Environmental Monitoring With the Help of Birds
While climate change and global warming are an ongoing cause for concern, monitoring the environment is a costly and time consuming activity for conservationists to carry out without help from local experts – of the feathered variety.
While climate change and global warming are an ongoing cause for concern, monitoring the environment is a costly and time consuming activity for conservationists to carry out without help from local experts – of the feathered variety. Birds are tremendously valuable in assisting conservationists and researchers to pick up changes in the environment and species diversity, enabling them to take action where possible to prevent a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe.
Science has come a long way since canaries were used to detect toxic gases in coalmines, but birds continue to be the most effective sentinel species on the planet. The reasons for this are many and include the fact that birds are found all over the world, in all types of habitats, both in the wild and in urban settings. They are sensitive and adaptive to environmental changes and are relatively easy to monitor as they are highly visible. Birds are among the most researched animals on the planet and with bird watching being a popular activity around the world, birders are often keen to participate as citizen scientists in research projects and organized bird counts. Birding clubs and Audubon societies all over the world get involved in the gathering of data, which can then be coordinated by scientists. Moreover, there exists a wealth of historical data on the activities of birds, providing a baseline against which to compare current data. As birds include species that feed on a wide variety of food sources, they are vulnerable to the accumulation of toxins in both plants and animals they eat, thereby providing an indicator on soil, air and water pollution levels.
As birds are acutely in tune with seasonal cycles, even subtle changes in behavior, feeding and breeding patterns can alert scientists to broader environmental changes. Changes in arrival and departure times of migratory bird species have been linked to changes in temperature, ocean currents and wind patterns. Feeding and breeding patterns of marine predators and seabirds offer scientists the opportunity to monitor the health of the world’s oceans and seas and with many species the timing and success of breeding is dependent on food availability.
When birds seemingly inexplicably fall out of the sky, as was reported in Arkansas and New Jersey earlier this year, scientists will try to solve the mystery, because when birds are in distress, it is very likely an indicator that something is very wrong in the environment.