Birdsong, a Balm for Pandemic Anxieties, Is under Threat

Human Wrongs Watch

7 May 2021 (UNEP)* — Since the start of the pandemic a growing number of people have turned to nature – including visible and audible nature in urban settings in the form of birds and birdsong – to soothe the angst brought about by COVID-19.


And bird watching seems to be becoming more popular. Starting in April 2020, eBird began to see a notable increase in contributions of bird observations. April 2020 eBird checklist submissions increased by 41 per cent compared to April 2019.

But as avian aficionados prepare to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on 8 May, experts warn that migratory and other bird species are in sharp decline.

Globally, one in eight bird species is threatened, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, including some of the world’s best-known migratory species, like the European turtle-dove, and the Atlantic puffin.

“As global ambassadors of nature, migratory birds not only connect different places across the planet, they also re-connect people to each other and to nature,” says Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species, a global convention specializing in the conservation of migratory species, their habitats and migration routes, and administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Their unique songs and flights remind us of the interconnectedness of our world, and the importance of working together across borders to protect birds and the planet.”

A bird, Puffin in flight.
There are three species of puffin, a pelagic seabird. The different species have different migratory patterns. Photo: Danny Moore/Pixabay

Lost habitats

A viral video about the amazing capacity of the lyre bird to imitate the sounds around it – camera shutters, car alarms and chainsaws – signifies, in an alarming way, human threats to wildlife habitats.

For migratory birds, these threats include the expansion of industrial-scale agriculture, human encroachment on habitats, the drying out of wetlands, deforestation, illegal or unstainable hunting, poisoning, and electrocution by power lines. Climate change is also adversely affecting migratory birds, including by reducing the availability of food at stopovers.

While it is difficult to quantify the relative importance of “direct take”, hunting is assessed as a threat to 73 per cent of bird species listed on CMS Appendix I and 57 per cent of those listed on Appendix II.

One study found that there are nearly 3 billion fewer birds in North America today than there were in 1970, a 29 per cent drop in numbers. As part of the study, a continent-wide weather radar network revealed a steep decline in the passage of migrating birds over a recent 10-year period.

Birds aren’t the only animals under threat. Of the planet’s nearly 8 million species, around one million face extinction. In 2010, the world agreed on a series of biodiversity goals to be reached by 2020, the Aichi Targets. None have been met.

As global ambassadors of nature, migratory birds not only connect different places across the planet, they also re-connect people to each other and to nature.

Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species

UNEP encourages Member States to develop sustainable and resilient wildlife economies which safeguard wildlife habitats.

Conserving biodiversity is a pillar of UNEP’s work. The institution supports the protection of forests, oceans and other wildlife-rich landscapes while using science to shine a light on the threats facing the animal world and encouraging countries to develop sustainable wildlife economies.

As countries start to plan for a post-pandemic future, conservationists are urging officials to build back better by using stimulus dollars to protect wildlife.

This year’s theme for World Migratory Bird Day is “Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!”.

For the first time, a World Migratory Bird Day Virtual Choir is being organized by the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership and the Bowerbird Collective, inviting people around the world to record themselves singing along “like a bird” to a newly created song.

Bird watchers are being encouraged to join Global Big Day, a worldwide birding competition, and 1 May marked the start of the Citizen Science and Arts Dawn Chorus Project to collect birdsongs worldwide.

World Migratory Bird Day is organized by a collaborative partnership between two United Nations treaties – the Convention on Migratory Species and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement  – and the non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas. The secretariats of the two treaties are administered by UNEP.


2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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