“… divorce, flee, fail to reproduce due to suburban sprawl.”


It sounds like a headline from “People” magazine. It’s found on a story about a recent scientific paper on birds.


The paper says we’re changing appearance of our landscape so much, so fast, that some bird species cannot cope. They abandon mates. They are forced from first-choice habitat to something lesser. Reproduction and survival suffer.


The header is on the web page of ScienceDaily. The story covers research published in  December by Prof. John Marzluff of the University of Washington. He heads the department of environmental and forest sciences there.


The study is about change. Ongoing for 10 years, it was conducted in the Seattle area. Birds shy by nature or needing intact, undisturbed woodland had the divorce-flee-reproductive issues.


They abandoned mates when stressed, settling for lesser nesting habitat when conditions prompted a move. In some cases, finding a new nesting site once breeding season was underway resulted in loss of that season. If a bird lives only two or three years, loss of one breeding season is a big loss.


All was not gloom: four of the six species studied in Seattle did just fine. Call them yard birds, not shy, adjusted to us.


Here, familiar metro-area bird species also appear to be doing well with us as neighbors. Evidence can be seen at your bird feeders and mine, at the nest boxes birders tend. Eastern Bluebirds, tree swallows, house wrens, chickadees, robins, those species and others appear to be doing well. 


Ornithologists say that cardinals are here because of us (weather and feeders).


All is not gloom: many of our most familiar metro-area bird species are doing just fine with us as neighbors. Evidence can be seen at your bird feeders and mine, at the nest boxes birders tend. Eastern Bluebirds, tree swallows, house wrens, chickadees, those species and others appear to be doing well. (Enjoy them.)


(The caveat is that for many reasons many bird species populations are in decline, best intentions and observations to the contrary.)


Is change an issue here? Look around. Even urban tear-downs change the landscape. Tear-downs? New housing developments? The mushroom-like appearance of apartments and condos on any piece of empty land? Not a chance it doesn’t matter.


My favorite example is sale last year of 80 acres of undeveloped land, home to prairie, woods, ponds, wetlands, and lakeshore. The land is a mile from our house. With the permission of the now-deceased owner, I birded there for a decade.


Plan was for homes on the prairie, in the woods, and along the lakeshore. The city council modified the developer’s request for lot approval, reducing the number, protecting more of the wooded land. Another developer could have asked to cover many acres with homes. This one opted for fewer than a dozen. But, then, you don’t build multi-million-dollar homes elbow-to-elbow.


Has this project changed bird populations? Probably. I’d have to trespass to be certain. I know thickets used by wrens and chickadees are gone, woodpecker nesting trees came down, the site where woodcock displayed each spring is now a driveway. Nest boxes used by mergansers and ducks were in the way.


Thankfully, we live in city/county/state where parks and land reserves have importance. We’re fortunate. We’re more likely to keep the land if we appreciate it. That might give pause if some day a unit of government decides to privatize public land, to give park responsibility to a corporation. There’s a nightmare for you. (There are Congressmen who currently have such ideas for national parks.)


Use and cherish what we have. It’s an important defense against change.


Go outside and play.