The birds of summer are arriving, some with dazzling singularity: a white-crowned sparrow perches on a fence picket; a shimmering broad-tailed hummingbird hovers at the sugar water. A suet cake proffered against the damp spring cold lures a black-headed grosbeak and — in a rare and fiery blaze of color — a western tanager.
Other birds appear in large groups. I glance out the window and see a dozen pine siskens splashing in the bird bath. The same gregarious gaggle swarms the feeders, devouring thistle and sunflower chips.
Nature is a numbers game that anticipates high mortality, and by summer’s end, many of these lovely little lives will be over. Most wild birds don’t survive their precarious first year: Two weeks ago, with the mating season barely underway, I found a dead nestling in my back yard, apparently fallen from safety and transported by a wild predator.
But natural deaths pale in comparison to those caused by humans. Window strikes kill up to 988 million birds annually in the United States alone. I use bird tape on my large windows, but occasionally a bird will strike a smaller, untaped pane and sit stunned for long minutes while my chittering cats watch intently from inside.
Outdoor cats, of course, are the biggest bird-killers, accounting for up to 3.7 billion deaths a year in the United States. My cats wear bibs on their collars when they venture out; the bibs are effective, if not foolproof, at saving avian lives.
The magnitude of death is staggering, the loss immeasurable: Every day, thousands of these elegant, acrobatic creatures gone forever. And yet each species continues with a pure and pulsing equanimity, threading past to future with the songs of its kind, and a wild beauty that graces our lives each moment: