By J. C. Stevens
Egg-laying characters are important in my Dragon Lad adventures. But they're just as important to me in real life.
In Book I, "The Thirteenth Egg," a young female dragon named Gernith lays thirteen eggs. All but one crack due to a witch's spell. Only the egg containing tiny Dorg survives.
While Gernith's plight is fictional, a real-life tragedy inspired it. During the last century, the pesticide DDT weakened the eggshells of species such as the brown pelican, peregrine falcon and bald eagle, causing their offspring to die. Since then, DDT has been banned and the populations of these birds have recovered. But pesticides and weed killers remain a danger for birds, bees, butterflies and humans.
If this isn't a good reason to stop using them completely in our back yards, fields, workplaces and playgrounds, it's sure a good reason to cut way back.
My second book, "Tale of the Talisman," features a cranky seagull named Rubbish that hangs out at trash heaps. If you've ever been to a landfill, you've seen gulls like Rubbish. He was inspired by another real-life problem.
From studying ecosystems at school to watching the evening news, we all know that ocean plastic harms sea turtles, birds, seals and whales. Yet sand pails and other toys, dog balls, food wrappers and straws still litter our beaches. These wash out to sea and break down into small pieces that can look like food to sea birds. So rather than eat the nutritious fish they need to have healthy eggs and chicks, the birds gulp down plastic.
Reducing plastic use at home, school and work could really help birds like Rubbish, whether they dig for their dinner in the dump or dive for it in the deep blue sea.
Thousands of people around the world participate in beach cleanups each year. But there's no substitute for taking your trash with you every time you leave the beach. And if every man, woman or child in the world would remove just one piece of someone else's trash, too, it could make a big difference globally.
Right now, I'm interested in the California Least Tern and the Western Snowy Plover. These environmentally threatened birds lay their eggs on sandy beaches on the West Coast, using sand dunes, plants and driftwood for cover. Unfortunately, they nest during the summer when the beaches are crowded.
Plover females generally lay three to four eggs, which are incubated by both parents. When humans and dogs come near, they run away from the nest to divert them away from the eggs. Sharp-eyed winged predators like gulls, crows and ravens seize that moment to swoop and plunder the eggs.
Tern parents are pluckier. They swoop and dive at intruders like tiny fighter pilots. Yet these fast-moving little birds are less effective defending against ground threats like opossums and skunks. And both species have to worry about bad weather and high tides when trying to hatch chicks.
How can you help? Each spring signs and fencing sprout on beaches to warn people that the rare birds are nesting nearby. If you see one of these signs, respect it. Put your dog on a leash and lead it away from the fenced area. And don't fly kites, remote-controlled aircraft or balloons anywhere close by. Plovers think they're predators and will run away from their nests. The least terns may even dive at one and get hurt!
People accidentally do things that can harm birds and other creatures that make their homes in and around the sea. But if more people will only make good choices, we can save them. And their precious babies.