Neonicotinoids, a commonly used insecticide that has been banned in Europe, has been linked to illness and lowered birth rates for American songbirds
We have covered the dangers of rampant neonicotinoids in this website before. Though they are banned in Europe, a lot of the US agricultural industry has made regular use of them since they were introduced in the 1980s as a "safe" pesticide. The dangers to pollinator populations have been well documented, as pesticides like neonicotinoids have been linked to massive bee colony death, but now scientists are linking the pesticide to a decrease in the songbird population. That means we're going to hear less of the beautiful sounds of nature in the future. Given that I have a couple songbirds in my yard that wake my ass up at 6AM every day I'm not entirely opposed, but even I can recognize that this is probably a bad thing.
National Geographic ran a story on the neonicotinoids effect on the bird population. In short, the little songbirds eat the seeds of plants treated with the pesticide and the chemical acts as an appetite suppressant, making the birds smaller and less healthy. In addition, injesting plants treated neonicotinoids creates a "hangover" effect in the birds during their migrations. As the birds travel for mating season, the ones who came in contact with the pesticide would require a longer time to rest. This delay means that they don't get to the breeding ground in time to mate, which decreases the overall songbird population.
From the article:
To investigate the potential impacts on wild birds, researchers captured white-crowned sparrows during a stopover on their spring migratory route from the U.S. to the boreal region of Canada, which spans the top of the country. Individual sparrows were fed either one very small dose of the most commonly used neonicotinoid, called imidacloprid, or a slightly higher dose, or one with no insecticide.
Each bird was weighed and its body composition measured before and after exposure. Birds given a higher dose of the pesticide had lost 6 percent of their body mass when weighed again six hours later.
The high dose given is comparable to a bird eating one-tenth of a single sunflower seed or corn seed treated with imidacloprid, or three or more wheat seeds, says co-author Christy Morrissey, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Saskatchewan. “It’s a minuscule amount, a tiny fraction of what these birds would eat daily,” Morrissey said in an interview.
Imidacloprid, even at extremely low doses, has an appetite-suppressing effect on the sparrows. They were lethargic and not interested in eating, she said. “We saw the same thing with captive birds in a previous study.”
Scientists are continuing to investigate how seeds treated with neonicotinoids affect other species like mice, deer, and even black bears.
In the meantime, we all need to push for a ban on these pesticides, otherwise we will lose the melodious sound of our songbirds in the air.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to throw a rock at a nest.