Human populations are increasing tremendously and becoming predominantly urban as green spaces are replaced with high buildings, highways and state of the art infrastructure technology. This incursive urbanization has harmed many species whose habitats stood in its way, causing a decrease of biodiversity, patchy disconnected green areas, and a drop of quality of life. Few opportunistic bird species can adapt and thrive in these new conditions, creating an imbalance and erasing diversity. To top it all off, birds have been suffering a new human generated problem, cats.
These are the problems which Maissa Eid and Mostapha Shbaro worked to research and discover both the obstacles and potential solutions for the modern challenges birds are experiencing in our AUB campus. Nevertheless, unlike their cousins in wilder areas of the country facing the threat of human hunters, the AUB birds on campus are threatened by a different hunter yet equally as efficient as their masters; feral cats. Indeed the high population of cats on campus is playing a large part in interrupting the flow of populations and causing a massive dent in what is supposed to be, and is officially flaunted, a bird sanctuary.
According to Maissa’s study, about 30% of native bird species of Lebanon have been observed to occupy campus grounds, and nearly 30% of the campus's flowering plants are pollinated by birds.
Before we get into the information about cats, we would like to reiterate that despite our biases as a community towards our feline friends, and despite how the common public perceives cats as being part of nature, cats are scientifically speaking introduced by humans into any environment they come across. In the US alone, these voracious predators have contributed to the extinction of 63 different species of birds, small mammals, and small reptiles. Due to the unsurmountable studies that have been done on the matter, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) have officially listed cats as the world’s most destructive invasive predator. http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/species.php?sc=24
This diagram, presented in Maissa’s paper, shows the proportion of bird deaths as a result of several factors, the majority of which are cat related, both stray and domesticated have been divided and are still each predominant over any other factor..
The plants on campus:
In Maissa’s paper, the types of plants found on campus were studied in how they benefit the animal species there. Maissa also had consulted various professionals including maintenance staff, botanic garden staff, and other non-AUB professionals including Mr. Fouad Itani, bird expert in the region. She managed to construct a table of all identified and observed birds in AUB. Using this information, Maissa was able to identify which plants are attractive to birds whether it be for food, nesting materials, or pollination.
She was also able to identify the most important areas for these creatures. This thin belt which extends from AUB campus’s east to west was deemed to be important grounds for planning bird attractions and support projects.
Maissa’s paper also provided strategies to try and bounce the bird population of AUB back, via bird feeders, bird water fountains, and other objects which are relatively elevated to prevent opportunistic predation by the rampant number of stray cats.
A bird watching club would also indirectly benefit the population of birds, by improving the perception of the AUB community to these creatures. Birds are, at the moment, not seen as under threat, and more or less taken for granted much like the plants of AUB which are also under stress. The more people know about how they could appreciate the presence of birds, and the more people know that we could very easily lose part of AUB’s natural identity, the better.
Lastly, Maissa had also consulted staff in locating sightings of birds and the presence of beneficial pant species to come up with a pathway that could be used as a bird trail for bird watching related activities.
Maissa’s paper concluded that until we act to protect and support our campus birds in surviving our urban environment, is when we can confidently call AUB campus a bird sanctuary. Therefore, a strategy and planned structure for such an objective is integral and should start as soon as possible. We should let the AUB community know that the chirps they hear of wild palestinian sunbirds, black birds, and warblers will not remain there forever, unless we do something about it.