Friday, May 18, 2007

West Nile taking toll on several US birds

A pogrom is being executed against some of the most pleasant members of the US' ornithological community:

Several common species of North American birds have suffered drastic population declines since the arrival of the West Nile virus eight years ago, a new study has found.

Of the 20 species included in the study, American crows were the hardest hit, declining about 45 percent overall from 1998 to 2005. Populations of American robins, chickadees, eastern bluebirds, blue jays, tufted titmice and house wrens also dropped.
Crows are amazing birds, with complex social interactions and a keen intelligence that tops the avian world. Robins live almost exclusively on the insects that make going outdoors on a muggy summer evening a little less heavenly. Blue jays are mean pursuers of formidable bugs like wasps and bees. Wrens fly with an awing dexterity. The hit taken by the other songbirds listed means the sounds flowing in through the open window on a crisp spring morning are becoming a little less sweet.

The culprits are mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, one of several diseases that has recently begun calling the US "home" (it was introduced domestically in the late nineties after hitching a ride on a travelling creature from Uganda) thanks to the free-flow of people and stuff into the country that our elites love so much.

With apologies to Peter Singer, I am a speciest. I want a counter-strike against mosquitoes. Time to lift the misguided ban on DDT. Bald Eagles have made a comeback. The possibility of a few frail eggs is a price worth paying to help sustain several members of the stuff raptors love to eat.

I don't expect any help from the environmentalist movement, which is too morally bankrupt to advocate a reduction in the inflow of people into the US and who are also irrationally opposed to other things beneficial to the quality of life for humans and the natural environment alike, such as nuclear power.

But I do have faith in the reslience of our avian pals, with the help of natural selection. Such a severe reduction in these birds' numbers makes it almost inevitable that resistance to West Nile virus is being selected for. There is already evidence that wrens and bluejays have turned the corner. I expect the others to follow suit. It's just a matter of how long it will take.


Hal K said...

When I was young I would play outside quite a bit and typically not get many mosquito bites. Now I live fairly near to where I did as a child, with about the same level of urbanization, and one can't spend any amount of time outside without insect repellent and not get an intolerable number of mosquito bites. Now they even stalk us in our homes. I think that the difference is that now we have Asian Tiger mosquitoes. Thank you globalization, once again.

Audacious Epigone said...


When I run in the evenings I notice the same. There are strips of sidewalk near wooded areas that are basically off limits--going near them means absorbing the mosquitoes in your mouth and eyes. It's disgusting.

It wasn't a problem even a decade ago when I was a tweener playing around with the hordes of neighborhood kids in the dusk of summer.

Anonymous said...

Out here in NJ, I haven't seen much of a loss of bird populations at all. If anything, there seem to be more than ever. This may be due to the fact that West Nile was a big deal on the east coast a few years ago, and our "epidemic" of the disease may have been over for some time. I drive through the Meadowlands (hardly rural) to work and there are all kinds of birds, from Blue Herons on down to the small stuff (for some reason, Red Wing Blackbirds thrive here). I was home at my parents for Mother's Day and their yard is alive with birds (not to mention other wildlife). Believe it or not, they've got wild turkeys running around and the goddamn woodpeckers keep banging on the gutters. They are in Mercer County, NJ which is hardly rural either.
Birds are tough, they'll be back, just give them a little time. If they can prosper in NJ, anywhere else shouldn't be too difficult given time.

Audacious Epigone said...


That's heartening.

I haven't noticed a perceptible drop in the population of various songbirds. But when I moved to the midwest a little over a decade ago, we'd occasionally see crows. I can't think of the last time I've seen one in Eastern Kansas. It's probably been at least five years.

The increase in mosquitoes is definitely palpable. And gross.

Anonymous said...

"and stuff into the country that our elites love so much."

Whether you or I like it or not it's a "global world" now and the West Nile virus was inevitably going to hitch a ride here on something.

Your silly and insipid "elites" remark squashed your credibility, it just made you sound ignorant.


Audacious Epigone said...


No, the populations that are growing the fastest are also those that are the most hostile to your inevitable globalization. And there is a difference between trade and the unfettered free movement of people, goods, and diseases.