But these dyings-off are happening. They're real. They can't be laughed off with glib sarcasm. No, don't panic - rather, accept these as true harbingers of profound processes in which we play an important role. If we don't heed these warnings, the dyings-off could become dyings-out.

Not to say we are the main or the only cause. But human beings and what they do are likely involved. If there's a way we can improve matters, we should - that is, unless we're prepared to do without these wonderful animals and what they give the world.

The birds and the bees. And the frogs.

And, maybe, someday, us.

Birds, bees and frogs have something sad in common: There are now many fewer of them. In some cases (birds) the cause is clear; in others (bees) it's opaque; in still others (frogs) it's complicated.

For more than 30 years, scientists have been charting the decline of frogs and smaller amphibians. Not only are there fewer, but also mutations and defects appear to be on the rise. Causes, which vary according to time and place, include industrial pollution and climate change. A 2006 study in Nature posited that global warming may have helped the spread of a fungal disease that has ravaged populations of frogs in Central and South America.

For about 35 years, scientists have been charting the decline of the Western honey bee in North America and parts of Europe. That decline seems to have become a plummet. About half the U.S. colonies are gone; the "wild stock" of bees is disastrously small. Experts are calling it "colony collapse disorder" or "vanishing bee syndrome."

The causes, still unsure, may include a parasitical mite, industrial pollution, insecticides and climate change.

For both frogs and bees, at least one cause is indisputably human: loss of habitat. As cities and settlements expand, landscape and climate change. If there are fewer bees and frogs, it's at least partly because there are fewer places for them to be.

And the birds? A recent analysis by researchers at the National Zoo suggests that common species of North American birds have markedly waned due to West Nile virus, believed to have arrived here about 1999. Crows have taken a bad hit, declining 45 percent in some places. Blue jays, robins, house wrens and chickadees also have suffered.

The study relied on the North American Breeding Bird survey, conducted by volunteer bird watchers at 19,000 locations throughout the country. So some subjectivity is involved. And some species - such as the tough-guy blue jay and house wren - are rallying and may be developing immunity.

Still: Human beings are involved in these losses. West Nile, native to Uganda, probably got here in a bird or insect via the trade routes, by boat or plane. Technology lets people, goods and bugs crisscross borders more easily than ever. All diseases are potentially global diseases - which is why West Nile has killed about 1,000 people, many more horses, and untold birds here.

Bees help pollinate plants; much agriculture at least partly depends on this process, one of the most beautiful in nature. Birds, besides serenading dawn and dusk, are important scavengers, insect hunters and cleaner-uppers. Small amphibians perform many of the same roles. Every human being alive owes much to these miraculous creatures.

Scoffers moan about the doubtful sciences of meteorology, climatology and epidemiology. Granted, they're debatable sciences, attempts to understand some of the most complex processes imaginable. But to ignore so many signs at once is truly to whistle in the dark - and as the songs, buzzes and croaks subside, we someday may whistle alone.