Annals of DDT: Eagles return to Buffalo, New York, in a big way

July 26, 2017

Caption from the Buffalo News: A bald eagle, one of a pair of eagles raising chicks in a nest on Strawberry Island in the Niagara River, fishes in the river, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Caption from the Buffalo News: A bald eagle, one of a pair of eagles raising chicks in a nest on Strawberry Island in the Niagara River, fishes in the river, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Among the greater chunks of powerful evidence for the damage the pesticide DDT did to birds is the dramatic recovery of some species as residual DDT levels drop, after DDT use ended in the U.S.

In 1970 only one nesting pair of bald eagles lived in New York state; I have not found whether they successfully fledged any young that year, but the odds are against it.

47 years later, eagles nest in after-recovery record numbers in New York, according to the venerable Buffalo News.

If you haven’t spotted the stark white head of a bald eagle somewhere in the Buffalo Niagara sky, it might be time to get out of the house more often.

Eagles are back in historically high numbers, according to a recent report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC reported a record-high 442 bald eagle breeding territories statewide in 2016, including 58 spots in six Western New York counties, including Erie, Niagara, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. That’s up from 38 spots in the region in 2012.

“It’s an astonishing number,” said Jim Landau, a count coordinator from the Hamburg Hawk Watch.

Recovery of bald eagles, and other endangered raptors including osprey, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons, is a great chapter in the book of successes of the Endangered Species Act and the rising conservation consciousness of the 1970s.

Recovery of all four species waited after EPA’s ban on crop use of DDT, until residual DDT levels in adult birds declined to a point the female birds could once again produce competent shells for the eggs they laid. DDT levels in fish and prey also had to drop to levels that would not poison chicks just hatched.

EPA banned DDT from U.S. farms in 1972, designating all DDT made in the country for export, to fight disease. Though DDT use declined world wide as resistance to the pesticide spread rapidly among mosquitoes and flies that were its target, most diseases DDT fought against declined. I estimate about 100 million fewer people died of malaria alone after the DDT ban. Birds were saved, and so were humans.





Global warming changes local bird populations, matching scientists’ predictions

April 3, 2016 caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service Read more at:

Most serious birdwatchers can tell you about global warming and climate change, just from watching the birds at their feeders, and when those birds migrate.

Now comes a study to confirm with data and controlled observation what the birders have been saying all along. reported:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published in the journal Science.

It is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world, the researchers said.

Among the species showing pronounced effects of climate change are common woodland and garden birds such as the wren, in Europe, and the American robin in the USA.

(Read more at:

Biologists especially work to predict effects of warming on plants and animals, both to help plan changes in activities such as farming and hunting, and to protect species that are endangered now, or are likely to become so due to changing climate factors.

This study shows scientists can predict with accuracy some of the wildlife effects.

These changes are consistent with changing climate suitability within those areas, the researchers said.

Other factors, such as the size of the birds, the habitats they live in and their migratory behaviour, all affect , but did not differ systematically between groups advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change.

Therefore, only climate change could explain the differences between average population trends in advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the researchers said.

The study’s lead authors, Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents.

The study was published in the April 1, 2016 issue of Science, “Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents.

Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4858

Tip of the old scrub brush to Svein T veitdal:

Are birds smarter than Columbus?

March 8, 2016

Another great find on Twitter, for geography, biology and physics classes.

How do birds navigate, compared to, say, Columbus? Most U.S. history texts make a big deal of Columbus’s navigation, made possible by invention of the magnetic compass and the sextant.

Birds are more accurate, and they have neither. Well, they don’t have external magnetic compasses. See the cartoon.

Neuroscientist and cartoonist team up to talk about birds

Neuroscientist and cartoonist team up to talk about birds “seeing” magnetic lines of the Earth! Information from Dwayne Godwin at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, with drawings by Jorge Cham, who draws Piled Higher and Deeper.

Teachers, have someone in the drafting department make this cartoon into a poster for your classroom.

As usual, the truth is more weird and wonderful than fiction writers could hope to invent.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Columbia University’s Twitter managers.

Say what? India only now figures out DDT kills birds?

January 17, 2012

Here’s a troubling thought:  What if India’s use of DDT now is just as destructive as the use of DDT in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s?

Why even mention it?  We’ve been reminded here that in the 21st century India is the world’s leading producer of DDT, and that the nation uses more DDT than the rest of the world combined.

Mon Town Baptist Church in the mist, Nagaland, India - Wikipedia image

Mon Town Baptist Church in the mist, Nagaland, India. The people of the state of Nagaland are mostly Christian, and local Baptist groups were among the most politically active groups who worked to put an end to fighting in the area in the early 1960s – Wikipedia image

From my perch in Dallas, Texas, it’s difficult to get a perspective on just how much DDT is used in the nation, and how much of the use is abusive, out of doors, or leading to environmental contamination.

One of the news feeds picked up on this opinion piece from Maneka Gandhi, blogging at the Nagaland PostNagaland is India’s most northeastern province.

