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Sunday, April 13, 2008 

A Lonely Mockingbird sings at Midnight

A lonely bird sings a plantive song for help.

No. Not titles of the newest spy books nor codes for meeting a furtive informant. I've been thinking about the sing-song sounds I've been hearing outside my window late at night. The image of a single lonely bird could possibly open up ears and eyes to the tragedy that is befalling our towns, our cities, our states, our country...the world.

When was the last time you heard the natural music of the songs of the birds? And, if you haven't heard the cacophany that is supposed to be on-going this time of year, have you stopped for a moment and wondered why?

Some folks, including the Independent in the UK, have wondered why and are finding sobering news....

Globalization: American Songbirds Are Being Wiped Out by Banned Pesticides

The number of migratory songbirds returning to North America has gone into sharp decline due to the unregulated use of highly toxic pesticides and other chemicals across Latin America.

Ornithologists blame the demand for out-of-season fruit and vegetables and other crops in North America and Europe for the destruction of tens of millions of passerine birds. By some counts, half of the songbirds that warbled across America ’s skies only 40 years ago have gone, wiped out by pesticides or loss of habitat.

...Bridget Stutchbury, an ornithologist and professor at York University in Toronto , said: "With spring we take it for granted that the sound of the songbirds will fill the air with their cheerful sounds. But each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, fewer and fewer songbirds will return."

Did your shopping list kill a songbird? was the headling at the New York Times and the story expounded upon the fact that we, as consumers, have a choice in searching for food without tons of toxins....birds don't have the opportunity.

....In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson’s hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States

The Backyard Birder (a blog from the Houston Chronicle) also mentions that our food demands aren't taking into consideration the TRUE cost of the cheap foods we are "entitled" too....

Within the western hemisphere, for example, our migratory songbirds, as well as resident animals, are being killed by deadly pesticides that have been outlawed in this country but are still in use in many parts of the world. These are pesticides that are being used in these countries to produce the food that is imported into the United States.

Thus, the real price that we are paying for cheap food and for having fresh produce out of season at our local grocery stores may be a dead Bobolink.

....We can demand stronger oversight by government agencies that are supposed to look our for our welfare, but that, in the last seven years, have turned a blind eye, assuming that "the market" would police itself. We can demand that our government, in forming trade pacts with other nations, take safety (our own as well as those who are the producers) into consideration, and not just how much money it will make for their political supporters.

All of this is hard work and requires a willingness to accept responsibility for our actions on a global level. I think the Bobolinks, Barn Swallows, and Eastern Kingbirds are worth it.

And with these toxins changing the chemical balance in living creatures, could they also be changing the way the birds sing? Environmental News reported on this with their story, "Estrogenic chemicals change birds' tunes," highlighting a sobering research report.

Both natural and synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen can change how male birds sing by enlarging sections of their brains responsible for creating songs. Researchers have taken these findings to the field for the first time, showing that the more complex songs these birds sing attract more females. But the males' immune systems and their overall reproductive success may be compromised by exposure to the contaminants

You might consider buying Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song, before it's too late to enjoy the "real thing." (And I don't mean Coca Cola...)

Consider also, what you purchase to eat and where you purchase it. Make it local. Make it organic. Demand "Country of Origin labeling" on ALL food products. Require the same Environmental standards for American companies doing business overseas as they are required to do so here. Voice out your concern with your elected officials over trade agreements that don't take into account the safety of all concerned, including bird and other God given gifts of nature.

Drink shade grown coffee. (Two of my favorites, Santa Barbara Roasting Company here in Santa Barbara and Caffe Appassionato in the Seattle area)

As Scout put it, it really "is a sin to kill a Mockingbird." But really, isn't it really a sin to kill off any bird that brings such joyful music into a steadily increasing dark and corporate driven world?

Time to stop and listen. Enjoy...and do something.

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The US is a pesticide culture. While we ponder songbirds I think we have to consider the chemicals we knowingly put in our front yards.

We know pesticides are bad for pets and people. It says so right on the little yellow sign Scott's sticks in the lawn after a visit. In my opinion, pesticide use should be weighed against potential benefits. When the benefits are purely cosmetic or convenience it's much more difficult to justify the health risks. Many towns in Canada have outlawed lawn pesticide use in any form. What's taking the US so long?

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