By Jan Sarchio
I can’t be certain about the numbers. It is my gut, more than my calculator, that knows that the trees sing less, that the skies aren’t peppered with as many birds, that finches and chick-a-dees are fewer in number and that robins aren’t scattered from my lawn all the way to the end of the block in the same quantity that they were just a few short years ago.
I love birds. They are industrious and essential. They are brave and wondrous. They are tough, yet fragile. I have noticed for the past five years that their numbers shrink considerably after the Fourth of July. The first time I took note of this was when I had a bird house in the backyard and a common sparrow, a male, began to fill it with the makings of a nest. He chased away interlopers and spent many an hour on the apex of the house’s roof calling, calling, calling. Many sweet young ladies flew by, flirted, lifted their petticoats and studied this patient little fellow. He shooed them all away until SHE came along. She had the “it” factor he’d been looking for because soon they were dating seriously.
Spring is short in the Pacific Northwest and these two birdies knew it. They got down to the business of furnishing their cottage and fertilizing eggs. I didn’t count the days until their offspring cracked through and joined the living, but it might have been about three weeks. Then the activity level in that abode really cranked up. With four little guys to feed, defend, and clean up after, mom and pop sparrow worked full time. I watched as the hatchlings looked out their porthole, mouths open, always ready for more. They were strong, but undeveloped. Their feathers were coming in and flight was coming to their futures.
I admired that family and watched them as I tried to heal bits of my life. They gave me hope, encouragement, joy. Then the Fourth of July hit. It hit with rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air. Sulfur mixed in great quantities with oxygen as neighbor after neighbor set off their own glorious sky show. I fretted for my feathery friends. I coughed and worried that my newest neighbor’s lungs would be insufficient to the task of breathing with so much crap in the air. You know about canaries in coal mines, right? They send canaries down the hole to see if people will be able to survive the air. If the canary dies, it’s a no go for humans.
On the morning of July 5, my backyard bird house was quiet. I waited and watched, hoping to see four mouths agape and ready for breakfast. But, mom and pop were gone and their babies were dead.
It takes spring to gestate and get things going. It takes summer and fall to teach and train fledglings before winter throws the book at them nature-wise. The Fourth of July and its unrelenting fireworks kill birds. I know this for a fact. I have a sad, empty bird house as proof. Also, the evidence of far fewer swallows darting across my sky tells me that many have been hurt and thus, have died. A fallen bird is, well, a sitting duck.
It has been said that many soldiers are sent into trauma by fireworks. We’ve all had dogs that have shaken, slobbered, whined, hidden and run wild from the fear of fireworks. Birds are telling us a big, sad tale. They’re dying in droves because we want to look at twinkles in the sky. May I suggest that there are already twinkles in the sky? We call them stars. Fireworks are pretty, but they are deadly. They harm our heroes. They harm our pets. And they kill the songs of our bird friends. They strangle the life out of them and cause their hearts to fail. This is an ungodly, hideous trade off, of that I am certain.