Blyth’s Tragopan is the state bird of Nagaland, India's most northeastern province. A member of the pheasant clan, this beautiful bird is threatened by overhunting and DDT, even though it is chiefly a seed eater.

Blyth’s Tragopan is the state bird of Nagaland, India’s most northeastern province. A member of the pheasant clan, this beautiful bird is threatened by overhunting and DDT, even though it is chiefly a seed eater.

Among other troubling issues:  Ms. Gandhi talks about “with the disappearance of the vulture.”  Ecologists should sit up and take note of that; what cleans up the roadside carrion in Nagaland?

Killing birds due to human activity

[Maneka Gandhi]

16 Jan. 2012 11:51 PM IST

Last week I wrote about the strange and mysterious deaths of birds and fish that have taken place. But how many birds are killed every year due to human activity? I am not going to take into account the billion chickens that are killed at the rate of 1000 every minute, the turkeys, emus, ducks, quail that are slaughtered in the millions. I am talking about the birds you do not eat but kill anyway with deliberate malice or carelessness. Why are you ignorant of these? Because bird bodies are rarely found on the roads.

Night roaming scavengers finish them off very quickly. Here’s one estimate of numbers. A 2005 paper by Wallace Erickson, Gregory Johnson, and David Young (“A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions”) estimates that 500 million-1 billion birds are killed each year in the U.S. alone from human-related causes.

This includes: Collisions with buildings – 550 million (58.2%) Collisions with power lines – 130 million (13.7%) Cats – 100 million (10.6%) Cars, trucks, etc. –80 million (8.5%) Pesticides – 67 million (7.1%) Communication towers – 4.5 million (0.5%) Wind turbines – 28.5 thousand (less than 0.01%) Airplanes –25 thousand (less than 0.01%) Other sources (oil spills, fishing by-catch, etc) – did not estimate I would put the same number in India.

Perhaps decrease the collision with buildings and increase the pesticide hit ones. While large mortality events make the news, the constant attrition, the constant killing has put one in six bird species worldwide in danger of extinction because of the factors listed above plus habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. I was in Kolkata recently to start a campaign to save sparrows. It consisted of caps, drawings, speeches and the distribution of bird feeders.

I hope it will work but this much I learnt – very few of the children in the school had even seen a sparrow. How many kinds of birds have you seen? Most cities now just have crows and kites and a few parakeets. Looking at this list, can you see a number of ways that people – from municipalities to individuals can work to prevent at least some of these deaths.

Things like making windows and other structures more visible to birds, keeping cats indoors, and minimizing use of pesticides are all crucial to the survival of many species. The deaths are huge and quick but they are preventable if we just tweak our lifestyles. If I told you that you stood at the edge of a cliff and a little step forward would kill you but if you just sidestepped, you could reach safety, would you not?  Often the disappearance of a bird species alters entire human lifestyles, forcing them to change.

With the disappearance of the vulture most villages have had to think of what to do with cow/bullock dead bodies.

The carcass which would have been cleaned up in an hour by the vultures now becomes a threat to human life. No solutions have been found as yet. The Parsis will have to find another way to honour their dead as the towers of silence have no vultures so an entire religion has changed. China lost its sparrows (killed all of them) and then lost its grain because the insects proliferated. It finally had to import sparrows and start rebreeding them.

Today it is losing them again – as we are. Animal mortality is actually a far larger problem than these numbers might suggest. Just one example: in the U.S. there are some 70 million house cats. Each year they kill off hundreds of millions of native birds and more than a billion small mammals such as rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels. The numbers are staggering. But they tend to go unnoticed, except by ecological researchers.

Most people consider what these cats (which are non-native, invasive pets) are doing to be “natural.” While animals are killed by weather fluctuations, lightning generated fires, the impacts of volcanism, earthquakes or other natural threats, all these hazards pale in comparison to what humans do to them. We have become by far the most significant factor in the deaths of individual animals, or entire species over the past several centuries.

There are many lethal artifacts of civilization. These range from agricultural toxins, to industrial pollution, to lawn care chemicals, to windows and glass buildings (which attract birds to collide with reflections), to predatory pets, to wires to loss of crucial habitats. So many birds have been killed by DDT alone – and it is still being used.

When the Americans finally noticed that their national bird, the Bald Eagle, was disappearing due to DDT, they banned it. We have lost all our birds of prey because DDT does a lot more than just kill insects. It impacts birds of prey to such a degree that it causes their eggs to weaken so that they can’t hatch.

Our consumption of fish is killing all the shore birds. With sonar fish finders and GPS technology, fish harvesters are decimating swordfish, tuna, and a host of other “food species” as our world population swells to 7 billion.

Make a New Year resolution that goes beyond not smoking, drinking and being nice to your mother/daughter in law. Start by making your house less toxic and by eating organic wheat/dal/rice. Plant as many fruit trees as you can so that birds have somewhere to nest. Choose a village and see if you can help them clean up their water body.

