Birds of wide varieties can be found worldwide and have become an integral part of human culture. Their beautiful appearance and delightful songs allow people to connect deeply with nature.
What are Birds?
Birds are also vital to ecosystems, both wild and those managed by humans. We rely on them for pest control, maintaining habitats, and pollinating plants.
The diversity and variety of birds found in almost every habitat on earth is a scientific marvel.
Birds are warm-blooded vertebrates defined by the feathers that cover their bodies. These feathers provide insulation, reflect light for ornamental purposes, and assist with flight.
They have wings and incredibly light, hollow bones, which assist them with flying. Birds also lay eggs, which have a hard shell, and instead of teeth, they have a tough bills, often with ridges inside.
Only 40 species of birds out of over 10,000 are flightless. This includes the penguin that uses its wings as flippers to swim and the ostrich that has grown so big it no longer needs to fly.
Birds are unique in the animal world and incredibly intelligent. Ravens can mimic sounds, African Grey Parrots can learn hundreds of words, and Blue Jays have been shown to use tools.
8 Interesting Ways Birds are Important to the Planet
1. Birds are an Important Part of Ecosystems
A wide variety of birds of many different sizes perform essential roles within even one ecosystem.
Smaller birds may eat seeds and nuts, dropping many of these to the forest floor where creatures below can access these nutrients. Some birds control insect populations and prevent them from overwhelming plants and trees.
There are also African birds that eat parasites directly from grazing cattle.
Birds of prey help to keep rodent numbers in check and vultures clean the land by scavenging on dead meat.
Birds help to balance the food chain by eating fast-reproducing rodents and insects. This ensures populations are managed and do not grow to unsustainable levels, which can devastate ecosystems.
2. Birds Help Forest Ecosystems by Dispersing Fungi
There are some species of bird, like the Black-throated Huet-Huet from Patagonia that feeds on fungi. When these birds unearth this fungus to eat, they collect spores on their bodies, which they disperse throughout the forest as they travel.
Trees use fungi within their roots, where an intricate network forms. It is believed that trees rely on fungi networks to communicate with one another, share resources like food and water, and send distress signals if there is an insect attack.
Birds are completing an important service by spreading fungi, as this ensures trees have a healthy and diverse supply for this symbiotic relationship.
3. Birds are Important Pollinators
Hummingbirds and other flower-visiting birds are essential to plants and trees when they visit their flowers to drink nectar. They are attracted to bright colors and shapes, and plants have adapted to provide study perches for pollinating birds.
The birds dive deep within the flower to get to the sweet nectar, which is when pollen attaches to their body. They then spread the pollen to other flowers they visit, allowing plants to reproduce.
In tropical regions, birds help pollinate many wildflowers and fruit plants like bananas and papaya. Birds are underappreciated pollinators, but research into these creatures’ impact on wildflower reproduction is increasing.
4. Birds Spread Nutrients in the Ocean
Seabirds eat fish, crustaceans, and other sea-dwelling creatures in the open ocean or near the shore. These birds must return to land to rest and lay their eggs in nests. During this time, they will deposit guano or droppings, usually on the rock, cliff face, or ground they nest on.
The bird droppings are rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, which is an excellent fertilizer for plants and even coral reefs.
Large numbers of birds nest in Greenland in the summer, and it is estimated that they drop 3,500 tons of nitrogen from the ocean onto the land. This has boosted the arctic flora, which helps to graze animals that live in this challenging habitat.
This helps to cycle nutrients within the ocean’s ecosystem as birds eat food from the open seas and deposit this into shallow waters or on land.
5. Birds Protect Important Habitats Like Wetlands
Wading birds are vital in managing wetland grazing species like snails and periwinkles. They hunt these species, which in the absence of predation, would turn the wetland into mudflats due to overgrazing.
Wetlands, marshlands, and mangroves provide natural flood barriers, water filtration, and protection during storm surges. Wetlands are also excellent carbon sinks when left undisturbed because of the dense layer of vegetation and deep soil.
6. Birds are Natural Pest Control
Worldwide, birds consume 400-500 million tons of insects each year. This is within gardens, forests, savannahs, farmland, towns, and cities.
Many birds reduce the number of mosquitos. This includes the Barn Swallow, which eats around 850 insects each day.
Coffee farmers in Jamaica have enlisted the help of birds to eat caterpillars. This has led to an increase in farm profits of hundreds of dollars per hectare. The theme continues within the vineyards of California, where Bluebirds help to protect crops by eating beet armyworm larvae.
7. Birds Disperse Seeds
A primary food source for many birds is seeds and nuts that grow from plants and trees. When birds eat these food items, they play an important role in dispersing the seed into new areas.
The bird deposits the seed through their droppings, providing the seed with vital nutrients to help them grow.
These seeds can also attach to the bird’s feathers and be carried large distances until it falls off. Birds also carry plant material in their beaks or claws to create nests. This is vital to plants like mistletoe, which do not root in the soil but instead of growing on the branches of trees.
Hornbills and Toucans are experts at dispersing seeds in the tropics, and the plants have adapted to attract these birds. In Germany, the Jay spreads an average of 4,600 acorns over 2 miles each season, which is vital for Oak trees.
8. Birds Contribute to the Happiness of People
Birding brings joy to millions of people around the world. This is the hobby of observing and identifying birds in their natural habitat. This encourages people to get outdoors and enjoy nature, boosting the economy as money is spent on tools and travel.
There are benefits to birds for everyone, not just birders. A hospital in Liverpool, UK plays soothing bird songs in the halls of the children’s ward to calm anxious patients. Birds can bring happiness through their sound and sight while connecting people to nature.
What is Happening to Birds Across the World?
Bird species across the world are declining in numbers.
A recent report outlined that even well-researched bird species in the U.S. and Canada have declined by nearly 30% in the last 50 years. This is mainly because of habitat loss through urbanization and repurposing land for farming.
There are also other factors like pesticides causing the death of many birds. Feral and domestic cats also kill billions of birds every year.
Migratory birds have suffered significant population declines as it is challenging to protect these birds from poaching or prevent habitat loss across country borders.
Climate change is another issue affecting bird numbers. Changes in global temperatures are causing birds to migrate long distances to find suitable climates to nest. It also affects when insects emerge as spring arrives earlier.
Many birds rely on these insects to breed and feed their young, and if they arrive too late, then bird populations will suffer.
What Can We Do to Help Birds?
Make Outdoor Spaces Bird-friendly
One of the best ways you can help your local species of birds is to make outdoor spaces bird-friendly. In the winter, this could provide extra food in the form of seeds and nuts, and in the summer, ensure the birds have access to water for drinking and bathing.
Help Protect Habitats
Habitat loss is one of the main reasons bird populations are in decline. Protection needs to be placed on important habitats such as forests and wetlands. Seabirds would benefit from regulations being placed on fishing and the introduction of more protected marine parks.
It is important to support charities campaigning to protect birds, like the worldwide organization BirdLife. We should encourage governments to protect wildlife like birds through policies and regulations before important species are lost.
Take Part in Local Bird Counts
Taking part in local bird counts is another excellent way to help these creatures. This helps scientists collect more data to estimate the number of birds in populations. This is only possible with the help of the public, who can send records of their local bird sightings.
This is an excellent way to monitor bird species’ declines or see if species are moving because of climate change.
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