[CT Birds] bird census... and football!

Jonah Cohen jonahc at cox.net
Tue Oct 29 11:53:25 EDT 2013

A short piece about bird populations appeared in an unlikely place: Tuesday Morning Quarterback, the column on ESPN.com by football geek Gregg Easterbrook. He talked about eagles, and I don't mean the team from Philly:

"When "Tweet" Means Something Else: Half a century ago, Rachel Carson's famed book "Silent Spring" predicted the extinction of North American bird life -- thus a silent spring, without chirping. Now the New York Times warns the ever-rising North American bird population is an increasing hazard to aviation.

"Carson's predictions were wrong because her work helped inspire environmental reforms that prevented the calamity she foresaw. This dramatically hit home a few days ago when a bald eagle -- a species close to extinction in the contiguous 48 states a generation ago -- soared over my suburban Washington, D.C., home. Not only was the eagle itself impressive, but even its shadow was impressive!

"The best gauge of bird numbers is the Audubon Society's annual census, conducted during the Christmas season since 1900. The most recent Audubon bird count for Pennsylvania, Carson's home state, found "a record 209 species," along with highest-ever numbers for bald eagles, sandhill cranes and black vultures, "exceptionally high totals" of many birds, and declines for only a few, including American kestrels. Some sharp-eyed Pennsylvanian observed a Ross's goose, the sort of moment on which birding reputations are made.

"The big factor in bird population numbers is assumed to be declining releases of toxic chemicals, down about 40 percent since 1988. (Dive into the data.) Declining toxins are probably a reason cancer deaths are down. Greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, but most other environmental indicators -- declining smog and acid rain, improving water quality and forest health -- have been positive for decades. Regardless, voters tell pollsters they think the environment is getting worse. If misconceptions rule on issues like bird populations and air quality, where the evidence is all around us, how will the nation ever to come to grips with abstractions like the federal debt?"

My first thought upon reading this was envy of whoever saw that Ross' Goose. Second was thinking "nice shout-out to the Christmas count."

Third was "Is the news truly that good from the Xmas counts?" I know that here in CT, there were some species in decline, though in some cases that might be closer to "normalizing" (ie gull numbers down from a few decades ago thanks to increases in eagles, and decreases in open landfills), He notes that forest health improves, but that doesn't help, say, grasslands birds. Overall, though... I don't know what the nationwide picture is. Any observations/thoughts on the data?

Seahawks are clearly faring better than Falcons,
Jonah Cohen

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