When I was in 1st grade, my teacher, Miss. Pippert, gathered me and my classmates together and walked us through the woods near our elementary school. The destination was my house.
A short time later, we sat quiely in the grass. The object of our fascination a pair of nesting bluebirds that had taken up residence in a tree in my backyard. We watched the bluebirds flutter about, tending their nest, blue plumage startling against the bright green leaves of spring.
What drew us there? Even then the sighting of Eastern bluebirds was declining due to loss of habitat and nesting sites. The newly-built, suburban community in which we lived – one of probably hundreds in Northern New Jersey at the time – had taken the place of the wild land the birds favored.
I didn’t understand this as a child, but I do remember my mother bitterly denoncing the family cat when he killed the bluebird father. We mourned the creature’s loss. After that, the mother bird left, never to return.
Today, birds of all kinds face possible extinction. Recent studies show that North America has lost three billion birds, dropping from ten billion in 1970 to seven billion birds today. Bird populations in the US and Canada have declined 29% in the last 50 years.
It wasn’t until I began researching my new novel, Wild Horses on the Salt, that the plight of birds again came to my attention. I learned the horses that roam free along Arizona’s Salt River are damaging the ecosystem on which both resident and migratory birds rely. Horses eat the cottonwood and willow saplings, decimating nesting sites birds need to survive.
The good news is that since 1918 the United States has enforced the Migratory Bird Act which makes it illegal to kill or injure any of the 1,000 bird species that are listed under the law. The rule was put in place when it became obvious that the millions of feathers being collected to adorn women’s fashions would ultimately eliminate many avian species.
The MBA also makes it unlawful to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior.”
Despite the MBA, however, bird species continue to decline. According to the USA Today article, “3 billion birds lost since 1970 in N. America,” “The cause is primarily habitat loss, as birds are losing the places they need to live, find food, rest and raise their young. Other threats include free-roaming cats, collisions with glass, toxic pesticides and insect decline.”
While I have always liked watching birds, I have taken them for granted. I didn’t realize how much they add to our existence until I traveled to China, where, with the exception of a pair of ducks in a city pond, I noticed not a single bird. I mentioned this to a friend, an avid birder, and he wasn’t the least bit surprised. He explained that humans have lived in China for many thousands of years. Over that time, bird populations were plundered for food. Countries in Europe and Africa face the same issue. The Americas, however, have only been heavily populated for the last couple of hundred years, so our bird populations have not yet been decimated.
But they still could be, if we’re not careful.
Since that trip to China, I find myself paying closer attention to the birds that visit my neighborhood and the ones I see out on the Salt River and in the wild desert beyond.
Our world would be so empty without them.
A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND
AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.
Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.
Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.
Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?
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