Thanks for taking on bird-strike deaths in the Portland area. However, what we say is "up to 1 billion birds die annually in the United States." The person seemed to think it was 1 billion birds in Portland. That is absolutely not the case. Can you clarify? —Ali Berman, Audubon Society of Portland
My apologies, Ali. The truth is that after seven years of doing this, I don't always race to the newsstand on Wednesday morning, eager for the heady excitement of seeing my name in the paper. Thus, I didn't see the column as published until now.
In editing, "1 billion birds are killed flying into city buildings" (meaning city buildings across America) got changed to "1 billion birds are killed in Portland," which is incorrect. It also suggests a very American haziness on the concept of "1 billion."
Most Americans grasp how much, say, $1,000 is. (Not that people in the news business have ever seen it.) Then, we figure a million is probably around 100 times that. And a billion is—eh, maybe like two to five times a million?
I don't want to give our editors too much grief—they work hard and do a great job. (They also have the power to run a picture of me with a dildo growing out my forehead right next to my column, so I shouldn't piss them off.) But a billion?
If we allow, as Audubon's most generous estimates suggest, that 10 percent of all birds die in bird strikes, and assume that the average bird lives just three years, that would imply that Portland is home to 30 billion birds, or approximately 46,150 birds per person, a sum that would make Tippi Hedren's worst PTSD nightmares seem like a quiet day at the park.
(Of course, it's also possible that our editors know exactly how much a billion is, assumed the questioner was grossly misinformed, and wondered why I didn't set him straight. But, as I think we can all agree, where's the fun in that?)