Spring is getting quieter

Berlin. The storks are back, the cranes migrating to their summer quarters have made stopovers in our fields and the first swallows even want to herald the beginning of summer: Spring is making its way into the flora and fauna.

But did you hear that too? Spring is getting quieter.

That’s no longer a feeling. Two years ago, an international research team in a broad study proved that the songs of the birds are quieter and more monotonous today compared to those 25 years ago.

They thus confirmed studies by other scientists who had found that, for example, in North America the bird population had shrunk by around a third over the past five decades. In Europe, the population of field birds is said to have already been halved.

Half of the bird species on the Red List

In Germany, partridge, skylark and lapwing are rarely seen. The Whinchat, 2023 Bird of the Year, is considered critically endangered. 259 bird species breed in Germany. Almost half are on the Red List of Threatened Species, 33 are threatened with extinction.

A Whinchat (male) (Saxicola rubetra). The species is “Bird of the Year 2023”.

“The population trend of the skylark has halved compared to 1980,” says Catherine Schlueter, consultant for bird protection at the German Nature Conservation Union (Nabu). “Between 1992 and 2016, lapwing populations in Germany fell by 88 percent.”

Is there a risk of a silent spring, as described by the American biologist Rachel Carson in her sensational book “Silent Spring” in 1962? In it, she described how the use of pesticides and the death of insects lead to pressure on ecosystems – and to the extinction of species. “We’re not just on the way to silent spring,” warns expert Schlueter. “There are areas in Germany where Carson’s predictions are already a fact. It’s already silent there.”

This also has direct consequences for people. “Birdwatching brings us into the here and now, lets us forget problems and worries for a few moments,” says biologist Angelika Nelson from the Bavarian State Association for Bird and Nature Conservation. “This nature experience has a positive, scientifically proven effect on physical and mental health.”

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Birdsong is good for people

Nelson, who published The Power of Birdwatching, cites research showing that people who live in areas with lots of birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress.

Listening carefully also plays a role: Especially the morning concert of the songbirds now in spring be euphoniously melodious to our ears. “Like our favorite song, birdsong can bring back memories. We are transported back to relaxing natural landscapes and reflect on positive experiences in nature,” says Nelson. “In this way, birdsong distracts us from our everyday situation and gives us a break.”

Climate change, the loss of habitats due to human infrastructure for transport, energy, business or housing, and intensive land cultivation by farmers are the main reasons for the decline in bird populations. The animals simply lack food and breeding grounds.

Consequences of climate change: habitat of many migratory birds threatened

According to a study, the consequences of the changing global climate are threatening the habitats of some migratory birds along their East Atlantic migration routes.

But not only the so-called agricultural bird species such as lapwing or skylark are affected. City dwellers may still have the impression that the birds aren’t getting any quieter here. But that is due to the immigration of blackbirds, for example, into settlement areas because their ancestral homeland, the forest, is under constant stress, explains Nabu specialist Schlueter. “However, species like the lapwing cannot survive in settlements.”

She points out that, on the other hand, the stocks of “common species” such as the house sparrow in cities like Hamburg have fallen dramatically. “They walk through neighborhoods and suddenly realize they just don’t sing anymore,” says Schlueter.

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Contested open space in Berlin

In the cities, there are also questions about greening and the status of free spaces. In Berlin, this conflict can be seen in dealing with the 300-hectare open space of the former inner-city Tempelhof Airport. A possible development on the outskirts of Tempelhofer Feld has repeatedly caused discussions in recent years.

The SPD, CDU and FDP in Berlin have brought them up for discussion several times, even though there was a majority in a referendum in 2014 for a free Tempelhofer Feld. The CDU and SPD have also spoken about the topic during the current coalition negotiations. At the beginning of March, CDU country chief Kai Wegner proposed building part of the area and having it voted on in a new referendum.

Conservationists warn. When the edge is being built on, visitors cavort in the middle of the approximately 300-hectare Tempelhofer Feld. “And nature? Will have to give way,” said Nabu species protection officer Ansgar Poloczek. According to Nabu, up to 250 pairs of skylarks breed in the open space, almost half of Berlin’s total population.

Cat arrest in Walldorf

In addition, around 30 other bird species breed on Tempelhofer Feld, including endangered species such as wheatears and red-backed shrike and the whinchat, says Poloczeko. For hawks and owls, which breed in the surrounding areas of the field, the wide area is an important hunting ground.

A rare crested lark sits on a protective fence stretched around its breeding area near Walldorf.

A rare crested lark sits on a protective fence stretched around its breeding area near Walldorf.

In other communities, the protection of songbirds is so important that cats are subject to curfews. The so-called cat lockdown in Walldorf, Baden-Württemberg from April 1st to the end of August is noticed nationwide, but experts consider it useless. “Locking up cats makes no sense,” says ornithologist Bernd Petri.

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Watch a species go extinct

He points to the example of the crested lark. According to Petri, the reason for the decline in the bird population is the lack of food due to dwindling habitats. A kind of house arrest for cats does not change that. The crested lark needs fallow and open spaces to get to seeds and insects. Due to dense development, planting and intensified agriculture, the bird increasingly lacks a habitat. “It will be built, and then everything will be covered with greenery, fertilized and planted extremely densely,” the ornithologist notes.

According to Petri, the decline of the crested lark is not new: “Although we have been observing this for 50 years, we have not achieved anything to save the birds,” says the ornithologist. “Monitoring and concepts alone are useless – we observe the extinction of a species.”

Nabu bird protection officer Catherina Schlueter, on the other hand, advocates action. “People have caused this crisis, so we must also ensure that you find a solution.” She thinks that every individual bears responsibility. “A good place to start would be for people to go outside instead of watching nature documentaries on their smartphones. Every bird you hear outside makes you want it to stay that way for a long time.”

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