More, resources: 

Amazing film – Flight of the eagle owl

October 8, 2011

Imagine for a moment that you are a wee little mousie, sitting on a tuft of grass nibbling on a seed. You think you feel a breath of a breeze from in back of you and you turn around to see this beautiful thing

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Amazing nature – The Eagle Owl, posted with vodpod

Beautiful, but terrible, too.

Owls fly silently. Their feathers have evolved to move without rustles, to let the wind slip through them without making a whish. Owls demonstrate evolution at its mightiest, and nature, as the poets note, “red in tooth and claw.”

Filmed at 1000 frames per second, according to  According to Vurtrunner at YouTube, filmed with a
Photron Full HD High Speed Camera SA2.

I’d like to know more about this film.  Trained owl?  Wild owl enticed by what kind of bait?  Longer movie about eagle owls?  I’m not familiar with them.  So many little mysteries on the internet.


Update:  From YouTube’s account of SloMoHighSpeed:

New Photron SA-2 High Definition High Speed Camera. Shot of ‘Checkers’ the eagle owl, 1000fps 1920×1080 resolution. Shot by SlowMo ( See the owl and other birds of prey at

From Wikipedia

The Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) is a species of eagle owl resident in much of Europe and Asia. It is also one of the largest types of owls.

*   *   *   *   *   *

The Eagle Owl is a large and powerful bird, smaller than the Golden Eagle but larger than the Snowy Owl. It is sometimes referred to as the world’s largest owl, but this is actually the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, which is slightly bigger on average.[2][3] The Eagle Owl has a wingspan of 138–200 cm (55–79 in) and measures 58–75 cm (23–30 in) long. Females weigh 1.75-4.5 kg (3.9-10 lbs) and males weigh 1.5-3.2 kg (3.3-7 lbs).[4][5][6] In comparison, the Barn Owl weighs about 500 grams (1.1 lbs).

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kathryn.

Snail zombies in our garden!

July 6, 2010

It became really apparent during the rains last week.

Snails crawl up the walls and plants around our patio, and appear to wait to die there.  We’ve moved them back down to the soil, and they climb up again.

Kathryn remarked at the army of snails on the garage wall, beneath a bird feeder . . . that was the clue.

I don’t think ours do that eye-stalk thing.  Worse for the parasites, most of the birds ignore the snails.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kate at The Urban Primate.

MacDowell’s book kept me out of church for at least a decade.

In the later pages he talks about how many copies of the Bible there are, and he says that’s an indication of how accurate it is, and that it’s the truth.  That’s like saying any document I create becomes  more truthful the higher the number of Xerox copies I make.

I figured that was one of the stupidest claims ever made.  Maybe it was the crowd I was in with, but the more devout Christians (except for the Mormons, but that’s a different tale) swooned over the claim.  I thought that any belief system that was so devoid of logic, and which required adherents to abandon all reason, was foolish.

About five years ago I picked it up again when one of our youth ministers asked me about it, and I skimmed through it again looking for any cogent, careful and compelling argument.  Of course, this was long after law school and due diligence work in the law . . . I thought it more foolish than I had found it years before.

I summed it up this way for the youth minister:  If there were evidence, we wouldn’t need faith.  We call it a faith proudly, and we discuss the mysteries.  It’s a tragedy that MacDowell has been divorced from that sweet part of Christian discovery and leap of faith.  Were there evidence enough for a verdict, we’d not need faith, and it would be impossible to be anything other than an agnostic who has found the evidence.

Your mileage may differ, but if so, you need a tune-up.

Ed Darrell

Can’t fool the birds: Migratory birds in North America react to climatic warming

February 12, 2009

Generally it would be an insult to call someone a bird brain.  We may need to revise that thinking.  In contrast to climate change denialists, 177 species of migratory birds in North America have adjusted their migrations because of a warming climate.  The birds know something the denialists don’t.

The news comes from the National Audubon Society, after analysis of 40 years of bird count data.

Migrations has the story, along with the map that is appearing in U.S. newspapers this week.  Cornell University’s ornithology blog, Round Robin, provides history to the study and a couple more links to science reports.

How will denialists spin this?  It’s difficult for them to claim that the birds have been hornswoggled by inaccurate newspaper accounts, since these are not the birds whose cages are lined with newspapers.

Eastern Meadowlark, photo by FWS/John and Karen Hollingsworth

Eastern Meadowlark, photo by FWS/John and Karen Hollingsworth

We don’t have a canary in a mine warning us, this time.  It’s the meadowlark on the prairie. Will we listen, in time?

Eastern and Western Meadowlark: These popular robin-sized grassland birds form winter flocks and always feed on the ground. Neither species has been wintering farther north over the past 40 years, probably because the quality of northern grasslands is not sufficient to support these birds through the winter. The Eastern Meadowlark is one of Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline; its population has plummeted 72% in population over the last 40 years.

Also see this earlier post, “Plants refuse to listen to climate change skeptics.”

Hope is the things with feathers

September 11, 2008

The Singing Cricket noticed that, with DDT use in decline, a lot of birds can be seen that we didn’t see for a long time. She takes hope at that thought.

Nice photos, too.

Apologies to Emily Dickinson, of course.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: