In “Sur le Front” on France 5, Hugo Clément investigates the birds

NATURE – Silence is speaking. Whether in the city or in our French countryside, the song of birds is less and less part of our daily lives. In urban areas, sparrows, which once fought over a piece of bread, are half as numerous as twenty years ago. In rural areas, field birds are 40% fewer than 30 years ago.

Why this carnage? Is it only related to human activity? On France 5, the program “Sur le Front” broadcast this Sunday, June 5 at 8:55 p.m. asks this question: “Where have our birds gone?” A simple question with multiple answers, but which journalist Hugo Clément explores with great pedagogy.

For this, he takes some symbolic examples, such as the sparrow, the goldfinch, the harrier or the stork. Why these birds? Because they are all affected by human activity, in all its forms. And that their cases, in town and in the countryside, explain a more global phenomenon.

City birds

Hugo Clément begins his investigation in Paris, where the number of sparrows has decreased by 73% in 13 years. The species is officially “in decline”. At issue: modern architecture, with its glass buildings, a “deadly labyrinth” which causes birds to collide. But also the noise, the pesticides and the renovations of the old habitat.

No more gap, hole or space to nest, as is the case for other species. In Occitania, near Perpignan, in an ornithological reserve, sparrows are also rare. The only solution: build nest boxes to allow sparrows to reproduce, both in urban and rural settings. Some municipalities have already addressed this issue.

Cash trafficking

In Marseille, the journalist follows officers from the Environmental Police during a search of a couple suspected of bird trafficking. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, illegal trade in protected species is frequent. An example: that of the European goldfinch, endangered in nature, but not on social networks.

Victim of its beauty and its vocal cords, it lives in the trees and has no housing problem. Victim of poaching, its population has collapsed since the year 2000: minus 30%. It is hunted and sold to individuals, who covet it “for their song”. In the report, Hugo Clément contacts traffickers in hidden camera: he is offered 180€ to acquire a male.

Crushed by combine harvesters

Change of scenery: we find ourselves in Moselle, in open country. In the middle of the fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, songs are also rare. And for good reason: birds in agricultural areas have decreased by 40% in 30 years. And not just small specimens. The Montagu’s Harrier, a raptor, is one of the “near threatened” species.

In the plains where it lives, it is particularly threatened by combine harvesters, which crush their nests built on the ground, in the fields. A situation directly linked to global warming: previously, the harvest took place in August, when all the little ones had already taken off. It now takes place in July.

If volunteers create enclosures around the nests so that the tractors can make detours, with the agreement of the farmer, the solution is home-made. And above all, another reason explains the disappearance of many birds in rural areas: pesticides.

75% of insects disappeared

75% of insects have disappeared in 30 years in Western Europe, due to pesticides. Butterflies have lost 90% of their population. Fields as far as the eye can see, in monoculture and intended for industry, are also in question. More trees, plant diversity.

If the report is alarming and can discourage, some solutions are put forward: create special protection zones, reduce pesticides, install nesting boxes in municipalities, pay attention to the way we build, reintroduce species like the stork, now sedentary in the east of France…

legal hunting

In the mountains, for example, where ski lifts could threaten certain species, marking systems so that birds can spot them have been devised. Finally, hunting, if it is not the main cause of the disappearance, is also in question.

In France, 63 species of migratory birds are legally “huntable”, many more than all our European neighbours: 34 in Italy and Spain, 24 in the United Kingdom, 13 in Belgium, 3 in the Netherlands… When we knows that 10 million migratory birds are killed in France each year, this raises questions.

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