Do Backyard Bird Feeders Spread Salmonella? The Human Role in Avian Disease
Human populations have destabilized the environmental balance, and the ways we interact with our avian kin can add to the risk of epidemics, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, Doherty blames the use of bird feeders for spreading salmonella and suggests the keeping of backyard chickens was partly to blame for the spread of bird flu in the Netherlands in 2003. According to Doherty, our duty of care to the planet involves "a process that can be in direct conflict with long-held beliefs and well-established practices, on the one hand, and with urban romanticization and anthropomorphism of animals on the other."
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While Doherty's aim with this book was to move past established environmental themes and into "darker realms of pathologies, poisons, and pestilences," there are conservation stories to celebrate, such as the discovery—and subsequent outlawing—of a drug linked to poisoning endangered vultures in India. We can take practical actions to help maintain healthy bird populations by volunteering for population-tracking bird counts and watching for "unusual instances of mortality," especially among waterfowl.
The ringing alarms of rampant habitat loss, environmental pollution, and climate change demand our vigilance. "Watching the birds tells us what is happening in the broader environment," he writes. "We should observe closely. In the long run, their fate is likely to be our fate."
Greg Harman wrote this article for How To Live Like Our Lives Depend On It, the Winter 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Greg is an independent environmental journalist based in San Antonio, Texas.
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