I took a short detour on my way to work this morning and checked Deming Way for returning Dickcissels. Almost immediately, I saw and heard several singing from atop small trees along the road. The sight and sound sent my thoughts racing about their future. Though I was glad to see them, in a way I almost wished that they weren't there.
Monitoring this particular parcel of land over the past few years evokes mixed emotions. Just as any community would be, Middleton's citizens possess great pride over their ever-expanding corporate commerceland - signaling healthy economic growth, which means more jobs. But I also take note of the looming eventuality that these Dickcissels face finding another tract of land to build nests, raise young and belt out their song...sooner rather than later.
Lot by lot, what was once neglected farmland was ultimately sold and slowly converted to leased corporate buildings, some of which are presently empty, but no doubt...people will eventually fill them. A small portion of the habitat running along the stream will be preserved, but it won't be enough to support Dickcissel populations of the past.
Three years ago I estimated the Dickcissel population to exceed 50 pair along Deming Way, but many of the fields they used are now gone. This spring many of the returning Dickcissels have discovered concrete in place of what they once considered a home. I wonder...where will they go now? You might wonder what we have chosen to replace these fields...here's one example of a building constructed on the southeast parcel, ironically named “Discovery Springs.”
Like it or not, good or bad, for better or worse, this is habitat fragmentation and one of the primary causes in the decline of bird populations. Less habitat equals fewer birds - it's purely mathematical. The future of such neat grassland species ultimately comes down to a question of what we choose to value – buildings or birds? I'm certainly in no place to pass judgment on anyone stating the former because the building where I work was most likely part of this same farmland over a decade ago. But the nagging questions will continue to reverberate in my mind...what do we leave the birds with? Does it matter? Does what we do with the land matter more than having Dickcissels (and other grassland birds) around?
As I watched and listened to their trademark grassland song, I wished I could tell the birds that they should abandon their efforts along Deming Way - perhaps in favor of the Pheasant Branch prairie restoration project just a few miles northeast. Sadly, most will stay and raise families this summer and some will perish at the hand of our steady progress. No doubt, some have probably discovered the relatively new sanctuary at Pheasant Branch. I remain hopeful that more birds will find it, but I do grow tired at the sentiment of “get out of my way.”
Dickcissel images © 2006 Mike McDowell