Highlands Bird Club President Discusses Ecological Importance of Birds


Yesterday, we met Patty Reum, who is the president of the Highlands Bird Club.  She touched on the ecological importance of birds and I thought it important to understand why we should be concerned about that.

If you go online to something like the American Bird Conservancy or the Audubon or Cornell websites, you will see that we have a tremendous loss of species in the last 50 years. That is serious. That’s about one in every four birds. I feed birds at my feeder.  I’m seeing much fewer birds and much fewer species. This is happening a lot. If we look at the state of birds and what is happening to them currently, we can apply it to human future. Birds are suffering from loss of habitat, insecticides, huge monoculture farms, cats.  If we learn more about birds, perhaps that awareness will carry over to the human thing.

I happen to work on the American kestrel.  Before that, I worked on golden eagles and I’ve also worked on the golden-winged warbler. So I’m intimately interested in birds and actually researching them out here.

If we had no birds, is there an impact to our environment that way?

Very much so.  Nobody really likes mosquitoes. Nobody really enjoys ticks.  A lot of species of birds are insectivores. That’s probably one of the main reasons.  The other thing is, when you start losing species – doesn’t matter if it’s a salamander or anything like that – everything in that circle of life is affected.  Something eats that bird, that bird eats something else.  That bird depends on certain tree species.  Perhaps they spread those seeds.  Can’t pull one of your elements out of the food chain and not affect the rest.

And you mentioned the spreading of the seeds. That’s also an important thing, isn’t it?

Yes.  It’s really important for many of these species to keep your fields a little messy. The more of a manicured lawn you have that you put all sorts of junk that’s going into our watershed, the worse it is.  A lot of people know about the bee problems. There’s a lots of insecticides called neonicotinoids. They’re troubling our bees, but also one little kernel of that on a corn that’s then again eaten by a bird can kill that bird. It changes their hormonal systems, it changes things like reproductive strategies.  So lots of neurological damage and is happening with these huge toxic pesticides.

That really translates into all species of all animals.

That’s very true.

And so by changing your name and changing your focus, it is perhaps easier to illustrate to club members how important it is to be aware of our environment and the human impact on that.

Many of us know Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” That was a kind of a look into the future that’s unfortunately coming true.  When you’ve got one out of four species threatened – things like our bobolinks. Maybe you’ve seen those beautiful yellow, black and white birds and very few other places have them. Grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks and meadowlarks and American kestrels, and all these species we get here.  Take the time to go out, get a cheap pair of binoculars, find somebody like me, who’ll show you some of the birds and enjoy it. It’s a great exercise, great social building, great knowledge building. It’s great as you get older, you don’t have to walk that far. Just do it.

This is Mickey Frank Thomas for Allegheny Mountain Radio.

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Mickey Frank Thomas

Mickey Frank began his radio career in October 2017 when he was offered the impossible-to-fill 9:00 p.m. to midnight slot on Saturdays, where his coordinated mix of pop, soft rock and R&B from the 60s through the 80s met with little acclaim. Deciding that he needed a more awake audience, he added the 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. afternoon drive slot to his workload when it became available in December 2018. Originally from Morton, Illinois, good, old Mickey Frank has lived in more places than he can count on his fingers and toes, but now resides in Highland County.  Email Mickey Frank at  mickeyfrank@amrmail.org.

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