Birds are extremely sensitive to pollution and chemical contamination. They are quickly impacted by climate and other changes in the environment. Birds can alert us if something is wrong — but only if we're watching them. By protecting birds' health, people are protecting their own health.
Canary in the Coal Mine
People used to bring caged canaries into coal mines to gauge the air quality. If a canary was singing in the mine, the air quality was okay. If a canary tipped over and died, everyone evacuated the mine. Birds still serve as warning signals for pollution. They are very sensitive to chemicals and other contaminants in the environment, and if they get sick, it means that soon people will get sick. By watching the health of birds and how contaminants affect them, people can get a clearer picture of how to protect themselves.
Human activity impacts bird populations through the use of pesticides. Sometimes when planes apply pesticides to farmland from the air, flocks of birds are covered with the poisons and either get sick or die. Other times, birds that have encountered pesticides are not able to reproduce or lay eggs with weak shells that leave babies vulnerable. It has become increasingly clear that using pesticides is also bad for human health. Visit the American Bird Conservancy at www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/pesticides to learn more.
Whether you buy chicken and turkey from the supermarket or hunt your own pheasants or ducks, it's important to know what contaminants might be in the meat. If you purchase poultry from large factory farms, you may be supporting farms that release pollution into the environment.
The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was named one of the twentyfive greatest science books of all time by the editors of Discover magazine. This book has been widely credited for assisting the launch of the environmental movement. In particular, it deals with how the environment impacts human health. The book documented the effect of pesticides on the environment, especially birds, describing a future spring in which there will be no birds to sing. Rachel Carson was an extraordinary writer, ecologist, and biologist. Have your class do a group project on her life. You can do it as a bulletin board display, a short book, or even a play.