J. Morris

Without the birds

What if there were no birds to keep insects like this in check?
What if there were no birds to keep insects like this in check? Special to the Sun Herald

It was a hot South Mississippi morning. There was a lot to be done so my brother and his best friend and I all had our shirts off.

Back then I was as thin as a rail and you couldn't hit me with a hand full of corn, long before the wicker began to groan each time I sat in it.  There was a stack of old pine logs at the corner of the yard and each one measured between four and five feet long and were about ten inches in diameter.

Mom wanted it all taken to the side of the road for the trash truck to come and pick up so I leaned down and threw one of the half rotten logs over my shoulder. Halfway to the gate, the log completely burst open and a million cockroaches came flying out of the log all over me and around me on their way to the ground.

Every bone in my body turned to rubber and I danced like I was on hot coals this way and that way and then some.  Without batting an eye, my Mom, who could shoot a fly off of a plate of grits in a high wind said, "Let the Chickens Out!"

Those birds looked like Cinderella going to the ball.In just a moment or two there was not a roach in sight and we didn't have to feed the chickens for three days.

That experience has never left me and it brings me to wonder now, what would happen if suddenly all our birds were gone.  What if some avian disease caused by a virus or other organism suddenly wiped out all the birds and that this catastrophic event was worldwide.

This may seem to border on the realm of science fiction, but consider this, tiny fragments of meteors enter our atmosphere every day. Most are composed of solid ice that may contain a million different forms of bacteria that have been kept frozen for thousands of years.

Most are burned up in the entry process but some are not. It is possible, even likely, that there are viruses that could survive the race through our atmosphere only to be distributed by the impact and become air borne or revived in water.  And let's not forget mankind and our insatiable urge to tamper with nature.  Don't forget who split the atom.  It sure wasn't the songbirds.

It is estimated that there are over thirty million species of insects in the world today.  There are over fifty thousand species of spiders alone.  The sudden disappearance of our birds would lead to an overwhelming imbalance in the ecosystem that would produce horrific quantities of insects.

Many of our bird species specialize in taking larvae by the trillions each year therefore preventing the rise in insect populations. Remember that through natural selection, most insects produce hundreds of offspring in the hopes that only a few will survive to adulthood.

It is estimated that in six months the entire surface of the planet would be literally three feet deep in insects. During the research for this article, calculating the numbers became nearly impossible and beyond imagination. Very quickly, commerce, agriculture and industry would cease to exist throwing mankind back 50,000 years to the Stone Age.

If this catastrophe were to ever occur, it would be considered a "Level 5 Global Event". Every nation on earth would join forces to try and figure out the best way to survive.  It would be necessary to implement the same measures that our governments have constructed to deal with a meteor or direct strike by a comet.

Major cities would be forced to come to a standstill. No airports would be functional due to the massive amounts of flying insects gathered together in a cloud the size of the state of Texas.

Breathing outside of a contained environment would be impossible and death would come in less than a minute from the air being thick with insects making Pompeii look like a garden party.

Livestock would be at the mercy of this event causing bloated and diseased ridden bodies to be found everywhere, a malady on a Biblical scale that would remove man as the dominant species on this planet.

Doubtless Earth would survive but very shortly it would become a hostile alien planet not fit for human life. Fantasy you say, so were rings around Neptune twenty years ago.

I think it's time we started showing a little respect to our avian friends and the vital role they play on our remarkable planet.  Volunteers are needed for shorebird surveys and feeders are five bucks at the corner store.

Have a bug free day.