Birds Keep Our Ecosystems Running Smoothly
- Birds eat insect pests that would otherwise decimate agricultural crops, gardens, and other vegetation. Birds eat 400–500 tons of insects per year.
- Birds like crows and vultures scavenge carcasses, reducing the spread of diseases such as rabies and distemper.
- Birds disperse seeds, spreading plants into new areas.
- Birds such as hummingbirds help pollinate plants.
- Birds like hawks and owls help keep the mouse and rat population in check.
- Birds eat millions of mosquitoes and other biting insects each year.
Birds Bring Us Joy and Beauty
In addition to their ecosystem roles, birds are one of life’s more beautiful pleasures. Millions of people around the world enjoy watching and feeding birds. They are a gateway for many to learn more about the outdoors and nature.
Birds Help Us Know if the Environment is Healthy
Because birds are sensitive to toxins and pollutants, problems detected in wild birds can serve as an early warning system that something is wrong in the environment. Then changes can be made before the problem starts affecting humans and other animals.
Birds Are Everywhere
Urban or rural, in every corner of the globe, one finds birds. Wildlife watching is among the fastest growing outdoor pursuits in the United States, numbering 86 million participants in 2016 — more than half of these are birdwatchers. Wildlife viewing and birding hold great promise for the future of Missourians experiencing and appreciating nature.
Birds Make Money
Birds are an economic driver. Each year wildlife watchers spend more than $75 billion on travel, equipment, and other expenses. In the U.S. alone, birding has created more than 600,000 jobs and billions of dollars in employment income and tax revenue (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2013). Birdseed and bird feeders account for nearly $6 billion spent annually.
Birds Need Our Help
Unfortunately, many bird species are declining at alarming rates. Even species considered common are dropping sharply in number. Breeding bird surveys show population declines ranging from 30 to 77 percent since 1970 — and the numbers are still falling. These species include the eastern meadowlark and northern bobwhite.
Why the declines?
Pinpointing exact reasons is difficult. But scientists who research birds note that several widespread land use practices correspond to the declines. These include:
- Urban sprawl
- Large-scale agriculture with fields of monocultures (one kind of plant)
- Widespread use of pesticides that reduce species of insects that birds eat
- Lack of land management to maintain needed habitat
These widespread changes pose major threats to the long-term health of bird populations in Missouri and throughout the world.
Bird Conservation: The Silver Lining
Many bird species are declining, but it’s not all bad news. The silver lining is that we can change this!
It is possible to significantly improve and increase habitat for many of these species within as little as a decade or two.
Bird conservation in Missouri is strong and has a successful track record. But conservation groups cannot effectively tackle all threats and habitat challenges on their own.
A united effort involving agencies, organizations, and the public is necessary to reverse declining bird populations, especially the most threatened species.