Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Birds

Like almost every animal in Maine, birds have been sorely used by humans. Shore birds especially, and in the 19th century especially, suffered from our basic need for eggs and meat and our frivolous need for feathers. The wild turkey was nearly hunted out (but is now making a strong comeback). But there never was a major industry involved, no puffin weirs, no sea gull canneries, no teal trawlers. Birds are neither so delectable nor so numerous. No, Maine birds endured, and continue to endure, a different kind of suffering, nagging and constant, but one that will ultimately be just as destructive if we don’t change our ways.
Out of the 300 or so species of birds found in Maine, a third are in some present danger. As we develop the coasts, the salt marshes fill in, or sink, or silt up, and the ducks and wading birds leave, and we lose stopover habitat. We put in docks and houses on the lake shores, and the loons lose their life-long nesting sites. We use pesticides and the bald eagle eggs won’t hatch. We burn coal, and the mercury byproducts enter the fish that the diving and wading birds depend on. We drive motorboats across swimming fowl, sometimes deliberately for the “sport of it.” We use lead fishing sinkers; the loons mistake them for pebbles and are poisoned. We continue to pump great quantities of carbon dioxide into the air, and the warming climate changes habitat ranges, food supplies and migratory stopovers. Every bird species seems like a canary in a coal mine.
       I’m no serious birder.  My life-list consists of a small piece of paper stuck in Sibley’s Guide to Birds, a list of some twenty shore birds compiled in the first heady months of owning a house on the coast, a list not touched in 15 years.  Yet I can’t imagine the Maine landscape without its birds.


Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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