Today’s climate strike may be overdue: 28% of North America’s birds have vanished in my lifetime

Almost imperceptibly, North America’s bird population has dropped by 29% since 1970. That’s nearly three billion fewer cardinals visiting birdfeeders, hawks above head, and western meadowlarks – the official bird of six states are growing rarer.

The study’s authors who include researchers from Canada’s environmental agency and the US Geological Survey were able to put a number on this decline because birds are likely the best monitored animals on earth. The authors argue that because they are so highly visible and recorded, the decline of birds is likely indicative on declines in other types of life which are less monitored.

Birds aren’t falling from the sky in a mass extinction event.  In fact, this loss may be harder to prevent because of its gradual, nearly imperceptible buy relentless decline. Conservationists refer to this as ‘shrinking baseline syndrome’, and it can have devastating effects.

This summer I recalled swarms of lightening bugs, when I saw just a scattered few along a thinly wooded train track near my home outside of Boston. Passenger Pigeons were once so numerous that their flocks darkened US skies. They were driven to extinction in just a few decades.

At current, the United Nations says that 1 million plant and animal species will face extinction in the coming decade. And as today is a day of climate change protest around the world, this seems like an important moment to break through the chatter of news with this view of the changing reality of our lives.

As Mufasa summed-up life’s connectedness to Simba in the recent remake of the Lion King, which is enjoyable even for those who know Hamlet and the original film, “When we die our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. So, we are all connected in the great circle of life.”

The research released this week suggests that one of the more visible of those links has been alarmingly degraded.  Such broad historic comparisons of beetles, ferns and reptiles may simply not be possible, though it is reasonable to suspect the same human-caused changes may have eroded these other links, which though harder to see from our vantage point, connect this circle as

Today, we’re reminded to be alarmed not just by what can be measured and seen, but also by the parts of existence that are difficult to know but essential none the less.

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