Conservation Minnesota

Solstice Sentinels

The woods are a monochrome of brown, the fields of white – until a brilliant red cardinal ahead swiftly transits from tree to thicket.

It’s the dark of the year. But color and sound persist if you watch and listen. Birds contribute their share.

In a suburban woodlot, bluejays, chickadees and an occasional woodpecker join cardinals, sparrows and crows in the depth of December. We sometimes take these and other birds for granted.

We shouldn’t. Birds are not only magnificent in their own right, but also sentinels of environmental health and robust habitat. The discovery of the dangers of DDT was heralded in part by the dieoff of robins, while the steep reduction of chemical pollution was signaled by the recovery of bald eagles.

There’s a growing threat to birds – climate change. An Audubon Society study released in September found that 314 U.S. species are “at risk.” Of those, 188 may face extinction by 2080.

“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said an Audubon scientist.

It’s a dramatic reminder of just how important are policies to curb climate change through renewable energy and energy efficiency. Fortunately, Minnesota is a leader in both. But these policies were not easily won. Just as the phaseout of DDT, PCBs and other chemicals was controversial in the 1960s and 1970s, so has clean energy been more recently.

This is a good time to get out and appreciate birds. Audubon is sponsoring its annual Christmas bird count now through January 4. The count is a good barometer of bird (and environmental) health.

And as you watch and appreciate birds at the solstice, perhaps you’ll find inspiration for the conservation causes to come.

About Dave Dempsey

Dave Dempsey
Dave Dempsey is a resident of Rosemount and author of three books on environmental subjects. He formerly served as Conservation Minnesota's communications director.
This entry was posted in Featured Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.