Gazette’s Hampshire Life: Development of Forests and Open Fields Impacts Birds

This week’s Hampshire Life discusses the impact of development on birds in “Birding: Not just an idle pastime”

This year, the U.S. Geological Survey’s annual Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count both indicated a decline in bird numbers…

According to a 2003 Mass Audubon report, development in the state ate up 40 acres of land per day between 1985 and 1999. That’s 31 acres of forest, seven acres of agricultural land and two acres of open space developed each day during that period. And the pace isn’t exactly slowing down.

The results are widespread. Forest becomes fragmented — pockets of trees rather than extensive contiguous ecosystems. There are more roads. Bird predators like house cats, raccoons and skunks tend to thrive in proximity to human beings.

But Petersen [Wayne R. Petersen, the director of Massachusetts Important Bird Areas Program] cautions against drawing simplistic conclusions from that kind of data. Fragmentation, for example, doesn’t harm all birds and can even encourage some. One of the species that has profited from forest fragmentation is the brown-headed cowbird.

Formerly denizens of the prairies, cowbirds can now be observed practically throughout the United States. They’re brood parasites — the female lays her eggs in the nests of other birds…

Cowbirds are historically predisposed to open spaces, and forest fragmentation has enabled them to thrive in New England forests and gain access to the many songbirds that live there.

“This has had a highly pernicious effect on songbird populations,” says Petersen…

“The more involved that we get, the more likely we are to put information out there about issues like conservation and protection,” says [birdwatcher Betsy] Higgins.

See also:

Topographical Map Shows How Kohl Condo Proposal Will Eat Into a Rare Stand of Mature Trees in Downtown
We have enlisted OLIVER, The MassGIS Online Data Viewer, to show just how rare and precious the woods behind North Street are in downtown Northampton. These woods are part of Kohl Construction’s proposed 5.49 acre condo site. The plan calls for 31 units and 66 parking spaces, plus access roads (see the plans).

The solid green areas represent woodland:

Pictures of Kohl Construction’s Condo Plans

The Environment Says: The Woods Are Lovely When They’re Dark and Deep
Although nighttime lighting has seldom been a priority of environmentalists–one of whom described it to me recently as a “soft” issue–bad or unnecessary lighting not only wastes billions of dollars’ worth of energy every year but also can wreak havoc on ecosystems… Artificial light can be especially lethal to insects. Gerhard Eisenbeis, a German entomologist, has written that outdoor lighting can have a “vacuum cleaner” effect on local insect populations, causing large numbers to be “sucked out of habitat.” An earlier German study showed that new, brightly lit gas stations initially attracted large numbers of insects, but that the numbers fell rapidly after two years, presumably because local populations were decimated. One of the several ways in which light fixtures kill insects is by causing them to rest on the ground or in vegetation, where they become easy prey…

Calvin Coolidge: Forest Protection is a Sacred Trust
“We have too freely spent the rich and magnificent gift that Nature bestowed on us. In our eagerness to use that gift we have stripped our forests…

“Our children are dependent on our course. We are bound by a solemn obligation from which no evasion and no subterfuge will relieve us. Unless we fulfill our sacred responsibility to unborn generations, unless we use with gratitude and restraint the generous and kindly gifts of Divine Providence we shall prove ourselves unworthy guardians of a heritage we hold in trust.”

Poem: “We Have Faith”