Before my emancipation from the working life I tried to spend most of the month of August at Bigadore. In August the mosquitoes have subsided, the water temperature has warmed nicely in the saltwater swimming hole below the cabin, there is still plenty of sunshine to savour. August was good for birding too: the woodland breeding birds were still here, and as the month progressed I could look forward to ‘fallouts’ of early migrants: small gangs of warblers and sparrows of several species gathered in a feeding flock in my birches, pin cherries and mountain-ashes.
The halcyon days are gone. I used to see swallows from the cabin at Big Bras d’Or: barn swallows, tree swallows, perhaps an occasional cliff or bank swallow. The swallows have pretty much passed out of view here at Bigadore. I have been here since the first of June—close to four months—and have not seen a single swallow. Not one.
Nowadays there is no way a keen birder could routinely find two dozen species here, let alone forty. These days I walk my trails and woods and encounter mostly silence. If not for squirrels inclined to object to my passage the woods might be perfectly still. Rather than a couple of dozen species on a morning walk, I might find five, or four, or three.
This past week news headlines informed us of a scientific study cataloguing the precipitous decline in woodland birds. The report was no surprise to me: I have been seeing it with my own eyes for years, but this year in particular has been shocking. I still see waterbirds: gulls, gannets in their season, passing herons at dusk, groups of scoters assembling for autumn on the Great Bras d’Or. But songbirds—warblers, swallows, sparrows—are another matter entirely.
The precipitous decline in songbird numbers is a sad fact that can be laid largely at the feet of humans. We destroy bird habitat. We build skyscrapers, telecommunication towers and wind generators without much concern for the migrating ten or twelve-gram birds that crash into them during their night-time migrations. We allow our beloved cats to go outside where they do what nature designed them to do: hunt and kill. Twice this summer I have been seated on a friend’s veranda when the family cat triumphantly returned home with a bird in its teeth. The experts tell us that millions of birds are slaughtered every year in North America by cats allowed to do as they will in the great outdoors.
It is not just cats. I recall how appalled I was to learn about the toll delivered by a single telecom tower in Pennsylvania some years ago: more than a thousand ovenbirds killed on one night—just one—as a consequence of flying into an unseen tower in the dead of night.
What can be done? I am gratified to hear that initiatives are under way to give birds warning as they approach tall structures. Good. We can help as individuals too. Windows are bird-killers. A big picture window is a joy to the folks indoors enjoying the view outside. It is something else to a bird that crashes into it. People who care can help remedy the problem by placing silhouettes in their window—perhaps of a falcon or hawk—to signal that the window is something a bird should avoid.
For a person who is both a cat-owner and someone who agrees that the world is a better place with wild birds in it, does it not make sense, for the welfare of birds and for its own sake, that Puss enjoys life in the safe and secure comfort of its own home?