Birds have been dying as insects retreat from the cold

Published: May. 29, 2020 at 7:11 PM EDT
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Bird watchers say a cold snap in late spring left many birds without their usual food source, resulting in the deaths of many baby birds.

“Baby birds and nesting birds rely on insects and other invertebrates to feed their young and as a high source of protein for nesting birds. During cold temperatures like that, the bugs go dormant, they retreat under barks of trees, they just become harder to find,” said Dawn Hewitt, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest.

Lacking a proper food source, many adult birds and especially baby birds became malnourished.

“If they survived to fledge, they were weak and just couldn’t survive,” said Hewitt

Orioles presented another sign of food shortages for birds. They've been spotted more frequently in the Mid-Ohio Valley than in previous years.

“Orioles are primarily insect eaters and they can find the food they need in tree tops. When they come down to feeders, they are in need of fuel. And that means they are not finding the insects they need,” said Hewitt. “Seeing that many orioles at one time can be thrilling, but it’s also disturbing if you realize the bigger picture that’s going on here. That cold snap was really bad for nesting and migrating birds.”

Late last year the Associated Press reported the populations of North American birds were down by nearly three billion animals from 1970. With that in mind, Hewitt isn’t too worried about the recent deaths of so many birds in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

"A lot of birds who have nest failure the first time around will still have time to pull off another brood. So, even if they lost all of their chicks or their eggs, it's still early enough in the season they could pull off another brood," said Hewitt.

That’s not to say Hewitt isn’t concerned for bird populations as a whole though.

“I mean, yeah. Birds are on a scary decline over a 25, 50 year period, it’s really disturbing and this wasn’t good for them. We need to build up the population in any way possible, mostly by protecting insects,” said Hewitt.

To Hewitt, protecting insects means reducing the use of pesticides.

“Any chemical applications to your grass is bad for the birds. You’re poisoning baby bird food by poisoning bugs,” said Hewitt.

Hewitt says there are other things people can do to help birds. She says leaving grass clippings on the lawn actually supplies birds with nest building material.