Thursday, April 18, 2013

Goings and Comings

Luna: Is she half full or half empty? Is she half anything?

I was sitting on the deck this evening, our warmest night of the year, hoping to hear the high-pitched calls of migrating birds. They’re up there and they’re moving. Tonight they had an extra boost from the southerly winds, and a bit of moonlight to help with navigation.
The clouds parted long enough for me to get a quick peak at Luna, moving through her orbit as she always does. The calendar said it would be a half moon tonight.
(Wrong. It’s a quarter moon. What we call a full moon is really only a half. The side we don’t see—the dark side—is where all the parties are. Picky, picky. Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous.)
And I thought about the migrating birds, distracted by the zillions of useless lights blazing away in our cities; buildings all lit because people with little or no concern for migrating birds (to say nothing of energy consumption) think lighted buildings are attractive.
How many birds die in collision with lighted buildings is a subject of much debate. Many hundreds of thousands is a good guess. I’ve seen estimates as high as 80 million birds dead in a single year. Birds navigate by the stars and as they descend from their migration altitudes, lighted buildings and towers distract them. If they don’t fly into the building they’ll often flutter around, like a moth attracted to a flame, and die of exhaustion.
With the increase of wind turbines we can only be sure that hundreds of thousands of more birds will die as we feed our insatiable appetite for electricity. We’ll probably never have an accurate count of deaths by turbine because when a bird that weighs 1.5 ounces gets hit by a turbine blade with a tip speed of 130 miles per hour, well, there’s not much left to pick up and count.

Pine Siskins stop for a drink on their way north

Earlier in the day I watched a pair of Pine Siskins that have spent the past couple of days fattening at our feeders. This bird is a rarity in winter for us, so to have them here at this time of the year means the pair must have been farther south and are headed to the tundra, their natural habitat. Along with the siskins was a Chipping Sparrow, a regular summer resident who probably spent the winter in the balmy south and is now back for a few months.

A Chipping Sparrow, back from its winter in the south

Coming and going—in spite of all we humans do to impede their efforts the birds survive.

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