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The Birds.

Written By: - Date published: 10:41 am, March 24th, 2018 - 23 comments
Categories: capitalism, disaster, Environment, International, science, sustainability - Tags:

Birds are disappearing from the skies of France. Their numbers have dropped by 33% in the space of 15 years. That decline reflects observations made in other countries across Europe.

At first blush, the reasons given for the frightening decline in bird numbers seems quite reasonable. Both the spread of mono-culture and pesticide use are hammering insect numbers, and since many birds eat insects, then obviously those birds are losing their food sources. And well, of course, they’re dying.

But there’s a glitch in that explanation.

When studies found that insect numbers were falling off the cliff (75% loss), the same conclusions as above were put forward as reasons for the losses.  In light of the fact that insect numbers weren’t just dropping in areas of farmland or in areas where pesticides were being used, climate change got kind of thrown in as an afterthought

I did a post about this a while back.

When broad environmental factors are such that plant growth is accelerated, then the accelerated growth means plants contain more starch than they do protein. And studies have shown that to result in malnutrition, compromised immunity, starvation and death for organisms on the next step of the food chain. In the case of terrestrial life as opposed to submarine life, we’re talking insects.

Two broad environmental factors have been looked at in relation to accelerated plant growth and poorer nutritional value. In one study, extra light was provided to a marine environment to increase plankton growth. It worked. But the zoo-plankton that fed on the phyto-plankton tanked. And the reason it tanked was that although its food source had become abundant, it had also become crap – the zoo-plankton simply couldn’t consume enough of the nutritionally compromised phyto plankton to remain healthy.

And when parallel studies were carried out on land, but this time providing extra CO2 to the environment instead of light, the results were the same. Fantastic growth rates and junk food.

For those who are interested, all the links to studies and articles relating to what you’ve just read are in the original article I’ve linked to above.

But my question is this.

Given that these studies and their results are known, then why, when faced with evidence of rapidly declining populations of species at the lower levels of the food chain, do we tell ourselves somewhat comforting tales about pesticides and mono-cultures ? We know full well that atmospheric CO2 levels are through the roof, and we also know how that affects flora, and by extension, fauna.

I’ll leave you to decide why it might be we’d want to point the finger at secondary causes for life dying away while assiduously ignoring the likely principal cause.

23 comments on “The Birds. ”

  1. adam 1

    But, but, look trump….

    And other such arguments to ignore, or be distracted as to not engage with what is happening.

    Science has been saying that climate change is frightening for some time. But, money is to darn important, and how will the greedy ever satisfy their longings if we change our economic focus away from the focus on money and individual wealth?

  2. patricia bremner 2

    This is beyond sad. Wonder what Bridges thinks? (If he thinks.) We know Ardern recognises Climate Change, but can they change things?

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      We know Ardern recognises Climate Change, but can they change things?

      Are they even willing to try?
      Is it that such a fundamental and necessary change to the economic system will see any government booted out at the next election because of the massive loss many, especially the rich, will face?

    • AB 2.2

      “Wonder what Bridges thinks”
      How about:
      How do I enable my supporters to either protect their existing business models or pivot quickly to profit from this species dieback?

    • OncewasTim 2.3

      He does ekshully thunk (going forward)
      He’s UBERintellgunt and woud loik us ta thunk he hez a modest ego end is not ova-embushus (going forwatd) …. well that’s the spun anyway
      And there’s a deeply deeply loyal deputy dog that’s ih so wilung ta sing the praises to populist morning TV and torque -bek raid-yo.
      The chances of leading a horse to water to drink compared with doing a ‘journalust……. enuff said

  3. cleangreen 3

    Yes Bill this is so true because we now live in a “all hands off” unregulated business world now so try this issue we as rural small block farmers are witnessing as we speak,

    When Labour signed that toxic TPPP agreement they signed your death warrant and mine as NZ will in time be hollowed out after the big corporate and rich take ‘cheap’ large tracks of low quality hill country land cheaply to carry out dirty “intensive farming using mostly barren land and to move large amounts of stock around all there holdings as ‘fattening – finishing units’ using cheap sourced overseas feed and local feed systems.

    If you think this is a fallacy just come to the hills of HB/Gisborne and see this for yourself as it is happening here right now, as hundreds of feed and stock trucks are now invading our dirt roads carrying stock around with trucks and trailers of feed such as hay, silage, and other products.

    Finishing blocks are now bought cheap and are utilised to make a profit using road freight of feed lots which is effectively subsidised by us all as road freight vehicles only pay 54% of their cost of wear of our roads say IPENZ and these large trucks rip our roads to bits while they get cheap freight.

