Purple Martin Bird Decline, Shotgun Pellet Pollution and Dead Batteries

This short series of reports includes news on the decline of the Purple Martin bird, Denmark's shotgun pellets the leading cause of lead pollution and the problem with dead batteries and recycling.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
November/December 1987
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The Purple Martin bird, a highly human-dependent species, is suffering long-term declines across significant portions of its breeding range.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/PICTUREGUY32


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This short series of reports includes news on the declining numbers of the Purple Martin bird, shotgun pellets are the main culprit of lead pollution in Denmark and car batteries and household batteries cause pollution problems when they end up in landfills instead of being recycled. 

Attention Purple Martin Bird Landlords!

The purple martin bird has lived under human management longer than any other wild North American bird. Even before Europeans arrived, Native Americans enticed these amiable fliers to nest in their villages by suspending hollowed gourds from the support poles of their wigwams. This form of housing assistance has continued over the years, though the single-family gourd has been widely replaced by elaborate wood, plastic or aluminum dwellings, most of them multi-compartmented like Victorian hotels or Miami Beach condos.

But hard times have hit, and this highly human-dependent species is suffering long-term declines across significant portions of its breeding range. The problem could be either competition for nest sites from such nonnatives as the starling or English house sparrow, increased predation by owls and raccoons, the ubiquity of pesticides, a disease epidemic, or changes in habitat or climate. On the other hand, it could be the result of a housing shortage. Evidently, fewer of us are erecting adequate martin quarters and properly maintaining them.

To find out what's wrong, the Purple Martin Conservation Association has been formed to help coordinate the management efforts of all martin landlords. Through its Colony Registry Program, it seeks to locate and register most of the martin colonies in North America. In other words, members of the association are mounting a house-to-house census—martin house, that is.

If you know of someone who supports a martin colony (in gourds, a condo or what have you) or someone trying to attract one, or if you are interested in starting a colony yourself, they ask you to write. You can further assist martins everywhere, they add, by looking for martin dwellings in people's yards around your community or during your travels. If you locate some, try to obtain mailing addresses (of the landlords!) from street or house numbers, rural mailboxes, phone books, or by stopping to inquire. Send your data to Purple Martin Conservation Association, Edinboro University, Edinboro, PA.

Lead Danish

In Denmark, the major cause of lead pollution is not auto exhaust (the culprit in most industrial nations) but shotgun pellets. In fact, spent shotgun ammo accounts for more than three times the amount of lead deposited in the environment by Danish vehicles; 800 tons of lead shot are rained on Denmark each year. Worse yet, scientists have found that the toxic pellets are "rapidly transformed" into substances that can be ingested by plants and animals or leached into water systems. In the United States, only steel shot is allowed in some regions—particularly in heavily hunted waterfowl territory—but, by and large, lead shot is still legal, and, though steel is gaining greater acceptance, the heavier lead pellets are still preferred by most hunters.

Making Your Mark

Thomas Exter, senior editor of American Demographics, and Cullen Murphy, managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, have come up with some thought-provoking trivia.

"In the past 2.5 million years," they write, "about 113 billion human beings have lived and died. The names of roughly 7 billion of the departed—or about 6%—have survived in books and manuscripts, on monuments or in public records. This proportion will reach 10% in 100 years."

Deadly Dead Batteries

Each year, about 80 million lead-acid batteries go dead on American motorists. In the past, service stations paid up to $3 for a spent battery—but these days stations take them only as a courtesy, if they take them at all. The reason: As the hazards of lead have become better known, demand for the material has plummeted. A pound of recycled lead is worth only one-fourth of its value eight years ago.

As a result, far fewer batteries are being recycled, and far more are ending up in landfills, where lead and sulfuric acid leach out. Compounding the problem are household batteries such as those used in flashlights and radios. Eventually, virtually all of the 1 billion household batteries produced in the U.S. each year also wind up in landfills. One proposed solution to the crisis is a "battery bill"—a law that would require a deposit to fund recycling, much the way bottle bills in some states encourage the recycling of beverage containers.


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