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What birders can do to reduce threats to birds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Providing plants for birds, like this Ruby-throated Hummingbird, is one way to help reduce threats to birds. Photo by K Quinn Ferris/Shutterstock

A recent study published in Science concluded that 29 percent of the bird population of the United States and Canada — that is, 3 billion birds — have been lost since 1970. And a report just published by Audubon concludes that climate change threatens nearly two-thirds of our birds.

What can we birdwatchers do when the problems are so very huge? Individual actions may seem insignificant, but fostering what Audubon calls a “culture of conservation” can be important locally, and it can ripple outward regionally and even nationally and internationally. How?

In 1993, a small group of people in Toronto, wanting to do something about all the birds killed at tall lighted buildings during migration, banded together to form the Fatal Light Awareness Program. Volunteers combed downtown in early morning, picking up dead and injured birds, and they kept the public informed of the death toll. More and more people encouraged high-rise dwellers and managers of tall buildings to turn lights off or draw drapes at night during migration. Now people in many other cities, inspired by their work, have “Lights Out” programs. That’s the ripple effect.

Daniel Klem, for decades the only researcher studying bird deaths at windows, got people’s attention in 2009 after determining that every year in the U.S., half a billion to a billion birds are killed at windows. That number caught the attention of prominent ornithologists, who were skeptical until their own research confirmed Klem’s figures.

He documented that vertical strips of tape, stickers, parachute cording, or even just markers set on the outside of the glass no more than 4 inches apart (just
2 inches apart if the lines are horizontal) keep most birds at bay, perhaps because 4 inches is less than the wingspan of even the smallest songbirds. Now the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, and others are also getting the word out about ways we can reduce kills at our own windows. That’s the ripple effect.

Many researchers once thought the number of birds killed by domestic cats was too small to pose a problem to populations. Pioneering research by Stanley Temple in Wisconsin established that the toll is a billion or more every year. Now more and more people and organizations are trying to make windows safer for birds and working to get people to keep cats indoors and enact cat leash laws and ordinances. That’s the ripple effect.

Over the years, BirdWatching has published articles and columns suggesting ways we as individuals can help birds, many archived at My book, 101 Ways to Help Birds, published by Stackpole in 2006, focuses on large and small ways that we can help birds via our shopping, driving, and travel habits, our backyard habitat, and supporting organizations and agencies that work on a larger scale. That information and more is available on my webpage,



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Laura Erickson

Laura Erickson

Laura Erickson is the 2014 recipient of the American Birding Association’s highest honor, the Roger Tory Peterson Award. She has written many books about birds and hosts the long-running radio program and podcast “For the Birds.” Her column  “Attracting Birds,” about attracting, feeding, sheltering, and understanding the birds in your backyard, appears in every issue of BirdWatching. “Snow Bird,” her first article in the magazine, appeared in December 2003. It described the migration and winter habits of the American Robin.

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