Wonders at the cause of a drop in bird numbers

To the editor:

After reading a recent letter to the editor concerning “Wind power and birds” I felt that I would write a letter agreeing with his message.

We came to Mifflin County in 1965. At that time there were a great many swallows on our farm. We had barn swallows in our barn, tree swallows in the wooded area, and the bank swallows from the river area. We also had a number of orioles, both orchard orioles and Baltimore orioles. We had scarlet tangiers, cedar waxwings, blue birds, buntings, etc. Of course we had the English sparrows along with native sparrows.

We have seen a steady drop off of bird numbers of the past 10 years. There are few exceptions such as English sparrows, crows, blue jays, and cardinals. None of these migrate. We seem to have almost as many robins as we used to see in the past. However, I wonder if we have the robins because more and more of them are staying year around. One can tell the difference between robins that stay all year and those that migrate by the color of their breast feathers in the spring. Those that stay through the winter have deep brownish red breast feathers until mid to late spring. This past spring the migrating robins (with lighter orange breast feathers) were quite noticeable because on our farm the natives still had dark breast feathers for several weeks after migrating robins come back.

The reduction in the number of swallows has been the most notable (loss). In past years we usually had from five to seven nests in our barn. Sure they are a bit pesky because of the mess they make, but they are also very good flying insect eaters. It was fun to watch the adults teaching the young to catch insects while flying over our fields. Sometimes I would put some chairs out for us to sit and watch the circus of parent swallows urging the young to get off the ground and catching flying insects. This year we had two operating nests. Unfortunately only one nest yielded one baby. They were here for only one week after getting the one little one flying before leaving for the south. We have not seen a tree swallow for two years. We have not seen a bank swallow for more than that. One time a number of years ago we had a large group of the three kinds of swallows gathering on the power line from our garage to the pole that is half way to the barn. I could not count them because they were so plentiful. There were some tree swallows, a large number of bank swallows, and an even larger number of barn swallows. What a sight.

We also have fewer orioles (both kinds). We saw only one Baltimore oriole nest on our farm this year and no orchard orioles. I saw one cedar waxwing male last spring. I have not seen a scarlet tangier for at least four years. We had one bald eagle and one raven visit us this year. Of course we still have a number of crows, English sparrows, and black headed buzzards. I have on occasion seen the “native” robins with their now dark breasts as I walk my round the hill trail.

One other thought: We have not had as many insect pests as we have had in the past. Is there a possibility that the reduction of flying insects has been as much of a reason for the reduction of birds as the use of windmills for power? Just a thought. Anyway I am glad that I do not live near a windmill farm.

John E. Brockett