The Birds and the Bees

by Lauren Watkins about a year ago in habitat

And How Their Population Is Being Destroyed by Humans

The Birds and the Bees

According to surveys and research by many different scientists, pesticides can severely affect the population of various species of birds. For example, pesticides like neonics and organophosphates, are direct factors that can alter the bird population. DDT had a significant effect on eagles and fish in the 20th century. But, as a result, Rachel Carson brought the epidemic to the public’s attention by publishing her book, Silent Spring. After these factors were discovered/publicized, the production of the harmful pesticides reduced massively, eventually diminishing to nothing; this led to the flourishing of bird and other animal populations.

Neonicotinoids and organophosphates are two of the most common types of pesticides that are used on over 100 different types of crops (including wheat and canola), and are found in over a dozen of commercial crops. Neonics are typically applied to seeds of crops before they’re planted in the ground, whereas organophosphates are applied in small granules. Both pesticides, though, are widely known to be deadly for birds when consumed in large amounts. Christy Morrissey, a biologist at the University of Saskatchewan, performed a study on how smaller amounts of each pesticide affected the population of birds. Morrissey and her colleagues took three groups of white-crowned sparrows--a common migratory songbird found throughout North America--and exposed each group to either a small does of neonic pesticide, a slightly larger does of neonic pesticide, or dose at all. The results were substantial; after three days, the birds who were given the smaller dosage had lost 17 percent of their weight, and the birds with the higher dosage had lost 25 percent of their weight. “That’s a lot; at that point, those birds were on life support,” Morrissey states. For organophosphates, the birds that were exposed to this pesticide maintained their weight, but became disoriented. Both the high-dosage birds and the low-dosage birds lost all orientation and didn’t get it back after the tests. Different from the organophosphates, the birds exposed to neonics had lost some orientation, but got it back after the tests. A 2016 survey of the migratory songbird population shows a 1.5 billion decline in birds. Morrissey suggests that these common pesticides are a main reason why. The pesticides are often applied just as the birds are increasing their food intake in preparation for migration, so when the birds start stocking up, they’re ingesting way more pesticides than they should be. As well as birds, these pesticides have also been proven as a main factor in the decline of bee populations. As a result of this, Health Canada has debated the ban of neonics used in Morrissey’s study; the European Union strictly regulates its use.

Another main pesticide that showed significant effects on birds (and fish) is DDT. DDT was an insecticide primarily used in World War II through the 1970s. It was considered to be one of the best-known artificially manufactured pesticides ever. Before DDT was created, farmers used arsenicals to control insects and other pests. DDT (which acts as a nerve gas on insects), was cheaper and more effective than the arsenicals. It was used to eliminate insect populations that carried diseases, like typhus and malaria, soldiers traveling through Europe and Asia in World War II. DDT was also useful in preventing yellow fever, river blindness, elephantiasis, and the bubonic plague. In 1940, around the time that DDT was invented for World War II, signs indicated a steep decline in the population of Bald Eagles. Since then, the decline of the population of eagles became extreme. In 1782, when the Bald Eagle was named the national symbol of America, there were over 100,000 nesting Bald Eagles. In 1963, only 487 Bald Eagle nests remained, making it an endangered species on the brink of extinction. After hearing of its effects, Congress then passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited the killing, selling, or possession of any Bald Eagle. In 1962, they added the Golden Eagle to the amendment, making it the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. After DDT was used in the war, the residue would be washed away into the rivers nearby, where fish and other underwater species absorbed the chemical. The Eagles would eat the fish, getting the chemical into their systems. As a result, the Eagles would produced soft-shelled eggs, which prevented many eggs from hatching. Many eggshells were so thin that they would during incubation, or not hatch at all. The synthetic pesticide can contaminate the entire food chain, which destroys a lot of plant, aquatic, bird, and animal life. As well as birds and fish, DDT can affect humans as well; DDT links to breast cancer in women. DDT poisons the habitat and food supplies of large populations of plant, marine, bird, and animal life. In humans, where DDT's low solubility in water and high solubility in fat result in great bioconcentration, the primary danger lies in DDT's long-term effects. In 1987, the U.S. EPA classified DDT as a B2 carcinogen, which is a classification that states DDT is a "probable human carcinogen." That type of classification is based mostly on the presence of liver tumors in various medical studies conducted over the years. DDT is also classified as "moderately hazardous” by the World Health Organization and "moderately toxic" by the U.S. National Toxicological Program. Overall, it’s safe to say that DDT is extremely harmful to not only birds and other wildlife, but humans as well.

Thankfully, marine biologist, Rachel Carson, published a book, named Silent Spring, and the production of DDT ended soon after the publication.

The publication of American biologist Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 was primarily responsible for raising public consciousness in the United States about the ecological threat posed by DDT and other pesticides. The book was published during the heart of the counterculture movement, which helped the popularity of the book grow immensely; many counterculture members were very earth-conscious, trying to help the environment as much as they could. The theme of Silent Spring is the interdependence of life on Earth, and that polluting the Earth with pesticides and other toxic chemicals can result in severe consequences. The book exposes the effects that DDT, as well as many other pesticides, have on the population of birds, fish, and other important wildlife. Carson advocated for the use of pesticides in a controlled environment, as well as a full understanding of their consequences and how to prevent the harm they have the potential to cause. The publication of Silent Spring caused an uproar amongst the people of America. Many people (mostly young counterculture members) became concerned with the environmental effects of pesticides, and turned to the government to find a better alternative. As a result, the book brought about discussion that eventually led to policies protecting our animals, air, water, and, most importantly, our health and safety.

In conclusion, it must be known that the pesticides we use to ‘protect’ our crops, can be extremely harmful to the environment, including birds and other wildlife. If we aren’t cautious about what we put into the world, we can harm not only the environment surrounding us, but ourselves as well.

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Lauren Watkins

A high school student looking to make money by doing the only thing she’s good at: writing.

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