Birds symbolize many of the things that are most important to us, such as freedom, song, bright colors, good cheer and the changing seasons of the year. National Bird Day, observed each year on January 5th, celebrates all of these things and also calls attention to many of the ways in which human activity and human habitation can harm birds. As many as 12% of the over 10,000 different bird species are listed as endangered, largely due to the loss of habitat and food sources.
National Bird Day is also intended to draw attention to the plight of wild birds in captivity and the cruelty involved in the international trade in wild birds. The day is celebrated with activities like bird watching, building bird habitats, making buildings safer for birds, and raising awareness of the need to conserve wild habitats.
What Is National Bird Day?
Since 2008, January 5 has been celebrated as National Bird Day. The day is intended to celebrate birds’ beauty, song and flight and also their important role in the ecosystem. Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, birds provide indications of the health of an ecosystem. The day is also an occasion to recognize the threats to avian well-being and take steps to reduce these.
Besides National Bird Day, there are a couple of other days connected to birds that are observed each year. May 4th is Bird Day, and the second Saturday in May is International Migratory Bird Day. All of these celebrate the beauty and joy that birds bring into our lives and support conservation efforts.
Why Is National Bird Day Needed?
Human habitation and activity inevitably comes with a cost for the natural world. Destruction of habitat for birds and wildlife, and air and water pollution which leads to a scarcity of food sources, are the two most significant problems affecting birds in the wild. About 12% of all bird species, including many kinds of parrots and songbirds, are officially classed as threatened species.
Wild birds kept in captivity as pets suffer in artificial environments that don’t meet their natural behavioral and physical needs. The US pet industry treats them like merchandise, exploiting the appeal of their brilliant coloring and cheerful songs to sell them as pets in homes, where they are unable to fulfill their wild destiny. The lives of wild birds in captivity are marred by sadness and neurotic behaviors. Many die in the international trade in exotic birds and in the breeding mills that keep them in miserable conditions.
Human habitation and buildings take their toll on bird life in many ways. Clear glass windows, sliding doors, and glass walls pose a risk of fatal collision for birds. National Bird Day is meant to draw attention to all of these problems and to inspire people to take action that will allow birds to live their lives wild and free.
How Can People Celebrate National Bird Day?
There are many ways to celebrate National Bird Day that will bring people a better understanding of these feathered denizens of our planet and how we can contribute to their well-being. Bird-watching walks, building bird houses and bird habitats, and raising awareness of conservation and captivity issues are ways to observe this day. Essays and drawing competitions are also held to celebrate National Bird Day.
Organizing bird walks and bird watching trips is one way of getting to know and understand the role that birds play within the ecosystem. It’s also a chance to get close to birds in their natural habitat and to appreciate their gifts of beauty and song. For many, this can be an introduction to the need for conservation of wild habitats so that birds can continue to live wild and free.
This can range from putting up bird houses and bird feeders to planting bird-friendly gardens and habitats. Many people worry that bird feeders distract birds from their natural feeding habits, but in fact they supplement them in a way that is very helpful. Bird feeders with seeds, suet and sugared water for hummingbirds help migratory birds build up their strength for long and arduous journeys in the fall.
In the summer, bird baths give birds a place to cool off and clean their feathers, and to get a refreshing drink of water. In the winter, feeders can be a lifeline for birds that are overwintering in colder northern climates.
Gardeners can learn how to plant habitats where wild birds can nest, find food and stay safe. There are also certain kinds of plants that attract hummingbirds to feed on their flowers. If you want a hummingbird garden, some of the flowers you can plant are brightly-colored and nectar-rich varieties like bee balm, the cardinal flower, zinnia, salvia, bleeding hearts and the trumpet creeper. Lupines, columbines and petunias will also attract hummingbirds.
National Bird Day is also an occasion to spread awareness about the need for conservation of the wild habitats that provide shelter and food for wild birds. You can organize events focused on conservation and wild birds in your neighborhood, school or local public library. You can amplify your efforts by supporting national groups and sanctuaries that are trying to protect wild habitats.
Reducing Risks From Buildings
While buildings with flat glass surfaces pose a danger of collisions for birds, who cannot see the barriers because of the glare from reflected sunlight, it is possible to take steps to reduce the risk. This can be done by reducing the reflected glare by putting vinyl decals on glass windows, doors and other surfaces, adding bug screens, and using frosted or etched windows. Putting up sun shades or awnings outside windows can also help to reduce glare and prevent bird collisions. You can even find bird-shaped decals that will show birds they are approaching a solid surface.
Raising Awareness of the Plight of Wild Birds in Captivity
“Free as a bird” is one of our oldest cultural metaphors, but it doesn’t apply to the tens of thousands of wild birds that live in captivity. Groups like the Avian Welfare Coalition use the occasion of National Bird Day to campaign to end the destructive bird trade and bird breeding mills and to improve the condition wild of birds already in captivity. While the pet industry has sold bird lovers on the idea of owning an exotic feathered species as a pet, the reality is that this is an unnatural existence for the poor birds.
A Global Business
The demand for wild birds as pets fuels the global market in the trade for captured birds. Thousands of birds die at every stage of this trade, many from the initial shock of being netted and caged and others during the process of transportation in aircraft cargo holds. As many as 60% of captured wild birds die before they even reach the markets where they are sold as household pets to well-meaning bird lovers.
Wild birds are not a domesticated species and develop all kinds of health and behavioral problems in captivity. Their natural existence is to live in gregarious groups and to fly freely in the sky. They live in trees and spend their lives in the open. In captivity, as pets, they suffer from not being being able to fly and flock or enjoy their natural diet.
Wild birds in captivity may even take to self-mutilation and tear out their own feathers until they are left with completely bare skin. The few wild bird sanctuaries in the US are flooded with wild birds whose former owners have been forced to give them up due to the kinds of heath and behavioral problems the birds have developed in captivity. These sanctuaries cannot keep up with the sheer numbers of wild birds to be surrendered. As a result, many owners just set their birds free outside, where they will perish in the northern winters.
Ending the Cruelty
There are many ways to end this needlessly cruel cycle, beginning with educating the public and potential bird owners about the conditions of wild birds in captivity. The alternative is to support conservation efforts to maintain the wild habitat where the birds live. Rather than keeping them in cages as pets, bird lover should be encouraged to visit birds in their natural habitats through ecologically responsible ecotourism.
Bird lovers can also support sanctuaries that keep wild birds rescued from captivity while avoiding stores and businesses that sell or display wild birds.
Birds stand for happiness and freedom in cultures around the world, but the reality is that they are highly endangered because of human activity. Even when well-meaning people keep them as pets, wild birds suffer due to loss of their natural lives and behaviors. National Bird Day is an occasion to educate yourself and others about how we can improve conditions for these creatures that give us so much joy and inspiration.