Thursday, May 3, 2018

Trash Birds

     I have seen A LOT of trash, wherever and whenever I bird- from the urban settings to rural, trash is everywhere. Most don't think twice about consumption and their actions, because once that trash and ourselves go our separate ways, we don't look back.
     I see wildlife interacting with and among trash all the time and it has caused me to re-think my actions and choices I make, especially regarding single-use items and plastics. I'm nowhere near perfect but I try to take up new practices that fit in with our lifestyle, budget, and routine.
     I'm going to share some photos from past trips of wildlife among trash, I hope readers will think about their choices and actions and find some ways to change those things to ensure our planet doesn't become one choked up in plastic and debris...
     I have been holding onto this post for a while, but the recent death of one of a pair of nesting Great Horned Owls due to fishing line entanglement in Brooklyn has caused a lot of chatter among birders and the media (see the story here covered by our local Fox Station and here by the Brooklyn Paper).
     So here you have it, trash, more common than any bird:
After one of the Nor'easters trash gathered in large masses in the water, especially where water met the coast. This female red head and mallard pair are dabbling among plastic bags and plastic film scraps. I wouldn't doubt that they ate some.
How many ghostly plastic pieces can you spy?

A gull with debris around its leg-- and an old napkin(?) that it ate-- the whole thing. 
It's a joke among birders how we are really good at spotting trash on the beach in the winter because while scanning for snowy owls you find every white bag, bucket, bleach bottle, and plastic jug on the beach. But here is an actual snowy owl sitting with a white plastic bag/sheet.
A really good example of a very happy moment gone sour.
I was so happy to see this handsome drake common merganser - SO CLOSE in Prospect Park. The ice brought him in close range to shore, giving great views. But then he turned his body to reveal a fishing hook and line right in his chest.
I remember park contacts coming over, trying to help catch a fish eating bird with duck pellets. It was a lost cause, we couldn't get this bird close, and chasing it, would only cause it to dive or fly. I do not know his fate- but as a diving bird, becoming further ensnared would be a great worry.
A pile of plastic trash I pulled out of Prospect Park lake... in just one spot.



Plastic is integrated throughout the park and in the aquatic habitats it is strewn through the roots, rocks, and soil.

A immature great black-backed gull pries at washed up trash in Coney Island-- with other small, plastic debris around it.

An immature herring gull with a plastic cap. And a plastic cigarette filter at its feet.

A double crested cormorant with a hook and line in it's wing. Another rescue attempted, Animal Care and Control for one are not wildlife experts- at least the guy they sent for this- and the bird got away, as one would expect-- a diving bird- fishing line and hooks are commonplace in this animals' world, I'm sure.

Discarded cans and bottles from other beverages- are just as, if not more common than this downy woodpecker.

Plastic bags and spawning horseshoe crabs in the surf one night...

An American Oystercatcher bound by fishing line around both its legs and feet, You can also spot other debris on the beach.

A Virginia Rail forages among carelessly discarded trash.
     Maybe you're a bit like me, you see this and go holy (insert whatever choice word suits your fancy)! --But you don't stop there- you think about the things you do and look at easy ways to integrate change as to not contribute to this. I'll share a few of the things I do, they are not out of this world crazy- and I hope that by sharing maybe you can try one or a few to help right all the wrongs above, and more!

1. The parks are full of trash- I have been packing picnics with all those dumb plastic souvenir (but reusable cups) - I pack them in and out. I bring paper plates and my regular silverware. I have a rule that I pack out what I pack in. I don't discard my trash there- sometimes it takes a few days before the park picks it up-- and weather, wildlife, and crowds (who overfill the trash bins) all can cause trash to find its way out of the uncovered receptacles. Once out of those trash cans, it's all over. If you make the efforts to bring it in, take it with you too.

2. I carry a bamboo utensil set and steel straw with me when I go out for food. I don't need to then use plastic single use items like straws and utensils that break down into smaller plastic bits and cause more trouble than good.

3. I use a reusable bottle - I even bring it on trips, so when packed in empty to the airport, I get it filled- saves $$ and causes less waste.

4. Reusable bags, all the time, for groceries, small trips, everything. EVERYTHING.

5. Linen produce bags- I have a set, and try my best to remember them. I am not perfect at working these into my routine yet but I do like them - I also find myself reusing plastic produce bags from my last trip as to not take more- this one I admit has been a challenge as I shop for the week, eat mainly vegetarian, and I cook- lots of bags as a result. This has been the hardest one for me to conquer.

6. Refuse straws and stirrers- I LOVE cocktails. But I try to remember to ask at the bar: No straws, no stirrers, no plastic. Sometimes they look at me funny, and then I whip out my stainless steel straw. I also noticed, it may be good to ask them not to test taste it- as they often use a straw to do that - I'd be okay with a not perfect cocktail if they also refused the straw.

7. Ziplock bags- I bought a bunch of reusable, durable zip-top bags and I LOVE THEM. I have not been purchasing baggies - what a waste, these are great and they wash perfectly and they seal strong. They also work in the freezer.

8. Saran Wrap- I am in love with the reusable beeswax wraps. They work great on veggies or to cover up a plate. And many of them are compostable once they have reached their lifespan (they last approx. a year if cared for properly).

9. Balloons- They just blow, honestly skip these. I asked for all my life celebrations as an adult- weddings, showers and stuff-- I said NO BALLOONS at any of these things! These end up everywhere and just destroy wildlife as they often are consumed by jellyfish/squid eating creatures in the sea-- think sea turtles.

10. Coffee/Tea- Bring a travel mug/thermos - if you ask, they will fill. If they don't then they don't get my business. I give an extra tip when they charge mine up with a hot water rinse before pouring my coffee. Coffee cups are dumb- even the paper ones, because they have a plastic lid. They are even dumber when they put that stupid plastic piece in the sippy hole because it might spill. In the summer, I get my iced coffee in a reusable tumbler with its own straw.

11. Reduce and Reuse! We always think about recycling as being the best thing we can do to be green- but reducing and reusing are better options than recycling. Recycling is the answer to consumption, buy a plastic bottle but you recycle it-- but what if we just stopped purchasing plastic bottles and just had our own, and so on.

I hope folks can feel more empowerment than anger when we see our trash impacting wildlife- if anyone has other things they do or ideas to share about reducing the amount of debris we create- please share them in the comments! I would love to hear ideas to try out!