Mexico's Avian Crisis and How You Can Help

Mexico boasts a stunning variety of birds, but 65% face threats. From habitat loss to feral cats, these feathered friends need our help. World Migratory Bird Day highlights the importance of protecting birds and their insect food source to ensure a healthy ecosystem for all.

Mexico's Avian Crisis and How You Can Help
Soaring high: Mexico boasts a stunning variety of birds, but many face threats.

Mexico boasts a staggering avian variety – somewhere between 1,060 and 1,107 bird species flit through its skies. But a shadow falls over this vivid scene: 65% of these feathered wonders face some degree of vulnerability, with a worrying 17% teetering on the brink. This is the stark warning from Fahd Henrry Carmona Torres, a UNAM academic deeply invested in the fate of Mexico's winged jewels.

Carmona Torres, a champion for avian conservation, urges us to marvel at these creatures. "They graced our land before us," he proclaims, "and it's our duty to ensure they grace it after." He sheds light on the fascinating composition of Mexico's birdlife: 70% are permanent residents, while 30% are migratory, flitting in during spring and autumn, following the ancient rhythm of the seasons. There are also transient visitors, mere wayfarers on their epic journeys, and others who find themselves unexpectedly lingering.

These remarkable aviators, Carmona Torres emphasizes, depend on our support. Their journeys are marathons, pushing them to their limits, searching for food, mates, and havens to raise their young. They rely on safe stopovers, pockets of sustenance and rest, to replenish their energy before continuing their incredible journey.

This year, World Migratory Bird Day's theme is a clarion call: "Protect the insects, protect the birds." It underscores the vital role arthropods play in sustaining the richness and diversity of bird populations. Birds themselves act as nature's pest controllers, keeping insect populations in check. Carmona Torres highlights the dangers of rampant pesticide and herbicide use, not just in agricultural fields but also in our own urban backyards.

Birds, he explains, are gourmands with a varied palette. They relish plant-based delights like nectar, flowers, seeds, and fruits. But they're also enthusiastic insectivores, arthropods forming a significant part of their diet. The message is clear – a world without insects is a world without birds. And a world without birds opens the door for uncontrolled insect populations, potentially wreaking havoc on ecosystems and human well-being.

Carmona Torres stresses the urgency of conserving this avian abundance, striving to keep Mexico firmly within the top ten to eleven countries boasting the most bird species. However, he paints a sobering picture. These feathered friends arrive in habitats teeming with natural predators. But a new threat has emerged – one introduced by humans – feral domestic animals. The United States alone is estimated to have a staggering 200 million cats, with a jaw-dropping 120 million roaming free, preying on unsuspecting birds.

The introduction of exotic birds, whether accidental or deliberate, poses another threat. Species like monk parakeets disrupt the delicate ecological balance, competing for precious food resources and potentially introducing diseases that devastate native bird populations.

Carmona Torres digs into the concept of "faunal erosion," a term used by some authors to describe the decline in bird populations. This decrease in abundance weakens their genetic diversity, impacting their long-term survival. Mexico itself has witnessed the tragedy of extinction. The majestic imperial woodpecker, once gracing the northern regions, vanished due to habitat destruction and unsustainable hunting practices. Even pigeons haven't been spared, their numbers dwindling from excessive hunting. He also highlights the dangers posed by rats, squirrels, and other opportunistic creatures that prey on eggs and chicks or compete for food resources.

Three blue jays with a crest of white feathers sit on a branch in a tree. A city skyline is visible in the background.
Urban threats: Feral cats and habitat loss endanger birds in Mexican cities.

Carmona Torres reminds us that World Migratory Bird Day, established in 2006, is a global initiative by the United Nations Environment Program and various conservation organizations. Mexico, he beams, is a privileged haven for both resident and migratory birds. Four major migratory routes crisscross the country – the Pacific route, the Central route, the Mississippi route following the Gulf of Mexico coastline, and the Atlantic route.

"Witnessing flocks of birds dance on the currents is a sight to behold," Carmona Torres enthuses. "Their beauty is undeniable, and their songs a tune for the soul. We should celebrate them every day."

He concludes by highlighting past themes of World Migratory Bird Day – celebrating these creatures as global connectors (2020), the music of their songs (2021), the impact of light pollution on their migrations (2022), and the critical importance of water for both aquatic and migratory birds (2023).