Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Another Tick!

A few days ago, a Purple Gallinule was discovered near Burlington, Wisconsin. While this species would be a "life bird" for me, earning a view of it means driving 180 miles (approximately 3.5 hours roundtrip) and spending around $15.00 on gasoline. How critical or important is it to me that I see this bird? Well, not very.

With apologies to Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan, author of The Sixth Sense, I see dead birds all around me. According to David Allen Sibley's website, as many as 60 million birds die each year from being struck by automobiles. A casual bike ride along a country road can be a pretty sobering experience for the birder, especially during nesting season; the scale of this staggering number becomes evident in a personal way. Along roadsides I've seen slaughtered Barn Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Northern Flickers, Gray Catbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Indigo Buntings, American Robins, Eastern Kingbirds, and more. It's impossible to identify their small corpses when driving 60 miles per hour down the highway, but they are there.

A casual bike ride along a mile stretch of country road can yield up to a dozen recently killed birds. According to the Rough Guides travel book series there are 5.7 million miles of paved highways in the US. Sibley states over 8 million lane mile roads, ¾ of which are in rural areas where most birds are presumably killed. Bear in mind during nesting season, for every dead adult bird observed along the roadside may also translate to additional clutch or nestling losses. A road that slices through field or forest is habitat fragmentation and a source of mortality for all kinds of wild critters.

There's little doubt I could drive to Burlington and see the Purple Gallinule, and I'm sure I would thoroughly enjoy the 10 or minutes watching and possibly photographing it. But at what cost to the environment? Is there a better way to spend my time and money? Yes, there is! I'm going to resist the temptation to chase – an activity that doesn't directly benefit birds - and, once again, tally this species to my "probably could have seen, but gas money went to conservation instead" list. I'll probably give the money (plus a bit extra) to a rehabber in Wisconsin, where as many as 90% of the birds being rehabbed received their injuries via human-related causes. Rehabbers are grateful for every dollar they get!

Barn Swallows © 2009 Mike McDowell

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