Friday, February 3, 2012

Federal Mercury Standards Aid Birds

Twan and I wanted to pass along this New York Times article to make sure all of you had seen this great development for conservation. It may not have been a direct action, but the new federal mercury standards to help prevent human exposure to the pollution from power plants also helps birds and other wildlife. Our section of the country is in particular trouble...

"Methylmercury, the most toxic form of the heavy metal, was found to be widespread throughout the Northeast — not just in lakes and rivers, as had already been known, but also in forests, on mountaintops and in bogs and marshes that are home to birds long thought to be at minimal risk.
The new study found dangerously high levels of mercury in several Northeastern bird species, including rusty blackbirds, saltmarsh sparrows and wood thrushes."

What else do you notice about those three bird species? They are three very diverse songbirds in a great deal of trouble. Their numbers are plummeting for a multitude of reasons, from sea-level change (Saltmarsh Sparrows) to habitat loss and forest fragmentation (Wood Thrush) and, honestly, reasons that are largely unknown (Rusty Blackbird). Mercury has been suspected as a potential cause of the Rusty Blackbird decline, one of the most precipitous of any bird on the continent.

Mercury makes it way up the food chain and adversely affects the breeding success of birds that have even miniscule amounts in their blood. When you reduce nesting success rates by any amount, especially some of the high rates mentioned in the article, you are adding to an overwhelming set of problems already taxing various species. These standards could help the birds in our backyards tremendously.

They could also mean a great deal for bats who are in deep trouble in Connecticut and neighboring regions under the stress of white-nose syndrome. This deadly fungus is devastating entire populations and going largely unnoticed by the general public. Anything that can help them is a welcome change for conservation.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

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