    Don’t even think of the massive amounts of greenhouse emissions this dirty farm practice will bring as the mind boggles; -, even to think of the heavy road pollution these practices will into our drains that will send it to our water systems and aquifers..
    As I write this note we have counted forty two stock feed trucks pass our farm on our rural dirt road in the Gisborne Hills and that was in 6 hrs of today, so double it to about 80 trucks every day that they are moving around our valley as one of many.

    Council told us they have no money to seal our roads so we are stuffed.

    NZ in 10 yr will look like Nigeria with their land polluted by oil fields spilling into their rivers ours will be killed by “unregulated intensive farming practices”

  4. Keepcalmcarryon 4

    The New Zealand answer is to drop poison from helicopters.
    We are way ahead.

  5. Obtrectator 5

    Seems to tie in with my personal theory, which has no demonstrable scientific basis, only common-sense. Shoot it down by all means, but be prepared to use reason, not emotion or ad-hominem attacks.

    My theory is this: the planet can sustain only a finite amount of biomass (which includes ALL forms of life – plants, microbes, insects, aquatic organisms, all the way up to fish, birds and mammals).

    The more of that amount that’s tied up in units of humankind, the less there is for everything else. With an ever-increasing population, we are gradually hollowing out the food-chain from underneath us.

    “Mother Nature is the ultimate quartermaster, and she ain’t got any secret reserve stores.”

    “Better a tree-hugger than a planet-fucker.”

  6. Phil 6

    Bill I don’t know if it is intentional or not but your article reads to me that you are denying that industrial scale use of biocides could have any possible effect.

    Surely the ecosystem collapse we are seeing in Europe has multiple causes including: loss of habitat (hedgerows, small woodlands, scrubland and ponds on farms (which dont generate subsidies)); enormously excessive use of biocides by agriculture; polution of the environment (particularly of the air and fresh waterways, and including the impact of changing C02 levels on plant growth) by industrial society; climate change (temperatures, droughts, floods); and even direct disturbance as people use semi natural areas for recreation, exercise, and sport.

    The point being that all, or at least many, of the above would have to be seriously addressed to halt the collapse.

    • Bill 6.1

      You’re misreading the post if you think I’m denying impacts from biocides or any of the other things you mention.

      What I was pulling attention to was the fact that heightened CO2 levels are known to have very deleterious effects on eco-system viability, and yet when confronted with very strong evidence of compromised viability, no mention is made of CO2.

      I’d suggest the impact from insecticides could be gauged from looking at the different decline rates between woodland bird species numbers and farmland bird species numbers. Both broad categories have species in decline but farmland species are declining faster.

      So we have the impact on CO2 on plants rippling through to insect numbers affecting bird numbers. And in farmlands, there is the additional impact of insecticides.

      And the ecosystem collapse isn’t limited to Europe. The previous post that’s linked, references global studies on declining insect numbers.

      If insecticides were banned today, the decline in various populations might slow, but would continue.

      But if CO2 was taken out of the equation today, then with the resultant recovery at the base of the food pyramid, we might (best case scenario) discover that healthier and more robust insects were less susceptible to the impacts of insecticides, and that could lead to a recovery in bird numbers.

      • Matthew Whitehead 6.1.1

        To be fair I read your piece relatively closely and went “well, it’s not DENYING the impact of biocides and other agricultural chemicals, but it doesn’t really nod to them either,” so I can understand the confusion. Alas, these are the balancing acts of writing posts, no?

    • esoteric pineapples 6.2

      I don’t think Bill is denying the effect of other causes, but he is making a good point that we may be missing the biggest cause of all.

  7. patricia bremner 7

    It is no good saving a few species here and there, as the life web is world wide and precious.
    Perhaps it is the West’s turn to have one child? Just saying.

    • Robert Guyton 7.1

      One? Just one child!
      That’s a really significant fall in the birthrate; 2018, The West – 1.

  8. timeforacupoftea 8

    Bill –
    Back in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s here in NZ South Island we had thousands and thousands of British birds in towns as well as country.
    Black Birds, Thrush, Sparrows, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Gold finch, Yellow Hammer and Redpolls by the hundreds of thousands.

    Back then councils did not keep the road sides trimmed or sprayed like they are today my dad would go out with a sack and collect seed for his aviary birds and you would not risk doing that today if seeds were available because of sprays.

    But the main reason is farming practices.
    Back in those early days when farmers put a winter crop of turnips / sweeds in for mainly sheep but also for cattle the crop came with incredible amount of weeds.
    One weed was fathen, the redpolls loved this particular weed seed and the male birds were much redder than they are today. When you walked into these paddocks the redpolls would rise in fright and almost blacken the sky.
    Not today though.

