Actions and consequences: Why you should think before you do

There's a whole Earth out there to consider.

American kestrel. Credit: Erica Cirino, 2012.

American kestrel. Credit: Erica Cirino, 2012.

When I was a child, I'd sit for hours watching the bird bath and bird houses arranged in my yard as soon as the weather got warm. From my seat in a lawn chair hidden behind a large island of tall lilies and grasses, I could see soaring hawks, jumping robins, drumming woodpeckers and hovering hummingbirds. I'd scrawl the names and descriptions of what I saw (or thought I saw), along with a few drawings, in the notebook that laid open in my lap. 

With my trusty Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by my side in case I needed help, as early as age seven I was already well on my way to becoming an ornithologist. 

Birds continue to hold a special place in my heart. Last month I began freelancing for the National Audubon Society, and just two days ago my second story for the organization went live. While I sometimes wish I had more time to fit bird watching into my work schedule, writing about my avian friends is almost as fun as watching them.

My most recent story for Audubon is an important one: Researchers know today that human actions, such as using pesticides, planting monoculture (or single-species crops) and climate change, are causing a major loss of species--including birds. 

For ornithologists, clearly any loss of birds is very sad--catastrophic, even. But what about for the backyard birder, or just everyday people who like to wake up to the sound of chirping but don't see themselves as ever heading out of the house at 6am to look for warblers in their local park?

The experts I've spoken have emphasized over and over again: Birds, like many other species, are a key part of the way Earth functions. Some pollinate plants, some eat pests, some serve as food to other animals. Eliminate single or multiple species of birds and you have yourself an unbalanced Earth. Meaning the food, water, trees, air and everything upon which humans rely would disintegrate before our eyes.

While some species naturally go extinct over time, the rapid rate at which animals are being lost today is unnatural. And, it's all our fault--our spraying of pesticides, our building of houses, our cutting down trees, our driving cars...the list goes on and on. 

Does this make you sad? It makes me sad. 

This is how I see it:

Birds are a way to bridge the gap between the real and the ethereal. They are flying, singing creatures with a grace and beauty unmatched. They are sentinels for a healthy environment: we use chemicals, we pollute, we chop down trees...and they suffer. Their well-being is a barometer of human actions, indicating where we are doing good by the Earth, and where we are failing. They can teach us to care more.

So, while humans have the potential to hurt birds, we can also help them (and the other species with whom we share this Earth). We can choose not to use toxic pesticides and chemicals (or at the very least, use less of them). We can choose not to cut down trees. We can choose not to litter. We can choose to plant more wild vegetation for bird habitat. 

Our actions have consequences. And those consequences don't just affect us. There's a whole Earth out there (with lots of birds and other critters) to consider.


Lingering thoughts:

  • What do birds mean to you?
  • What is the worst thing you do for the health of the Earth?
  • What is the best thing you do for the health of the Earth?