Is the canary calling?

What are the birds telling us?

As the son of a biologist and a determined nature lover I have been watching the plight of the insectivores with some concern. Since 2010 we’ve all seen the decline of these flying bug eating birds.

For me the problem really came home in 2014 when my own small farm saw a dramatic and indeed shocking decline in bee numbers. That spring, my locust trees, festooned with thousands of large blossoms hanging like huge grape clusters, would normally be so inundated with pollinators that the humming sound would drown out all other noise. In years past we’ve had to yell to be heard. This season all was quiet. Virtually, but not quite, silent.

Now one of the beliefs I held at the time was that the sheer number of pollinators would make up for a problem I thought was pretty much confined to “honey bees.” Those bees we keep to gather for us sweet nectar. By this I mean, if honey bees numbers were down, why it would give other pollinators a chance to shine. After all, there are many hundreds and indeed thousands of kinds of bees, wasps and other pollinators. Butterflies for example.

Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that the silence was evidence of something more sinister. Something far more terrible.

Decline of insectivores

You see, coinciding with the plight of the bees is the ongoing decline of insectivores. Particularly those birds that specialize in eating flying insects. These are our planet wide canaries in the coal mine. And in fact, that is exactly what is happening; all across the planet insectivore numbers are declining.

Why the decline?

The reasons for the decline are unclear. Global climate change, seasons that don’t change that fast in the south are now up to a month ahead in the north. Birds that count on a particular hatch are getting to the feeding and nesting grounds with the hatch over and done.

There is also the continual poisoning of the environment. The use of herbicides and pesticides is contributing to this silent spring. Similar to the effect of poisoning pesky rodents which are then eaten by scavenging raptors. Who are then also killed by the poison. Two out of three raptor deaths are now attributed to this problem (so please don’t use poison). The poisons we spray on our yards and fields kills bugs. But it also coats them. And they themselves ingest the poison and then are ingested themselves by the birds.

So, you know. Don’t use poison. Its undoubtedly part of the environmental factors leading to the boom in various human afflictions.

However, what concerns me the most is something new. Research is showing that the world wide biomass (that’s the enormous weight of flying insects) is in decline. Dropping by an astounding two-thirds. Its not just bees that are disappearing. Its all flying insects. The problem is world wide. Flying insects are vanishing everywhere.

This is shocking and indeed horrifying news.

So what do we do? Well. Stop poisoning. Talk to your neighbors. Yell at your MP. Shout from the tree tops. No more pesticides.

And no more C02. Evidence remains to be gathered. However it appears, at least to me, there is a high probability the acidification of our world and air through the rise in C02 is part of the problem.

Remember, when I was a boy the C02 number had risen, over the preceding 200 years, 43 ppm. Since that day, age 16 sitting in a lecture hall at Duke university visiting my dad the biologist, the number has risen from 331 to 406. So 200 years (since the start of the industrial revolution at 288 ppm) to 331. Now 331 to 406. A rise of 75 ppm in just 44 years.

What to do?

Please. Adopt electric power. Install an solar array. Create your own electricity. Make your next vehicle an electric one. Install a heat pump for heating and cooling. Even something as simple as buying an electric lawn mower and weedwacker helps.

Of course: Walk. Bike. Reduce C02. Do it now.

The problem is bigger and uglier than we had thought.

The birds are failing. It is up to us to recognize the signs and act.

BobolinkSolar was founded to help speed the adoption of solar energy.
  • google “falling bird numbers” for articles like this one from the Globe and Mail as well as research from Nature and other sources.
  • google “rise in C02”
  • google “acidification c02”
  • google “falling insect numbers” for articles like this one from

Special thanks to Kelvin Hodges for letting us use his drawing “Yellow Warbler”

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