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Winged Warnings: Built for survival, birds in trouble from pole to pole

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Winged Warnings: Built for survival, birds in trouble from pole to pole

By Alanna Mitchell Environmental Health News August 25, 2014 Part 1 of Winged Warnings, published in conjunction with National Geographic

The ice of Antarctica doesn’t faze birds. Nor does the heat of the tropics. They thrive in the desert, in swamps, on the open ocean, on sheer rock faces, on treeless tundra, atop airless mountaintops and burrowed into barren soil.

Some fly nonstop for days on end. With just the feathers on their backs, they crisscross the hemisphere, dodging hurricanes and predators along the way, pinpointing scarce food, tracking down safe resting places, arriving unerringly at a precise spot, year after year.

Sole descendents of the dinosaurs, birds have penetrated nearly every ecosystem on Earth and then tailored their own size, habits and colors to each one, pollinating, dispersing seeds, controlling bugs, cleaning up carrion and fertilizing plants, all the while singing notes so beguiling that hearing them makes even the urban dweller pause to listen.

Birds are the planet’s superheroes, built for survival. But for all their superhuman powers, they are in trouble.

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