Contributed by Dessi SIEBURTH
Many people don’t realize that there are 500 different species of birds in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is unique because it offers a wide range of habitats to birds such as mountains, deserts, beaches and wetlands. The Crescenta Valley, with its oaks and proximity to the mountains, supports many species of birds. But the number of many local birds, such as white-crowned sparrows, yellow warblers and barn owls, are declining due in part to the impact of humans. Birds lose their habitat because of housing development and climate change. Many birds in local neighborhoods get killed by cats, window crashes or rat poison. But people can help the birds by doing a few simple things to their home and backyard to make the Crescenta Valley a safer environment for birds.
Our cuddly kitties are the No. 1 predator of birds. Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that cats kill approximately 2.5 billion birds and 12 billion mammals each year in the United States. Birds and other wildlife are safer when cats are kept inside. A cat’s natural instinct is to hunt and, even if it is well fed, it will still kill. Cats that are kept indoors will usually live longer and are less prone to fleas, mites and diseases.
Feral cats are also a problem for birds. If a feral cat is spotted, it is recommended that the local shelter be called so professionals can trap and neuter it. Ultimately, keeping pet cats indoors helps both the birds and the cats.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that about 1 billion birds are killed every year from flying into windows. Windows are highly reflective and birds may not see them if they are reflecting trees and sky. Birds can fly extremely fast, some reaching speeds up to 200 miles per hour. But they are fragile because of their hollow bones and when they hit a window, they usually break their necks or injure their wings. There are things that can be done to help prevent window collisions. For example, simply make cut outs of hawk shapes and paste them to a window. Just draw the outline of a hawk on black paper, cut it out and tape it to the window. Smaller birds are afraid of larger predators.
Also move bird feeders away from windows so birds have space to fly away safely when startled. Many birds could be saved by using these simple solutions.
Rat poison is another big threat to birds. It takes a rat four to 10 days to die after ingesting the poison. But live rats are one of the main sources of food for hawks and owls. If owls and hawks eat the poisoned rats they die from internal bleeding. A study by the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme in England found that 91% of dead barn owls had high levels of rat poison in them. Even poisoned dead rats are a threat to birds because birds eat the insects that decompose dead rats. When owls are killed by poison, the rat population is increased as the average owl eats up to 1,000 rats a year. To conquer rat issues, consider putting out traps and sealing all holes in the house. This can make a positive difference for birds and help decrease the rat population by avoiding the use of poison.
Recent decades have seen the decline of many bird species in the United States and around the world. The Crescenta Valley is no exception. We need to help the birds starting in our own neighborhood. Keep cats indoors, prevent collisions with windows, and don’t use rat poisoning! The birds will thank you.
Dessi Sieburth is a Montrose resident and a seventh grader at St. Elizabeth School in Altadena. He has been birdwatching and activily helping birds since he was 8 years old. He has given many presentations about bird conservation to schools. He advocated for Prop AB 711 which bans lead for hunting in California to save the the California Condor. He also participated in saving the Hahamongna Watershed in La Cañada which is home to an engagered bird called the
“Least” Bell’s Vireo.