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This bird’s future is hampered poisons.

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Like a lot of birds that spend their winters in Central and South America, the Dickcissel is diminishing in numbers. Here’s why.

By Sharon Warner

I had not seen or heard a Dickcissel in Shelby County since the early 1980s until the late spring of 2010. I was just north of Shelbyville on Ben Zaring's farm on the east side of Smithfield Road, searching for another species of bird, when I heard the telltale song that always gives this bird's location away.

The Dickcissel sings out his name with his song of "dick-dick-cissel" that is repeated over and over again.

I used to see and hear these bids on a regular basis along Vigo Road, always in open country. However, they do have a habit of their numbers, varying greatly, in the same locality, in different years.

At this point, I would like to interject what is going on in Central and South America that is greatly affecting the birds that spend their summers with us and then migrate to these countries and spend the winters there.

I want to urge all of my readers always to shop locally for your food, if at all possible. The main reason for this is that it obviously helps our friends and neighbors, who are in the business of farming. In addition, it requires less gasoline cost to transport food, just a few miles instead of thousands of miles.

Local foods also have less toxic insecticides than what is being used south of the border, poisons that we are receiving back to us in the food forms, from those other countries.

In addition to all of these obvious, legitimate reasons for shopping local, our wintering migratory birds are being poisoned at an alarming rate because of insecticides that are illegal in the United States based on their toxicity.

However, American corporations are selling these chemicals that have been outlawed in the United States to the Central and South American farmers.

An example of how bad things are was a fairly recent finding of approximately 20,000 dead Swainson's Hawks, (a large western hawk that is the size of our red-tailed hawk), in South America as a result of eating grasshoppers that had been spayed by these horrible insecticides.

I feel sure that many of you have noticed the reduction in numbers of most of our migratory birds that spend the summer with us. As a matter of fact, Dickcissels in South America tend to assemble in flocks, and this beautiful songbird is not only receiving killing toxic poisons but also is being shot in some sort of a weird, so-called sporting way.

After wintering in the tropics, those surviving Dickcissels return to Kentucky during the last week of April and begin nesting by the middle of May  and sometimes raise two broods.

Because they nest in agricultural fields, many nests are destroyed because they are extremely low or actually on the ground in dense grasses. However, they can be 2 to 20 inches above the ground.

This 6.5-inch-long bird with a 9.75-inch-wide wing span, typically hides its nest in a rank growth of clover, alfalfa, grass or weeds. The nest is bulky but a substantial shallow cup of weeds, grass stems and leaves, lined with finer grasses, rootlets and hair. It is loosely interwoven with surrounding vegetation by the female alone, in about four days.

Three to five eggs are laid with the female incubating alone in 11-12 days.

The Dickcissel certainly benefits local farmers by eating grasshoppers, caterpillars, cankerworms and cut worms during the summer months, and these birds typically eat seeds of weeds and grasses the remainder of the year.

Even though bananas are probably my favorite fruit to eat, this is one of the Central and South American foods that I have given up. I also request shade-grown coffee at restaurants, coffee shops and the grocery store.

Whereas sun-grown coffee does not allow bird life to survive, shade-grown coffee plantations are the nearest habitat that is similar to an actual tropical forests, and many bird species flourish there.

So when you do your grocery shopping, inquire as to where the food is grown and buy as close to home as is possible in order to help protect the future of bird life for our children, grandchildren and future generations to enjoy in The Great Outdoors.

 

To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2012 Holey Birds Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main Street, Shelbyville 40065.