[Tweeters] Toxic Threats to Grassland Birds

isparrow at seanet.com isparrow at seanet.com
Tue Mar 12 12:03:15 PDT 2013

Subject: Toxic Threats to Grassland Birds

The following editorial appeared in the New York Times today. It
indicates more problems for our grassland species.

Irene Potter
Tacoma, WA
isparrow at seanet.com

March 11, 2013 New York Times
Toxic Threats to Grassland Birds

Ornithologists agree that in the United States no group of birds is
declining faster than the grassland species that live in or migrate
through agricultural areas. These include, among others, various sparrows,
eastern and western meadowlarks, bobolinks, horned larks and at least two
kinds of owl. Scientists have generally agreed that the major cause is the
fragmentation and loss of prairie habitat, the conversion of grassland to
farmland as well as alterations in established farmland.

But a new study by two Canadian toxicologists raises an old specter. They
found that collapsing bird populations were more strongly correlated with
insecticide use than with habitat alteration — that, in fact, pesticides
were four times more likely to be linked with bird losses than any other

This would not have come as news to Rachel Carson, whose most famous book,
“Silent Spring,” documented the disastrous effects of DDT on birds. DDT
was banned in 1972, but it was followed by organophosphate and carbamate
pesticides that were also highly lethal to birds. And while these
pesticides have since been largely withdrawn from use, a new generation of
nerve-agent insecticides called neonicotinoids could pose a further

These insecticides are now under review by the Environmental Protection
Agency. They have caused huge die-offs of honeybees in Europe and provoked
an uproar among scientists, not least because the studies that purported
to establish their safety were financed by pesticide manufacturers. We
hope that the Canadian study, establishing a clear link between pesticides
and grassland bird losses, will cause the E.P.A. to consider the next
generation of insecticides in a more critical light.

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