It’s a guess, but local science deniers were probably not among Central Texas Audubon Society members out conducting bird counts this month. Too bad. While we await final numbers from a count held in Waco Saturday, a sharp decline in bird numbers in the Crawford area this month aligns with discouraging national trends. A report issued in September (and co-authored by U.S. Geological Survey scientists) — one incorporating, yes, Christmas bird counts such as those in McLennan County — indicates we’ve lost about a fourth of the continent’s bird population since 1970.
Cause for concern? Depends on whether you buy into the basic premise of ecology.
Surely some of us in tune with our own neighborhoods have noticed silence where songbirds once dominated. Some of us are startled now to hear a songbird. Last summer homeowners in the naturally engaging Badger Ranch community near U.S. Highway 84 — many of them concerned about a new housing subdivision planned at Ritchie Road and Sandalwood Drive — spoke passionately to the Woodway City Council about the chorus of songbirds and other wildlife they have enjoyed. They saw further development nearby as a threat to their pastoral interludes.
Men and women of science would no doubt concur, though perhaps with more urgency. Because birds are particularly well monitored thanks to dedicated groups such as the Central Texas Audubon Society, they arguably serve better than other wildlife as proverbial canaries in our environmental coal mine. And if their numbers are in fast decline, all of us must become more engaged about how their loss might impact the world we live in. Already many of us (including the Waco City Council) have become aware that similar declines in honeybee populations will impact agricultural crops ranging from almonds to cherries.
No less than prominent Waco-based pastor Jimmy Dorrell, in a provocative Trib column this year, stressed the issue in starkly religious terms, perhaps most appropriate now given the season: “From the expulsion of disobedient humans from the beautiful and sustainable garden that God created, we find ourselves outside that garden in a world now moving toward unsustainability. Instead of owning our part of ‘creation care’ where 21,000 children die daily from hunger-related causes, where millions cannot drink clean water, where the very fish, birds and animals we were given to protect and subdue for future generations are becoming extinct, we become indifferent. Instead of protecting the earth and seas, we pollute our globe, politicize the issues and ignore science that points to destructive climate change.”
Scientists and Audubon members echo each other regarding causes in bird declines: everything from feral cats to habitat destruction (some now taking place even on sacred federal lands) to climate change (which Audubon members see reflected in Texas droughts). As these causes converge amid a time of national indifference and denial in America, we can only pray that wiser readers enlist in solutions by first cracking open a book on ecology — including what will happen when all around us goes horribly awry.