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At the beginning of this month when about 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky in one night in Arkansas, biologists were called on to put a damper on public speculation about pesticides and secret military tests by reminding everyone how many birds there are and how many die. They often do so as a result of human activity, but in far more mundane and dispiriting ways than conspiracy buffs might imagine.
“Five billion birds die in the U.S. every year,” said Melanie Driscoll, a biologist and director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Flyway for the National Audubon Society.
That means that on average, 13.7 million birds die in this country every day.
Pesticides kill 72 million birds directly, but an unknown and probably larger number ingest the poisons and die later unseen. Orphaned chicks also go uncounted.
And then there is flying into objects, which is most likely what killed the birds in Arkansas. The government estimates that strikes against building windows alone account for anywhere from 97 million to nearly 976 million bird deaths a year. Cars kill another 60 million or so. High-tension transmission and power distribution lines are also deadly obstacles. Extrapolating from European studies, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 174 million birds die each year by flying into these wires. None of these numbers take into account the largest killer of birds in America: loss of habitat to development.
Of course, poisons and electric wires are not as exciting to think about as secret government plots, but Ms. Driscoll says it is time we pay attention to them anyway.
Ultimately, the public's fascination with the die-offs is rooted in the concern that all may not be right between man and nature -- and that perhaps finally the scales have been tipped irrevocably, meaning we may be next. But as the stories fade from the headlines, perhaps we'll be too enraptured in the next news cycle to even breathe a sigh of relief that the problem has 'passed', so we'll carry on.
There is indeed something troubling about those mass deaths, but whether or not human activities are responsible for a few thousand bird corpses here and there isn't really the point. 13.7 million wild birds died today in the United States and it's unmentioned because there's little doubt that we have something to do with most them.
I thought the cows died of some sort of bovine flu