Like food in winter, water is in high demand but in short supply. Since their typical water sources ponds, streams and rivers are frozen over, birds often have to search for fresh water. You can help these desperate birds quench their thirst by placing a heated birdbath in your backyard. And, if you already have an unheated birdbath, you can place a Birdbath deicer at the bottom of your basin.
This heating element is critical because it prevents the water from freezing, allowing the birds to sip on some crisp and cold water. Once a flock of birds identify a safe and secure water source in your yard, you'll have a lot of feathered friends visiting you in the coming months.
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Updated: Z. By: Menards. Birds are masters of flight. Some species migrate thousands of miles each year Arctic terns, red knots , while others remain in the same locality year-round blue jays, northern cardinals. Some species spend months at a time on the wing European swifts , while other species can barely fly turkeys , and still others are completely incapable of flight kiwis, emus, penguins.
The tremendous diversity of birds contributes to their importance within ecosystems.
Ecosystem services refer to the benefits that humans derive from the natural world, and birds are key players in providing many of these benefits. Ecosystem services provided by birds can be broadly grouped into four categories: provisioning services, regulating services, supporting services, and cultural services. Provisioning services are easily understood: these are the "commodities" that can be extracted from natural environments.
Wild birds are or were a source of game meat, down, and guano. In less developed regions, however, wild birds are still important sources of raw materials. Regulating services include activities such as pollinating plants, scavenging carcasses, controlling populations of pest species, and dispersing seeds. Pest control. Birds reduce the destructive impacts of various pest species. Two examples illustrate this point: consumption of spruce budworms by songbirds and raptor impacts on rodents. Spruce budworms are the caterpillars of moths in the genus Choristoneura.
These caterpillars are destructive insects that feed on fir and spruce trees; in large numbers they cause extensive economic damage by defoliating — and sometimes killing — trees. Rodents are favored prey of raptors owls, hawks, etc. Over its lifetime, a barn owl eats approximately 11, mice — mice that would consume 13 tons of crops.
Raptors do not actually have to kill the animals to reduce depredations by rodents.
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Research with owls trained to fly over but not hunt in areas occupied by wild gerbils showed that the presence of owls reduced gerbil activity and the amount of food consumed by the gerbils. For many reasons, it is generally advantageous for seeds to be removed from the immediate vicinity of the parent plant prior to germination.
The production of fleshy fruits, such as berries, is one tactic that plants have evolved to co-opt animals for this important task. Simply put, a fruit is a bribe. The sweet or oily pulp encourages consumption, and the seeds, provided they are not crushed during eating, travel unscathed through the animal's gut and pass out with the feces nutrients for the germinating seed! Carrion birds vultures, buzzards, condors, etc. When animals die intact from disease, drowning, etc.
Vultures are particularly valuable as carrion birds because they feed on carcasses that are in a more advanced state of decay than other scavengers will handle. A vulture's extremely acidic gut secretions destroy many of the bacteria, as well as bacterial spores and toxins, associated with rotting meat, and pathogenic bacteria that may have been the cause of death, such as anthrax, are also destroyed.
Simple reduction of the number of carcasses available to other scavengers also has benefits. Unintentional poisoning of vultures resulted in an increase in rabies and possibly an outbreak of bubonic plague in India. Consequently, the loss of vultures has been associated with an increase in human rabies deaths spread by feral dogs and may be responsible for an outbreak of plague spread by rats.
Supporting services include processes such as nutrient cycling, soil formation, and ecosystem engineering. As one might imagine, an exact count of the number of individual birds on the planet is impossible to come by. However, it is clear that birds are abundant; estimates place the number between billion and billion. Billions of birds consuming many billions of tons of food digest that food and transform it into simpler components.
Digestive wastes passed into the environment undergo further decomposition and become available to plants as soil nutrients. The feathers that birds molt and the inedible components they leave behind when feeding seed hulls, fur, bones, etc. This abundance of organic material enriches soils and contributes to the process of soil formation.
Mobile links. Additionally, birds are mobile links between systems, moving nutrients between different habitats and over great distances. During migration, food may not be fully processed until a bird is hundreds of miles from the place where the food was consumed. This tremendous mobility makes birds extremely important in global nutrient cycling as well as local nutrient cycling. Ecosystem engineers. Plants, fungi, and microbes, as well as animals, impart structure to their environments.
Birds act as ecosystem engineers through the construction of nests, tree holes, and burrows — structures that are used by other organisms when abandoned by birds. Cultural services encompass the place of birds in human society in art, religion, and leisure activities. From the sacred ibis of ancient Egypt to the doves, sparrows, and eagles prevalent in Christian theology, birds have long played a role in religious iconography.
