The birds tell us

Are you seeing fewer birds in your backyard? You may not be yet, but experts warn that could be the situation within the next decade or so. It seems that the pell-mell destruction of much of the world's tropical forestland is also ravaging the habitat of most species of Eastern birds within the US, including the song bird. That means an eventual decline in the bird population, with far-reaching consequences for US agriculture.

The tropical forests, particularly in Central and South America and the islands of the Caribbean, provide winter homes for many bird species. The birds return to the US each spring, a migration that coincides with the appearance of cropland and grassland insects. But because of rapid economic development, entailing cutting of trees for homes and fuel, as well as fires, there is now a genuine concern about exactly how much tropical forestland will be left by the end of this century. Forestland equal to the size of Cuba is being destroyed every year, according to one US environmental official.

The loss of a bird population is loss for us all. Aside from the joy and inspiration they give, birds keep farmlands free of pests. According to ornithologists, any significant reduction in the number of birds is likely to mean an increasing loss of crops to insects. Without some type of international action, that, in turn, could mean problems in food production in the years ahead.

The plight of the birds, then, is as much our concern as theirs. It is also, we think, an apt reminder of just how interdependent out world truly is Haiti, Colombia, the South American Amazon region -- they are far from irrelevant to the well-being of the United States, as our winged friends could tell us.

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