DEAR DR. FOX: The decline in wild bird populations is astonishing.
No doubt, loss of habitat is the major contributing factor, but the decline nearly parallels the increase in bird feeders and the explosion of the related industry.
I have noticed the effect of sprouting-prevention chemicals used on many commercially produced birdseed products as grass and other plants beneath the feeders die off. If there is also an effect on the health -- specifically, the reproductive health -- of the birds eating this seed, then these chemicals might be part of the cause of decline.
Have any studies been done on this issue? It would be terrible if those of us who adore having beautiful songbirds near us were inadvertently adding to the cause of their demise. -- D.R., South Bend, Indiana
DEAR D.R.: Many readers share your concerns, and indeed, the demise of wild birds across the U.S. and other countries is staggering.
This loss is not simply some aesthetic concern for bird-lovers, but one of profound ecological significance. The ecological services birds provide are of inestimable value for our own food and environmental security, and are one significant aspect of the climate crisis. Birds help in the pollination of some plants, as well the spread of seeds for reforestation and in the control of insects such as the emerald ash borer, now decimating ash trees across the country.
Many beneficial insects and birds are dying from starvation due to habitat loss and widespread use of herbicides like Roundup, a probable human carcinogen also linked with other systemic health issues. Birds lose their appetites when exposed to small amounts of insecticides via treated seeds and garden-store plants, and subsequently die. Insecticides are also applied to crops, livestock and companion animals, with consequent environmental contamination. This is compounded by GMO crops genetically engineered to produce their own insecticides.
Free-roaming domestic cats, both feral and owned, are responsible for killing an estimated 1.3 billion to 4 billion birds annually, as well as billions of small mammals. This magnitude of mortality is far greater than previous estimates of cat predation on wildlife, and may exceed all other sources of anthropogenic mortality of U.S. birds and mammals, according to an article in Nature Communications (volume 4, 2013).
This is all very depressing, and all responsible for this critical loss of global biodiversity should be prosecuted by a yet-to-be-established United Environmental Nations authority. In the interim, we must be vigilant, avoiding all such harmful products in and around our homes. We must also challenge what city and state forestry departments spray to control “weeds” and various insects, and instead support integrated pest control, habitat restoration and organic farming practices.
As for your specific concern, I am not aware that birdseed is treated against germination, although some seeds may inhibit others from germinating. Additionally, bird feeders must be regularly cleaned to minimize spread of avian diseases at feeding sites.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have seen mention in your column about some animal welfare work you are helping fund in India. Having visited there with my wife this past spring, we see there is a big need for the suffering animals there.
Do post some details about what you are doing there. -- T.U., Minneapolis, Minnesota
DEAR T.U.: My wife, Deanna Krantz, founded and directed the India Project for Animals & Nature to help the indigenous and tribal peoples of South India by improving the health and well-being of their farmed animals and of the dogs and cats in these communities. Against opposition, disinformation and death-threats, she investigated and documented the long-distance “death march” of cattle to slaughter, along with wildlife poaching, land encroachment and the tragic plight of elephants wild and captive.
Putting compassion into action and seeking justice for all, she became the voice for animals’ rights and for the indigenous peoples who cared, but were silenced by the authorities. Our book on the topic (details below) shatters the myth that animals regarded as “sacred,” especially cows and elephants, are always treated humanely, and paves the way for greater transparency and progress in addressing the tragic plight of the animals and all who depend upon them.
This richly illustrated book details the trials and tribulations of setting up an animal shelter and free veterinary clinic in the heart of a unique wildlife region in South India: the UNESCO-designated Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. This is one of the subcontinent’s last few wildlife preserves for the Asian elephant and tiger.
We continue to support our veterinary team there, headed by Dr. M. Sugumaran, and by purchasing the book, you will help us sustain this support. His independent organization, Prakriti Save Nature Trust (prakritigudalur.in), is government-certified to receive foreign donations.
The book: “India’s Animals: Helping the Sacred & the Suffering,” by Deanna L. Krantz and Dr. Michael W. Fox, One Health Vision Press, 2016.
CATS CAN CARRY 36 DISEASES TRANSMISSIBLE TO HUMANS
Revised guidelines from the American Association of Feline Practitioners list 36 diseases that can pass from cats to humans, although overall incidence of feline-to-human zoonosis is low, says co-author and veterinarian Michael Lappin.
Regular deworming, vaccination against rabies, treatment to prevent flea and tick infestations, as well as basic sanitation mitigate risk of disease and can protect humans against many of the zoonotic diseases cats can carry. (Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery; AAFP Feline Zoonoses Guidelines, Discover magazine, Oct. 16)
Most important of all is to make cats indoor-only animal companions, and be sure they have wellness examinations at least annually.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)