One of the major complaints in Silent Spring about DDT was its alleged effect on bird populations. The sky is falling! But this, like so many of the claims by environmentalists, needs to be more closely examined before anyone should react. Unfortunately, past experience shows us that Schneider wasn’t alone in his thought processes when he said:
[W]e have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.- Stephen Schneider (quoted in Our Fragile Earth by Jonathan Schell)
I think this pretty well sums up the politicized science we’re facing today, and that hoodwinked us in the past.
A good example is when in 1965, in Hanover, New Hampshire, Charles F. Wurster sounded the alarm over a few dead robins, after some elm trees had been sprayed with DDT to save them from Dutch Elm Disease. He claimed a 70% decline in the resident population of 12 robins. Of course, common sense might dictate that these 8 missing robins could very well have disappeared for some other reason. But from that sampling, he extrapolated a “70% decline” to a mortality rate of 350 to 400 birds in Hanover. Amazingly, this “study” launched Wurster’s career as an “expert” on the effect of DDT in nontarget species. Wurster wrote in a 1969 article on DDT (Bioscience, Sept. 1969, Vol. 19):
“If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve, and probably retain in other environmental issues, a level of authority they have never had before. In a sense, then, much more is at stake than DDT.”
This is a telling admission as to what he was really after. The name Trofim Lysenko seems to keep coming back to me for some reason.
Brooding pairs of robins produce on average two broods of 4 to 5 offspring a year; so if 50% of the young survive to adulthood and there are 5 million robins in the United States, there would be an annual increase of 11 million robins. (This is a very low estimate; bird expert Roger Tory Peterson, said in 1963 that the American robin is probably “North America’s number one bird” in terms of numbers ) Bird banders report that 25% of the young survive, but that is still an increase of 5.5 million robins annually, and according to “Ask A Scientist” Zoo Archives, the lifespan of a Robin, once they make it past the first year, is 5 or 6 years; the oldest banded robin was about 13 years 11 months. So it’s no wonder Peterson said they’re America’s number one bird in terms of numbers!
Did DDT actually affect the count of robins? Rachel Carson, claims on page 118 in Silent Spring that the robin “is on the verge of extinction”. The number of robins increased during the period of heavy DDT usage by 1237%. Here in Illinois, during that period, the population doubled. This is not even close to a “verge of extinction”.
Actual bird counts are listed in the table below. These figures compare pre-DDT counts with those at the height of DDT usage (1941-1960). No species was omitted that showed a reduction per observer. Total average all species bird count per observer was 1,480 in 1941, as compared to 5,860 in 1960. Decreased species, such as swans, geese, and ducks, we know were hunted. Bluebirds are known to be susceptible to cold winters in addition to being cavity nesters. (Rotting treetrunks are not readily available to them because dead tree removal is commonplace in areas where there are carefully pruned lawns and trees; e.g., where people are.)
The 257% increase in swallows contrasts with Silent Spring’s claim, which says on page 111,
“Swallows have been hard hit…. Our sky overhead was full of them only four years ago. Now we seldom see any.”
The “silence” in Silent Spring would have been broken by the loud chatter of black-birds, which increased by 3900%, squawks from annoying starlings, which increased 1069%, and cackling from grackles, which increased by 13,159%. An environmental biochemist complained in 2002 that “starlings thrive, 8 million of them, in Fresno County, California, which uses more pesticides than any other county in the United States.”
AUDUBON SOCIETY CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT DATA 1941 (2,331 observers), compared with 1960, (8,928 observers)
Some of these species, such as the sparrow, starling and gull, my husband refers to as ‘flying rats’. They are a nuisance, as their nests clog drainage pipes and gutters, their fecal matter contaminate grain storage facilities, they damage crops and interfere with livestock production–particularly poultry. They also spread diseases like chlamydiosis, coccidiosis, erysipeloid, Newcastle’s, parathypoid, pullorum, salmonellosis, transmissible gastroenteritis, tuberculosis, various encephalitis viruses, vibriosis, and yersinosis, spread internal parasites such as acariasis, schistosomiasis, taeniasis, toxoplasmosis, and trichomoniasis, and spread household pests such as bed bugs, carpet beetles, clothes moths, fleas, lice, mites, and ticks.
I have been unable to find numbers on the rock pigeon, which is one of the leading pests in urban areas.
These stark realities are completely omitted in the environmentalists’ fantasyworld.
Silent Spring doesn’t recognize that DDT saved millions of lives through eradicating mosquitoes carrying malaria, or that it saved lives during WWII from typhus carried by lice. Environmentalists have a blindness toward the other side of nature; which is far from benign.
There was no “silent spring”, DDT didn’t effect the birds; and the fantasy of a natural fragile earth wonderland, which one of my commenters called “Eden”-doesn’t exist, either.
- (November 22, 1989) “Loads of Media Coverage“, Detroit News
- Schnell (October, 1989)”Our Fragile Earth,” Discover; 44.
- Doris H. Wurster, Charles F. Wurster, Jr., and Walter N. Strickland, 1965. “Bird Mortality Following DDT Spraying for Dutch Elm Disease,” Ecology (Summer), Vol. 46, pp. 488-499.
- Doris H. Wurster, Charles F. Wurster, Jr., and Walter N. Strickland, 1965. “Bird Mortality Following DDT Spraying for Dutch Elm Disease“, Science 2 April 1965: Vol. 148. no. 3666, pp. 90 – 91 DOI: 10.1126/science.148.3666.90
- Wurster, C. et al (1965) Bird Mortality after Spraying for Dutch Elm Disease with DDT Science 2 April 1965: Vol. 148. no. 3666, pp. 90 – 91 DOI: 10.1126/science.148.3666.90
- Charles F. Wurster, (September, 1969) DDT Goes to Trial in Madison BioScience, Vol. 19, No. 9, pp. 809-813 doi:10.2307/1294792
- Tren, R. & Bate, R. (2004). “South Africa’s War against Malaria: Lessons for the Developing World“. Cato Policy Analysis (513).
- Roger Tory Peterson, 1963. The Birds (New York: Life Nature Library).
- American Robin: Information and Much More. Answers.com
- American Robin Lifespan, “Ask a Scientist, Zoo Archives, NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators. Argonne National Laboratory, Division of Educational Programs, Harold Myron, Ph.D., Division Director.
- Jukes, T.E. (2002) Silent Spring and the Betrayal
of Environmentalism, Jukes is a Biochemist and former professor in the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley.
- PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE with permission from Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, and Gary E. Larson, editors; (Cooperative Extension Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Damage Control, Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee).