Noticing fewer birds? Wildfire smoke may be affecting birds health and migration

Noticing fewer birds? Wildfire smoke may be affecting birds health and migration
WatchMany backyard birders are noticing fewer birds at their feeders. Experts say wildfire smoke may actually be disrupting migration.

On the U.S. west coast, the wildfires rage on, leaving the entire west coast in the U.S. and Canada covered in smoke.

But at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, one of the birding hot spots in Greater Victoria, it’s the silence that’s haunting some.

“It’s definitely been quieter, not seeing the birds as much,” said Julia Dawson, who coordinates the volunteers at Swan Lake.

The usual locals like ducks and herons are still there, but backyard birders are reporting a sharp decline of songbirds.

And experts think the smoke is to blame.

“It is a major disruption in the balance,” said Ann Nightingale, a longtime volunteer with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory

“Hundreds of thousands of birds are passing over this area every night, and they are affected by smoke just the way we are. It makes it hard for them to breathe and they may have to reroute to get around the fire and smoky areas.”

Birds have highly sensitive respiratory systems. They don’t have a diaphragm, so they need more air than even we do.

“Populations of a lot of birds are just plummeting,” said Nightingale.

“The last thing we need is more environmental disasters like we’re seeing right now.”

You’ve likely heard of canaries in a coal mine. They were brought into mines in the 20th century to detect toxic gases.

Now researchers say the missing songbirds seem to be playing a similar role for a planet on fire.

“I could say it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands of birds,” said Martha Desmon, associate professor, Department of Fishery and Wildlife Sciences at New Mexico State University.

Just east of California, where many of the wildfires are burning, in New Mexico, birds are dropping dead in alarming numbers.

And while it’s not clear what environmental change is killing them, whether it’s the drought, wildfire smoke or a cold snap last week, researchers say either way that the root of the problem it’s climate change.

“The biggest concern is that this isn’t a one-time thing. We’re seeing these fires year after year,” said Nightingale.

The smoke that’s settled across most of B.C. is supposed to lift Friday.

“Make sure the birds have a nice fresh source of water in their yards. If it can be noisy water, that can be even more helpful because that does tend to attract birds,” suggested Nightingale.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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