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story.lead_photo.caption Audubon Society Member Jean Bratton shows photographs she's taken of different birds during Tuesday's meeting of Friends United for a Safe Environment. She said studies show the nation's bird population is decreasing due to the reduction in their native habitats and the use of chemicals. Photo by Jennifer Middleton / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — Despite some technical difficulties with her electronic presentation, Audubon Society Member Jean Bratton gave details on current bird populations Tuesday during a meeting of Friends United for a Safe Environment.

She said new information was released Sept. 1 about the nation's bird population decreasing 29%. While bird counts have been conducted since 1900, accurate records were not kept, she said. The decrease is shown when comparing bird numbers from 2006 to 2016 with numbers from 1970, when accurate record-keeping began.

Even then, the numbers have a 20% margin of error, Bratton said, but even so, the data shows a significant decrease in the nation's bird populations.

"The main ones that are decreasing are the grassland birds because the grassland prairies have just about disappeared," she said. "we're trying to reclaim some of them."

That includes an area near Columbia, Arkansas, where they collected seeds and plants to plant other places with the Audubon Society.

"The prairies have decreased because they've built cities on them or they plowed them under and built pastures that don't support wildlife," she said.

Other threats to the birds include chemicals like pesticides and herbicides which are said to be "safer" for the birds, but really aren't.

"It's not necessarily a pesticide that's killing the birds, but it's having a bad effect," Bratton said. "There's a campaign right now to limit the use of dicamba and neonicotinoids. That's a group that were put out by the chemical companies and said to be safer and everything because they didn't affect the birds. Well, they affect the insects by affecting their central nervous system and eventually birds are going to eat that. Every time the drug companies or the chemical companies put out something it's all about money and I don't think they test those enough or they try to hide the effects so they can make the money and they turn out to be harmful just like DDT did."

Bratton is a retired chemistry teacher and said she had always heard the advertisement which stated, "Better things for better living through chemistry."

"It turns out that's not quite the case sometimes because the bottom line is they're trying to make money and we suffer for it," she said.

She is also part of a group that goes to area lakes and fields to count the birds. The counts cannot be 100% accurate, as many things affect whether birds are there on a particular day, including the time of day and weather conditions.

"Bird counts aren't necessarily accurate," she said. "Birds fly and you're not always going to see the same birds in the same places all the time."

Bratton also gave information from the Audubon Society on how to attract birds to an area. It helps to plant native vegetation, including milkweeds, sunflowers and coneflowers, elderberries, pine trees, honeysuckle, oak trees, serviceberries and penstemons.

More information on creating a bird-friendly space can be found at audubon.org/nativeplants.

Bratton will give her full presentation during the next FUSE meeting, which will be held on the second Tuesday in January.

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