Down in Birdland

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They sound like heaven, but more and more of the world is becoming a challenging hell for the world's most beautiful songbirds.

Thoreau loved them. John Keats wrote them odes. Scripture adores them. Eons of humans have loved their brilliant, jewel-like flash in the forest, and the glory of their song.

Now, biologists find that the realm of Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Buntings, Yellow Warblers and the Baltimore Oriole is in trouble. And that means we're in trouble, too.

This hour On Point: we go deep in the shrinking world of birdsong, and track the trends that have left songbirds in trouble.

Quotes from the Show:

"We are losing our migratory birds. ... Over the last 40 years, many species have lost 30 to 40 percent of their numbers." Bridget Stutchbury

"The problems that our birds are facing are global. ... Tropical deforestation is taking place at an alarming rate. ... The southern coast of the US is highly populated and these birds have little precious habitat left on their way north." Bridget Stutchbury

"Pesticides are a huge problem for birds and we don't know exactly how they are affecting them. We know these pesticides are highly toxic to birds." Bridget Stutchbury

"Shade coffee plantations provided a light bulb for migratory birds. These [plantations] are gone now in many areas." Bridget Stutchbury

"We are also seeing fewer birds [in Long Island, NY]. It's kind of disheartening." Aaron Virgin

"A lot of migrants are coming back earlier because in general springs are coming earlier. Birds are tracking climate change and they are noticing." Bridget Stutchbury

"You have these irregular warming and cooling periods...and this mismatch is going to aid the songbirds' decrease." Aaron Virgin

"Cats are a major problem for songbirds. ... One way we can help our songbirds is to keep cats indoors especially during the migratory season and in the summer too." Bridget Stutchbury


Bridget Stutchbury, professor of biology at York University and author of "Silence of the Songbirds."

Aaron Virgin, Director, Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center, the country's first Audubon songbird sanctuary

This program aired on May 2, 2007.


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