In some traditions, birds are central characters. Among the Lenape Native American , for example, the sacrifice of Many-Colored Crow teaches the value of selflessness and service. In other traditions, birds are companions or guides. In Nordic mythology, Odin, the father of the gods, is accompanied by two ravens, Hugin Thought and Munin Memory ; the ravens fly out into the world each day and bring back all the news of what they have seen to Odin.
In still other traditions, birds serve as symbols. In ancient Greece, the phoenix symbolized renewal, while the owl — companion bird of the goddess Athena — embodied wisdom. The role of birds in religion may also be of a more practical nature, such as the sky burials or blood sacrifices practiced in some cultures. The Arts. For as long as humans have been creating art, birds have been providing inspiration. Birds are represented in paleolithic carvings and cave paintings.
Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks contain exquisite studies of bird wings that he drew during his investigations of flight. A few artists have devoted their lives to capturing birds on canvas. John James Audubon, the 19th century painter and namesake of the Audubon Society is likely the most famous of these. A double elephant folio a really BIG book - Leonardo DaVinci's bird wing study.
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In addition to being commemorated on canvas, birds have made their mark in literature. Birds are elemental characters in numerous poems Poe's The Raven , Keats' Ode to a Nightingale , and Henry's Pigeons , to name a few , serving as inspiration, symbol, and allegory. Leisure and tourism. The most easily economically quantified cultural services provided by birds are the leisure activities they support — hunting and birding — both of which support tourism, as people often travel specifically to engage in theses pastimes.
Sport Hunting. Birds hunted for sport include both terrestrial birds such as pheasant and grouse and waterfowl ducks and geese. For this reason, bird hunting in the United States is more accurately categorized as a cultural service leisure activity rather than a provisioning service supporting basic need for food. Bird Watching. The economic benefits of bird watching as recreation far outstrip the economic benefits of bird hunting.
In the United States in , 47 million people engaged in birding — most of them 41 million from their own homes. Though humanity derives great benefit and pleasure from birds, birds can cause economic harm. These "dis-services" include collisions with aircraft, befouling of public areas and bodies of water, spreading disease, and agricultural losses.
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Bird-plane collisions. The in famous incident now a major motion picture in which the pilots of US Airways Flight , Sullenberger and Skiles, made a forced landing on the Hudson River was precipitated by multiple bird strikes Canadian geese at low altitude. Birds as public nuisances and vectors of disease.
Where birds gather in large numbers, their feeding and excrement can damage the area and may pose health risks. Large congregations of ducks and geese in parks with ponds or other areas sporting grassy expanses with water, such as the manicured landscapes around many corporate buildings are an example of this. Defecation on land while feeding geese are the major culprits here creates odor and obstacle hazards on lawns and paths that reduce enjoyment of park-goers.
Defecation in or near the water contributes to nutrient loading that promotes algal blooms eutrophication that reduce water quality in ponds and lakes. Humans promote congregating behavior by feeding waterfowl. Fortunately, many municipalities are beginning to take steps to discourage the feeding of waterfowl. Transmission of disease is more likely when birds congregate. Some of the diseases carried by birds affect only other birds. Duck viral enteritis duck plague and avian botulism are examples of this type of disease.
Some diseases generally affect only other birds, but there is a possibility that they could become zoonotic and pass to humans. Bird flu is an example of this type of disease. Birds can also act as reservoirs for diseases that are vectored by parasites e. West Nile virus is an example of this type of disease. Bird damage in agricultural settings. The scarecrow as a popular symbol of farming suggests that birds are often viewed as being destructive to crops.
This is particularly true of fruit production. Efficacy of these methods varies greatly. Interestingly, most information concerning crop losses due to animal depredations come from surveys sent to farmers, as opposed to actual controlled experiments and measurements in the field. Birds viewed as detrimental to agriculture may or used to be hunted as vermin. Birds historically labeled as vermin include crows, ravens, starlings, and most raptors. Prior to their extinction, passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets were also considered vermin a label that contributed to their eventual extinction.
At one time, state and local governments paid bounties for species designated as vermin. Though many states still label certain species as vermin, and have hunting seasons for these species, the practice of paying bounties is in decline. Birds are largely protected from vermin hunting under the MBTA.
Nearly species of birds have gone extinct since the s.
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Problematic invasives are sometimes other bird species that compete with native birds, or plant species that displace the vegetation that native birds rely on. Most often, however, the invasive species that cause bird extinctions are introduced predators; among the worst offenders are domestic cats that become feral , red foxes, and brown tree snakes. Habitat loss. Habitat loss includes any mechanism by which habitat is rendered unsuitable for use by the bird species in question.
The why behind that statement is the topic for another blog. A century ago, commercial exploitation of birds for meat and feathers threatened many avian species.
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