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“We are witnessing the sixth mass extinction, that of the birds”

How are the birds? What factors affect their populations? What to do to help them? Can birdhouses save them? The opinion of specialists.

Chickadee © Getty / Mark L Stanley

On the occasion of the release of “Birds of America” ​​film by Jacques Loeuille and the broadcast of “Where are our birds gone” by Hugo Clément on France Inter, Frédéric Jiguet, ornithologist and professor of biology at the MNHN and Victor Noël, a 17-year-old high school student and activist committed to the protection of biodiversity, were, among others, the guests of La Terre au Carré. Together, they made an inventory of the bird population.

A drastic reduction in the workforce

Frédéric Jiguet explains: “Birds, like many other species, are part of the sixth mass extinction. We are witnessing a major decline in their population. We see it everywhere. And overall, since we count birds in a standardized way, we lose birds. The numbers are impressive. A published study says that between 1989 and 2019, it is -28% in urban areas, and -30% in agricultural areas. And these are average figures! »

Various causes

The reasons for such an extinction? According to Frédéric Jiguet, ” This phenomenon is due to the modification of habitats, to climate change, to the transformation of land use, to the intensification of exploitation practices, to pollution, and to pesticides…”

A difference depending on the species

The ornithologist continues: “Generalist species, those that can eat anything, live anywhere, can get by. But for those who need specific resources, such as an old forest, a specific type of caterpillar… It’s catastrophic. We have lost 80% of turtle doves for 30 years!

This decline has become widespread in developed countries: both on the American continent and on the European continent. About fifteen years ago, the new countries joining the European Union triggered the disappearance of birds and agricultural environments. So putting in place a Common Agricultural Policy which, for the purpose of production, rather than the preservation of agro-ecosystems, has led to a decline in birds. »

We won’t save the birds only with nesting boxes

Victor Noel, 17, is a passionate ornithologist. He is interviewed in Hugo Clément’s film. He specifies: “In Paris, for example, in thirteen years, three out of four sparrows have disappeared. We don’t know exactly why. But it could be several elements: noise pollution, air pollution, endocrine disruptors… But it would also be because young people feed on invertebrates and insects, and they would find it difficult to to find. Above all, I was able to note a disappearance linked to urbanization which does not allow birds to find crevices as before in old buildings. Nesting boxes can make up for this lack.

But we must not believe that we are going to save birds with nesting boxes, we are going to save birds with a global policy, a change in the agricultural model, etc. »

There is good news

Frédéric Jiguet: “Things are going badly, overall for the birds, but we also know how to identify situations where things are going well overall: Natura 2000 sites, highly diversified agricultural areas, places that practice organic or reasonable agriculture with less pesticides… From these nuclei, we could repopulate France with birds…”

In Paris, it doesn’t go down anymore

Frédéric Jiguet gives recent news on the population of Parisian birds: “According to the latest count data in Paris sent by Frédéric Mallet, we have witnessed a stabilization in the number of sparrows since 2015. Even if it is a low stabilization, the fall is stopped. There are still two out of ten sparrows compared to the beginning of the 2000s. The thermal renovation has been very harmful for sparrows, swifts, swallows in the capital, at the same time, we have stopped using pesticides…”

And the cats in all this?

For Frédéric Jiguet the role of cats in the reduction of the bird population is much debated. “Is the predation of domestic cats in gardens on birds responsible for their decline? No, but when you have a serious illness, if you add a cold or the flu, it can also have aggravating consequences… So it’s not necessarily good. »

LISTEN | Earth squared on birds

Go further

Count the birds. A call to count birds: the League for the Protection of Birds and the National Museum of Natural History ask you to help science with data collection, with therefore a national call.

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