August 13, 2013

The silence of the sparrow” [Washington Forum, Aug. 9], by John W. Fitzpatrick and George Fenwick, was welcome but it did not go far enough to describe the “silence” crisis in the United States. It is happening in our own back yard, not just to beneficiaries of the farm bill. Since 1995, the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia has conducted the Northern Virginia Bird Survey. The data for Northern Virginia corroborate national figures showing a remarkable and steady decline in the abundance of birds. Marsh wren, Kentucky warbler and northern bobwhite populations have all but disappeared from our area. The bird population has dropped more than 1 percent per year since 1995.

American landowners (including urban and suburban homeowners) need to do something immediately, without waiting for federal support. Each of us can plant bird food: put a native plant in the ground. The insects the birds rely on to feed their young cannot use the non-native landscape that has become commonplace in America. Lawn care also counts for more than 70 million pounds of pesticides in the United States each year, 10 times more than what is used in farming.

Even a balcony container garden presents us with a critical opportunity to be conservationists. In Northern Virginia, some 50 volunteers visit homeowners, businesses and others to provide suggestions about the habitat value and uses of native plants in a given space. While we can’t bring the bird numbers back, we can try to stem the effects of habitat loss from development. We simply need to understand that we can make a difference.

Terry Liercke, Oakton

The writer is president of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.