    The reason the British seed eating bird have declined in numbers is because of farmers making silage. When you make silage no seed is produced.

    Also weed sprays are pretty cheap compared to earlier times and very little ploughing is done now. They spray off the old pasture or crop and direct drill with no tillage at all.

    I you wonder why I have a interest in this my dad was a British bird fancier and we spent many weekends trapping hundreds of birds looking for odd colourings etc.

    I remember seeing the birds film when I was young I hid down behind the seat and peaking through my fingers to see as little a bit of the screen as I could.

    • Bill 8.1

      Sprays and farming practices definitely have an impact…in areas where farming is practiced and sprays are deployed.

      But (and it’s a very big but) even if all the spraying was to stop, and even if all farming practices were altered (as they should be, regardless) then insect numbers would continue to fall and species that rely on insects for food would continue to decline.

      The effects of heightened CO2 levels on plant life is ubiquitous and without precedent. The base of the terrestrial food pyramid is being laid to waste. That’s not hyperbole.

      • timeforacupoftea 8.1.1

        (The effects of heightened CO2 levels on plant life is ubiquitous and without precedent. The base of the terrestrial food pyramid is being laid to waste. That’s not hyperbole).

        So what you are saying the bugs and insects can’t tolerate the higher level of sugars in these plants due to 400ppm CO2.

        After CO2 being taken up by the plant, the CO2 is transformed into sugars used for plant growth. Ultimately, that carbon makes it possible for plants to grow new tissues and stay strong.
        If the CO2 levels in a growing environment get below about 250 ppm, the plants stop growing.
        Growers need to replace the carbon that they remove from the farm during harvest
        After the plant uses the carbon from CO2 to build plant tissues, the next step is harvesting. Every time you harvest, you’re taking carbon out of the farm, because you’re removing (carbon-rich) plant tissues. To maintain a high level of carbon on your farm, growers must replenish that carbon through CO2.

        One advantage of CO2 levels is the increase in grass and tree growth.
        In Glasshouse food production in Canterbury in the 1980’s some vegetable growers experimented with tomato and lettuce crops with CO2 levels up to 1000ppm they all increased yields by 30% but the expense doing so and increased staff levels for picking and packing meant very little extra income for the trouble.



        • Drowsy M. Kram

          When the (%) sugar content of plant ‘parts’ increases in response to elevated atmospheric CO2, then other (non-sugar) components must decrease (as a % of the total weight.)

          The “I did a post about this a while back.” link:

          A Sugar Coated World

          in Bill’s post spells it out, but to reiterate…

          All the ‘parts’ of plants (leaves, wood/bark, seeds/grains, flowers, nectar, pollen) are composed of carbohydrate (CHO), protein (CHONS), oils/fats (mostly CH, with a little O and N) and minerals, in various ratios.

          Elevated atmospheric CO2 has a negative effect on the essential protein and mineral content (as a percentage of total weight) of plant parts, which are therefore less nutritious for leaf-eating insects, seed-eating bird species, and humans. [The bulk of the nitrogen (N) atoms in animals come (either directly, or indirectly) from plant proteins.]

          Much of the research to date has focused on cultivated crops, but most plants studied show similar responses to elevated atmospheric CO2, i.e. more biomass, and less protein/mineral content.

          Not only a major cause of ocean acidification, which is itself catastrophic to marine ecology, rising CO2 levels may also have drastic effects on land. According to an emerging body of scientific evidence, growing CO2 levels is not only increasing the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in many of our staple crops, but also decreasing their protein and mineral content.


    • Glenn 8.2

      I planted a bed of cosmos at my mothers and after a brilliant show they all went to seed. For a couple of days a dozen or so chaffinches fed on them then suddenly left when the food ran out.
      Far more colourful than the usual sparrows and blackbirds and yet not seen very much in the city.

  9. Pat 9

    “Among the standout findings are that exploitable fisheries in the world’s most populous region – the Asia-Pacific – are on course to decline to zero by 2048; that freshwater availability in the Americas has halved since the 1950s and that 42% of land species in Europe have declined in the past decade.”


    “Others have put the crisis in starker terms. Biologist Paul Ehrlich, has warned that civilisational collapse is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to the destruction of the natural world.”

    not called the 6th great extinction for no reason

  10. ianmac 10

    Does feeding sugar water to tuis and bellbirds damage their health?

    • Robert Guyton 10.1

      Yes. Moulds and bacteria grow in sugared water left too long. I grow flowers (red-hot pokers etc.) and fruits (apples especially) and the birds feed from those.

  11. esoteric pineapples 11

    Thanks for making such a good point

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