Daily Archives: September 19, 2023

Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Saving the Birds Is Saving Ourselves

On any given morning, you can watch the mad rush that begins our typical day. It’s off to school or work as traffic builds, lines form and our faces are glued to our phones hoping to find something that might get us through another day.

Stress sets in from the time our eyes open. Our bills, our kids, our boss and our jobs spin around in our heads as we try to navigate the man-made concrete and steel habitat that we have chosen to try somehow to adapt to.

At the same time, and right around us, over our cars and houses, along our rivers and roads, and in our parks and yards, our wildlife, especially the birds, do their best to find what trees, wildflowers and native grasses that might still be left for them.  Food to eat, places to raise their young and even places to take cover from the storm are harder to find than ever before. As some species try to adapt others disappear, some to the brink of extinction. Some birds will try to survive right in your own backyard without you ever taking notice. Many others will migrate thousands of miles stopping over like a local roadside rest stop, hoping to find enough food to continue their arduous journey

All the while, most of us are oblivious to the world around us.  At the same time, we search for our own selves  and where we might belong and fit in the world around us, while insidiously disconnecting ourselves more and more from the natural world  that  since time immemorial has been part of us as much as the birds.

Now more warehouses and apartment houses spring up like invasive plants in an abandoned lot. Sports fields, Pickleball courts and dog parks are considered open space by our government, a title once saved for wild places that had trees, ponds and meadows.

 And as it happens, one day you are relaxing, sitting in your backyard, maybe a local park, or even a favorite vacation spot. You look around and then say to yourself, ‘where are all the birds? I think I used to see them here right in town.’ That is when I get phone calls and emails, asking me that very question: ‘Where are all our birds that I saw as a kid?’ 

Now we all know the sad news that we have lost almost 3 billion birds since 1970, a frightening calculation of bird populations over the last 40 plus years that even shocked the scientists themselves that did years of study evaluating bird populations. https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/bring-birds-back

Moreover, as we lost more trees, meadows and ponds around our neighborhoods, our nature disconnect began to deepen. We lost more and more understanding about how we are all deeply connected to the natural world.  We found our birds easier to ignore as well as the habitat we enjoyed along with them until one day we looked around and wondered what happened to it all. What is worse: Some people did not think it mattered.

Like the old saying goes, birds are the canary in the coalmine. Their dropping numbers are telling us that something is very wrong with the world around us and ultimately the health of the birds is directly connected to the health and well-being of all of us.

Besides the vast number of studies that show how our emotional and mental health improves when we are out in nature, our physical health, and ultimately our survival, depends on the very same things our birds need: clean air, clean water, and an environment free of dangerous pesticides and herbicides. We need to preserve and protect all natural habitats from the rainforests and yes, to our very own neighborhoods and backyards. And unless we all stand up and fight the devastating effects of climate change, we will no longer have enough birds to count and we will not be too far behind.

Make no mistake: we can still save our birds and our environment if we have the will and the courage to join together. To stand up to demand of our elected officials that our environment does not take a backseat.   

Scientists believe that we have about 10 years to turn things around. We all need to spend some time outdoors and reconnect to the natural world, rediscover for yourself what we have and what we are in danger of losing. We saved the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and the New Jersey Meadowlands when many people said it could not be done. Though this battle may be even tougher to win than all the others, without a doubt we can do it! We can and will save the future of our birds, and when we do it, we will be saving ourselves in many different way.

See you in the Meadowlands.