highly unsatisfactory index.
In the end, such nitpicks cannot detract from the power and poetry of this book. Evocative turns of phrase and analogies pop up on almost every page--a wing-moving muscle likened to a v16 engine, the extra-pair copulation copulation /cop·u·la·tion/ (kop?u-la´shun) sexual union; the transfer of the sperm from male to female; usually applied to the mating process in nonhuman animals.
1. by birds compared to quickie sex among suburban neighbours, the chemicals that ensure the electrical firing of neurons portrayed as molecular sanitation workers.
Yet all this passion may be for naught in the end. Stutchbury alludes indirectly several times to the chief underlying cause of the decline of the songbirds. It is the escalating demands that billions of new residents of this planet make on the environment. Birds may be among the first victims of the population bomb.
Peter Calamai is the national science reporter for the Toronto Star.