2024's World Migratory Bird Day
James H. Clark

2024's World Migratory Bird Day

By now, many of us have watched with rapt attention (or, if you’re like me, with sweaty palms) movies or television series where zombies wreak havoc on planet earth in some horrifying apocalyptic scenario. They’re usually graphic, disturbing, and unfathomably disruptive to human existence.

In some instances, as portrayed in the HBO series “The Last Of Us,” there’s an unsettling angle of how something in nature (in this case, a fungus) turns against us and it all just goes bad.

But what if a scary scenario like this wasn’t caused by the mutation of something in nature, but the removal of it? Many of you have probably heard terms like “insect collapse” and “insect apocalypse” in reference to the steep decline in these animals during the past half century.

Renowned entomologist and conservationist, E.O. Wilson, had a lot to say about the importance of insects in our global ecosystems and how those ecosystems would be impacted by their loss. His apocalyptic scenario is just as harrowing as those we’ve seen on screen, noting that most plants and land animals would become extinct because of their reliance on animals like bees, butterflies, moths, ants, and beetles. And not over a long period of time, either. Within a few months.

Whoa. Not just because these animals help pollinate our crops and allow forest plants to reproduce, but because they also form the foundation of our terrestrial ecosystems.

Any animal you can think of likely consumes insects at some stage in its lifecycle, whether it’s a frog, a bear, a bird, or another insect.

Provided

One group of animals particularly reliant on insects is birds. Shorebirds, songbirds, wading birds, and even some birds of prey rely on these tiny animals in both their larval and adult stages. Perhaps you’ve observed your backyard Bluebirds plucking caterpillars off the ground, or watched acrobatic Tree Swallows catch winged insects in mid-air.

The degree to which the birds that we love rely on insects is profound. A single pair of Black-capped Chickadees, for example, was found to have fed 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to just one single brood of chicks during two weeks’ time. And now, during this magical month of May that bird enthusiasts in Eastern North America anticipate, insects are an ever-critical source of energy to these birds as they make their incredible journeys, sometimes across entire continents, to the places where they will raise their young.

So if our insects are declining, what does that mean for our birds? A study published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2019 concluded that we have lost 3 billion birds since 1970. May of the causes of this decline are attributed to the ways in which we have altered our natural environments to make them inhospitable toward insects, whether that’s through shrinking the available spaces for insects, polluting them, or simply eliminating them altogether.

Thinking back to E.O. Wilson’s connections between insects, healthy ecosystems, and even our own human existence, shouldn’t we be preserving them?

Fortunately for us, this is the turning point in the zombie apocalypse film where we learn what we can do to save ourselves. And in our real-life scenario, for our birds and other wildlife, too. The choices we make in our own backyards can have real impact, whether that involves eliminating pesticides, reducing our lawn and replacing it with native plants, or turning off unnecessary lights at night.

At Audubon we believe that creating healthy environments for birds creates healthy environments for people, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to protecting our insects. With our own lives intrinsically connected to the survival of our world’s insects, so it is for the birds we love, too.

Learn exactly how you can get started on ensuring there plenty of insects to feed your local birds and other wildlife by coming to the Sharon Audubon Center’s World Migratory Bird Day event on Saturday, May 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. where there will be partnering organizations, activities, games for kids, bird walks, short presentations, and more.

Partnering organizations include Audubon Connecticut, the Sharon Energy and Environmental Commission (SEEC), Litchfield Hills Audubon Society, Lights Out! Connecticut, Homegrown National Park, The Xerces Society, Lindera, and more.

Bethany Sheffer is Volunteer Coordinator and Naturalist at the Sharon Audubon Center.

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