Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't shoot.

"Don't shoot please." I said to the young boy with his BB gun trained on a small bird. He stopped and looked at me. "Can we talk for a couple of minutes? " I said and he just sort of nodded.

You may not believe this but when I was your age we would wake up in the morning to the sounds of hundreds of birds. We called it The Dawn Chorus and sometimes we actually got annoyed at them, it could be so loud. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of different birds singing seemingly trying to outdo each other. There were Larks, Flycatchers, Chickadees, Wrens, Thrushes, Waxwings, Warblers, Finches, Blackbirds, Bluebirds, Tanagers, Orioles, Grosbeaks, Sparrows, Starlings, Swallows, Jays, Nuthatch, Robins, Hummingbirds, Cardinals, Buntings, Goldfinch, and a whole bunch more.

I cannot remember the last time that I saw many of these birds. Some may already be extinct, certainly they are all greatly reduced in number and range. Even the common sparrow of which there must have been millions or even billions has been declared almost extinct in parts of the United Kingdom and I can't recall seeing one for years here in the US.

Yours may be the last generation to see birds. I daresay some of the tougher more commom ones like the Grackles and Crows will survive for a while longer, but even you may not get to see many of the brightly colored small perching songbirds that I mentioned.

You may wonder where they have gone. No, they were not shot by small boys with BB guns. Most have been killed by insecticides that are produced by giant chemical companies.

When I was a child we had an "Insecticide" called birds. Birds ate insects, but not all of them, there is a balance in nature. Surely the birds are not intelligent enough to know that if they eat every last insect there will be nothing for breakfast tomorrow! But sometimes it seems that way.

Every once in a while there would be an outbreak of insects that even the birds could not keep up with. Nature balanced this situation too. When there was a plague of insects they would eat up all the food - and die. Of course that was not a satisfactory balance for farmers!

So the Chemical Companies came up with poisons to kill the insects. These were of course called Insecticides. They worked well. Unfortunately there were now many dead insects laying around on the ground and this was of course a bonanza for the birds. Instead of having to fly from plant to plant and hop from leaf to leaf to eat their meal of insects all they had to do was eat them up right off of the ground.

The manufacturers assured us that the insecticides were not toxic to humans, or pets, or birds, or fish, or you name it. And we believed them!! But of course they were. A bird cannot eat hundreds of dead insects that died by ingesting poison and not be affected. Some died right there and then, others were affected in other ways such as changing their ability to mate, changing their sex, reducing the number of their offspring and the offspring's viability. The eggs of some birds were so thin that they broke when the females sat on them. Other problems gradually reduced the numbers of birds. So of course with less birds to keep their numbers down insects proliferated.

This was a huge bonanza for the chemical companies who were now "Forced" to produce more insecticides.

Soon the insects became immune to the poisons. No problem. More and stronger insecticdes came out. Now they were not just used when insects were a problem they were used even before there was a problem - "Just in case", or "To prevent an outbreak from happening."

Before the advent of insecticides there was never a real problem with insects. Nature had natural balances. There were the birds. There were also "Good" insects that ate "Bad" insects and doubtless there were other natural controls. Yes sometimes there would be an outbreak that would very costly to farmers, but insecticides are costly too. If you have an insect problem every 10 years would it cost more than buying and applying insecticides for 10 years?

In my garden if I see a larger than usual number of insects like Japanese beetles or caterpillars I take a small can, put an inch or two of water in it and a few drops of cooking oil on top of the water (Not engine oil) then I walk around picking off the offeneding insects and dropping them into the can where they quickly drown. In my case I then give the insects to my chickens who greatly appreciate them but you could just drop them onto your bird table - you do have a table for feeding the birds right?

There are still some birds around, mostly Blackbirds, Grackles and Crows and there is still the occasional songbird to be seen. But not many.

So, the insecticides have killed off our bird population. The insecticdes, weedkillers and fertilizers that we put onto our lawns and garden wash into the rivers and then into the Bay where it kills our underwater grasses and our fish (Fish are highly susceptible to insecticides and weedkillers.)

I doubt if they are doing us any good either. Our children seem to suffer from an unusually large number of ailments that I don't remember when I was a kid such as asthma, ADHD, ear infections, etc.

So to reiterate, they kill birds, fish and maybe even us, but they don't kill insects!!

How do insects overcome poisons? It is a simple matter of selection. Insects have very short life cycles. There can be several generations in a single season. This is what can happen. The poison is sprayed. A few insects don't die, maybe ones on the outside of the spray area get a smaller dose. Most die, some don't. The ones that survive mate. Some of their offspring are more resistant to the poison. Next spray cycle the same thing happens, a few of the more resistant insects survive. Next time even more. Only the ones that are resistant survive to breed, the others die. Each time the survivors are more and more resistant and there are more and more of them. Soon, very soon, it is time to use heavier doses to kill the insects. This also kills more birds - our natural "insecticide" and more fish and makes us and our children sicker.

But again of course that is fine with the Chemical Companies because they have armys of people producing more and stronger and more varied poisons. At higher prices and greater profits.

The American Consumer helps the Chemical companies out because they will only purchase "Perfect" fruits and vegtables, anything with a blemish is rejected. So the farmer is forced to use more and more poisons to be sure that there are NO apples, or beans, or squash with the slightest blemish on them or we won't buy them.

Consider my feelings on this - if an insect does not want to take a bite out of that apple or tomato why should I want to? Apparently the insect finds the fruit or vegetable unappetising, because it has been sprayed with poison, or all the insects that would bite it are dead from the poison. Now I am going to eat what the insect didn't or couldn't eat?

Just saying.

Anyway please don't shoot that bird.

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