I took one last look around before reaching for the light switch. It was about 8pm. I had just fed the last of the birds, and was ge;ng ready to go home for the night. The place was remarkably quiet; you wouldn’t know that filling the wards were dozens of birds with injuries ranging from head trauma to broken wings. While the number of birds in our care now is less, those who arrive at The Bird Rescue Center this time of year tend to have more serious injuries requiring extensive care. Nonetheless, the net effect of fewer birds is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the days of summer when hundreds of babies, many needing to be fed every 30 minutes, filled our wards to capacity.
I switched off the light, and shu;ng the front door reflected that we were just about to shut the door on yet another year.
Another year and thousands more birds helped along life’s journey.
It’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. When I do, my mind open shifts to climate change and I have a tremendous sense of powerlessness in the face of it.
So many challenges are out of our control. Climate change has altered local seasonal patterns— for us and birds. Spring is starting earlier each year, or we have “false springs” catching birds unprepared for the harsh cold snaps that inevitably follow. Prolonged drought often limits food sources that previously were readily available along migratory paths, causing no small number to perish on their grueling journey. Wetlands are periodically drying up, leaving arriving birds and those who overwinter with no water to sustain them.
I could go on. And on.
I force my mind to shift from the realities of climate change, and as I do, individual faces of those we treated this year become vivid pictures in my mind’s eye.
I remember a group of herons who came in from West 9th Street, an area where urban development has encroached on a long-time waterbird rookery. If there was ever any question about whether dinosaurs existed, I'd argue they still do in the form of young Black Crowned Night Herons. You look at them and see prehistoric creatures. This group, small and scrawny yet intimidating, fortunately had not sustained serious injuries during their tumble and theirs is a story with a happy ending.
And then there’s the unexpected arrival of a nest of Acorn Woodpeckers in late September, so young their feathers were still developing. It’s yet another telling symptom of climate change that we would see babies this young, this late-in-the-season, with not much time to learn how to survive before winter sets in.
To all of these birds, our work meant everything. It was life-saving. Baby Black Crowned Night Herons from the West Ninth Street Rookery
An action doesn’t have to be world-changing to be life-changing.
To each bird, that is the truth that matters.
As we release birds back into the wild, I realize we’re benefitng, too. Because they are omnipresent, birds are our best doorway into nature. We do not go a day without seeing a bird or hearing birdsong. Birds have shown us flight is possible; they feed our spirits; mark the changing seasons; inspire art and poetry; and instill the freedom to imagine a life soaring without limitation. I never want to imagine the moment their sound is silenced.
Birds transform entire landscapes by maintaining the delicate balance between plants and planteaters, predators and prey. Without birds, entire landscapes change. Without birds, ecosystems collapse. Sadly, we are taking steps in that direction. Since the 1970s, bird populations have declined by over three billion in the United States and Canada. This is not only a tragic loss of life; it is a tragedy for our Northern California ecosystems.
Consider the following:
• A single pair of Barn Owls will catch up to 40 rodents per night to feed their young.
• Birds provide effective pest control without the negaHve impacts of harmful chemicals.
• They are natural pollinators of plants.
• Birds are the most efficient clean-up crews in nature—in fact, their work is critical in preventing the spread of diseases.
• Collectively birds eat 400-500 million tons of insects per year.
• Birds spread seeds and help revive destroyed and damaged ecosystems. With the devastating effects of wildfire, our natural seed spreaders are desperately needed.
We can’t single-handedly repair a collapsed ecosystem. But we can single-handedly save a bird’s life. That is meaningful. And our collective action will foster a healthier environment for us all.
I hope this holiday season you will take the opportunity to make a life-saving gift, knowing it will have far-reaching impact.
With all my heart,
PS Every gift has a direct correlation to saving a life. Please consider the lasting effect your gift will have, and give generously.
“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” — Dalai Lama