Time is running out for the birds!

Massive clearing of greens and the relentless chopping of trees to make space for frenzied development for hideous concrete structures have taken a toll on birds.

Much of the areas that are now urban centres, agricultural and industrial areas used to be wetlands, forests and other habitats for birds.

Humans, principally developers are ignorant of the fact that trees provide birds with food, shade and shelter that keeps the birds cool.

In newly completed development projects palm trees are gaining popularity.

With no branches and a mass of large wide leaves at the top palm trees are totally unsuitable for the birds as they can neither provide shade nor even the basic necessities for migrating birds.

This is because migrating birds need to stop and rest on trees along the way when migrating from one green lung to another green lung in search of food and mate.

It is simplistic to think that birds can simply fly away from any disturbance. The changing botanical composition and forest structure caused by human interference will certainly affect bird lives.

With any land clearance temperatures goes up and insects which are the birds food source have to adjust to this.

Birds not only have to adjust to a changing food source but to temperature change. Then fruit trees which are available in the forests are normally seasonal and scarce and any damage to these trees would affect the fruit-eating birds such as pigeons, barbets and hornbills.

The changing botanical composition and forest structure caused by human interference will certainly affect bird lives.

On the other hand there is no guarantee that forest birds can find an equivalent habitat with the exact food source as they may come into conflict with resident birds of that area resulting in limited food source shared by more numbers.

The depletion of mangrove swamps and mudflats due to reclamation has driven away migratory birds. Sg Nibong and Batu Maung used to be the favourite spots for these migratory birds but now the birds are no more.

The role birds play are highly beneficial to humans. There are various species of birds some of which are confined to eating only insects, others eat fruits, yet others are predators.

They are also agents of pollination and seed dispersal, activities in which seed and nectar consuming birds play an important ecological role.

Birds are into pests control and perform a free service for farmers thus they are the farmers’ friends principally waterbirds.

Found in and around agricultural fields egrets and bitterns consume a variety of grasshoppers and other insect pests, while terns go for insects and their grubs.

The Brahminy Kite is quite a cosmopolitan feeder with its regular feed on frogs, small snakes, crabs, insects and fish though it can be an effective fisher.

Farmers however use pesticides and rodenticides to control crop pests and since birds rely on insects for their diet, they become susceptible to these chemicals leading to a decline of several bird species.

When birds are threatened then plants and seeds that depend on them for propagation will become vulnerable and fauna dependent on these plants and trees for food and shelter will be susceptible.

There is no guarantee of security for only a few bird species live in any one area and the loss of even a small bird number can alter drastically the ecology of an area.

The long term survival of our feathery friends will depend largely upon their ability to persist in human altered habitats.

In changing the environment to suit our purposes, it is the moral responsibility of everyone to ensure that the environment for other living creatures is not damaged beyond recovery.

It is the ethical responsibility of consultants, planners, engineers and decision makers to ensure that no environment should be eroded to the extent that existing viable populations cannot be sustained or species caused to become extinct in the course of any development projects. 

By Sahabat Alam Malaysia
Letter to the Editor, 10 January, 2011