People and Birds, Living Together, in One Big World
Sometimes people don’t realize just how important birds are to their daily lives. Birds visit their backyard feeders and provide endless entertainment, but there’s a lot more to birds than it seems. The Birding Effect is the impact birds have on our everyday lives that we don’t even realize. It’s everything from the coffee you drink to the ways birds help in food production and disease and insect control. Let’s take a closer look at the many benefits of birds in our daily lives!
Ecosystem Services: Birds Are Crucial to Our World
In addition to being an entertaining part of your backyard, birds are an essential part of every ecosystem in which they are natively present. There are about 10,000 different bird species, and you can find them on every continent. The only life forms that are more globally distributed are microscopic! “Ecosystem services” is a helpful term for describing the ways in which birds contribute to the health and well-being of their local environment. These include their contributions for us. For example, birds are major pollinators (over 900 bird species are pollinators). Without pollination, plants would not be able to produce many of our foods and flowers. Birds make our world a more vibrant place!
Every bird plays its own little role in the health of its ecosystem. Even the Blue Jay, one of the least appreciated backyard birds, plays a crucial role in the long-term vitality of forests. Blue Jays stash seeds for future meals as a survival tactic for long, cold winters. But they don’t always remember where they hid them! This practice, known as caching, contributes to the sustainability of forests because the forgotten seeds become the saplings of next year. Blue Jays, which many birders wish they would never see, play a crucial role in their ecosystems.
Vineyards & Agriculture: Birds Keep the Wine Flowing
Do you like wine? Did you know that birds even play a role in protecting vineyards from deadly diseases? Western Bluebirds have saved California organic wine producers from insect-borne grapevine disease. Growers put up hundreds of nest boxes to attract the bluebirds, and thanks to their voracious appetites, bluebird parents fed thousands of insects to their young. This saved the vines from disaster and provided little nestlings with crucial protein. Now there’s something to toast!
Other insect-eating birds have saved orchards, cranberry bogs, potato and wheat fields, and even lumber forests. Having insect-eating backyard birds, such as bluebirds and chickadees, is a great way to reduce or even eliminate the need for harmful chemicals in your garden. Commonly used crop insecticides have been shown to be dangerous for birds. But birds are their own form of insecticide—they feed thousands of bugs to their growing nestlings. By using fewer pesticides and allowing some bugs to live, birds receive a healthy source of protein. As bird populations grow, they could reduce or even eliminate the need for pesticides.
Disease Control: Healthy Humans Need Healthy Birds
As an animal lover, seeing roadkill probably makes you sad. Nobody likes to see dead animals, but about 1 million deer are hit by cars each year—not to mention the multitude of squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and opossums. If their carcasses are not dealt with promptly, diseases can spread to people. Scavenger birds provide critical disease control. They indiscriminately consume dead carcasses and roadside trash. They also eat other organic waste that would otherwise accumulate in densely populated areas.
Even non-scavenging birds help keep humans healthy. Ducks eat mosquito larvae found in ponds. By checking the often explosive growth of the mosquito population, ducks reduce the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria. Birds really are nature’s sanitation service!
Bird-Friendly Coffee: Good for Birds, Healthy for Farmers, Delicious for Coffee Lovers
Even your morning cup of coffee can have a positive (or negative) effect on birds. Originally, when the Dutch introduced coffee to the Americas in the 1700s, coffee was grown as a ground crop under a thick tree canopy. The coffee plant took to this arrangement quite naturally and became a signature crop for the Columbian region.
However, starting in the 1970s, new varieties of sun-grown coffee were introduced. 60 percent of the coffee-growing lands in Columbia were cleared of forest. This is terrible for migrating Neotropical birds because their wintering habitat has been largely destroyed. But this is also terrible for the local farmers since the lack of mountainside trees increases mudslides, and chemical runoff pollutes the local water supply.
Shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee is an important step in improving the lives of migratory birds and local farmers. Farmers and locals are healthier; they don’t have to use as many chemicals because the natural leaf litter of the forest provides much of the necessary fertilizer. Meanwhile, migratory Neotropical birds have more areas to spend their winters in. The coffee tastes better, and both the farmers and birds are healthier! Supporting shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee is a great way to help people and birds live in harmony, mutually benefiting from The Birding Effect.
Birds Roost (and Give the Economy a Boost!)
Birds may not make any money themselves, but they actually boost the economy in multiple ways. There are numerous birding festivals all around the country each year, and thousands of people travel to see amazing avians while contributing vital resources to local economies. One tourism researcher calculated the value of birding tourism at $26 million in the Lake Erie region of Ohio alone! Birding tourists support local restaurants and inns, contributing to the livelihood of cooks, accountants, maids, and more.
Additionally, bird watchers purchase binoculars, bird feeders, books, and many other items in pursuing their hobby while helping the birds we all love. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculated that birders spend around $12 billion on travel annually and $24 billion on birding-related items. This spending generates $82 billion in output in the broader economy, providing jobs for 671,000 people and supporting state and federal government services with $10 billion in additional revenue. Birds really do benefit everyone in the community!
People and Birds, Living Together, In One Big World
Even though we might not notice them and often overlook their contributions, birds are a crucial part of our world. Without birds, everything from food and wine to construction lumber and flowers would be difficult to produce; birds keep our ecosystems functioning, help us stay healthy, and contribute jobs for hundreds of thousands in our communities. We need birds, and birds need us! People and birds form an intricate ecological symbiosis, an interdependent relationship that benefits us both.
Next time you see birds in your backyard, just think about how much they do for you—and how much more you could do for them! Whether it’s switching up your morning caffeine boost or adding an additional bird feeder or two, helping birds always benefits you and others. Get your children or grandchildren involved too, because it’s never too early to teach kids about the wonderful importance of birds in their lives!
The Birding Effect is about people and birds, living together, in one big world. Birds need you, and understanding The Birding Effect is a beautiful way to appreciate birds every day.