Target: Vanessa Kauffman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Specialist for National Wildlife Refuge System, Migratory Birds, Endangered Species Act, Public Lands, and Wolves
Goal: Investigate cause of unknown affliction sickening and killing songbirds.
The bird world is dealing with its own deadly outbreak. The U.S. Geological Survey has warned of an alarming rise of wild bird deaths attributed to a mystery illness. Afflicted birds exhibit symptoms such as swollen, crusty eyes, disorientation, an inability to fly, and eventual death. Presently, scientists can only try to mitigate the disease’s spread. In a nod to social distancing, they are encouraging people in mid-Atlantic states (where the clusters of deaths are centered) to take down bird feeders, bird baths, or any other devices that attract large groups of birds.
Several potential causes have been suggested, including infectious disease, pesticide poisoning, the lingering effects of an avian salmonella outbreak, and even the emergence of cicadas that may carry a dangerous fungus. No definitive answers have been discovered, however. In the meantime, blue jays, European starlings, and other wild songbirds continue to fall victim across Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and possibly more states.
Various state wildlife services have begun investigations. Sign the petition below to urge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to launch a similar comprehensive initiative that seeks a cause and, more importantly, a solution to this ongoing threat.
Dear Ms. Kauffman,
The avian population recently dealt with a serious salmonella outbreak, and this dangerous illness eventually killed seven humans as well. This incident, as well as the public health turmoil currently engulfing the globe, demonstrates in full that we cannot ignore grave threats to the living beings with whom we share this planet. We are all interconnected.
Therefore, the even more alarming epidemic taking place within mid-Atlantic songbirds should be of urgent concern not just to conservation groups in the affected states but to the country as a whole. Scientists studying the often-fatal condition that renders birds immobile and potentially blind are at a loss. They could use the expertise and abundant resources of this federal agency in solving a perplexing mystery. The stakes are high for these birds and potentially far beyond.
Please focus the agency’s efforts on this developing crisis as soon as possible.
Wildlife experts in Washington, D.C., and nearby states say they have not identified the cause of recent deaths of many birds in the region, but they are encouraging the public to temporarily cease feeding birds to avoid the potential spread of disease at feeders.
In late May, wildlife managers and rehabbers in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs.
The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and National Park Service are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of mortality. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.
A report on the National Wildlife Health Center’s WHISPers site, which summarizes incidents of wildlife illnesses and mortality nationwide, shows 37 dead or sick birds — Common Grackles, Blue Jays, American Robins, and European Starlings — from several counties in Virginia on May 20.
Birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit disease to one another. Therefore, the state and district agencies recommend that the public in the outbreak area:Advertisement
Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.
If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or district wildlife conservation agency. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received.
Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey for providing this news.
You may have heard about the recent issue and concern around birds all of a sudden dying in the DC area. Current recommendations include removing bird feeders in the area to help reduce the risk of disease spread. Keeping pets safely contained is key too.https://t.co/LOGuhPCczD
About 3,000 elegant tern eggs were abandoned at a southern California nesting island after a drone crashed and scared off the birds, a newspaper reported Friday.
Two drones were flown illegally over the Bolsa Chica ecological reserve in Huntington Beach in May and one of them went down in the wetlands, the Orange County Register said.
Fearing an attack from a predator, several thousand terns abandoned their ground nests, according to the state department of fish and wildlife.
Now, during the month when the birds would be overseeing their eggs as they begin to hatch, the sand is littered with egg shells.
It’s one of the largest-scale abandonments of eggs ever at the coastal site about 100 miles (160 km) north of San Diego, according to the reserve manager, Melissa Loebl.
With the pandemic driving more and more people to outdoor spaces, last year saw about 100,000 visitors to the Bolsa Chica reserve – up from about 60,000 the previous year, Loebl said told the newspaper.
That’s contributed not only to increased drone activity, but also to more dogs and bicycles on the trails – all of which are prohibited.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in dogs, particularly off-leash,” Loebl said. “That’s devastating for wildlife and this is prime nesting season. The dogs chase the birds and the birds abandon their nests.”
Another problem is the development of multimillion-dollar homes on the hillside at the north end of the reserve overlooking the wetlands, said Nick Molsberry, a fish and wildlife warden. While most residents respect the sensitive nature of the estuary, there are a few scofflaws, he said.
“It’s residents that sometimes feel entitled, that feel they should be able to use the land as they like,” Molsberry said. Authorities are ramping up enforcement and citing people who break the rules.
At nearly 1,500 acres, the reserve is the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco, and the Tijuana River Estuary in Mexico. About 800 species of plants and animals live at or migrate to Bolsa Chica.
… we have a small favour to ask. Tens of millions have placed their trust in the Guardian’s high-impact journalism since we started publishing 200 years ago, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. More than 1.5 million readers, from 180 countries, have recently taken the step to support us financially – keeping us open to all, and fiercely independent.
With no shareholders or billionaire owner, we can set our own agenda and provide trustworthy journalism that’s free from commercial and political influence, offering a counterweight to the spread of misinformation. When it’s never mattered more, we can investigate and challenge without fear or favour.
Unlike many others, Guardian journalism is available for everyone to read, regardless of what they can afford to pay. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of global events, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action.
We aim to offer readers a comprehensive, international perspective on critical events shaping our world – from the Black Lives Matter movement, to the new American administration, Brexit, and the world’s slow emergence from a global pandemic. We are committed to upholding our reputation for urgent, powerful reporting on the climate emergency, and made the decision to reject advertising from fossil fuel companies, divest from the oil and gas industries, and set a course to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.
If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.
ABC’s Cats Indoors program supports simple solutions to keep pet cats and wild birds safe. Check out catio designs and other solutions below to see which is the best fit for you and your cat!
CATIO OPTIONS AND OTHER OUTDOOR ENCLOSURES
Want the best of outdoor access while keeping your cat safe at home? Outdoor enclosures – like a catio – can give your cat the chance to move around freely outside within a sheltered and safe space. Whether you and your cat prefer a perch, a patio, or the entire backyard, enclosures can be modified to suit all situations.
FENCE CONVERSION: Turn your existing fence into a cat-safe fence. These straightforward options modify existing structures to create an escape-proof kingdom for your cat to explore. To learn more, visit: Cat Fence-In, Oscillot, ProtectaPet, Purrfect Fence.
Many strategies exist to safely enjoy the outdoors with your cat, including comfortable restraints that keep you and your pet connected. These options are an excellent choice for joint adventures around town or exploring the neighborhood.
VISUAL ALERTS: Visual cues can alert wildlife to the presence of a cat and prevent harmful interactions. To learn more, visit: Birdsbesafe®.
MECHANICAL OBSTRUCTIONS: Devices that obstruct a cat’s ability to stalk, pounce, or grab prey may reduce impacts on birds and other wildlife. To learn more, visit: CatBib.
AUDIO ALERTS: Noise-emitting devices worn by your cat may reduce the opportunity for direct harm to wildlife. To learn more, visit: Digibell.
CATS INDOORS PLEDGE
Owned, free-roaming cats kill over 700 million birds in the U.S. each year. You can help reduce that number by keeping your pet cat safely indoors, on a leash, or within an outdoor enclosure. Get started by taking ABC’s Cat’s Indoors Pledge today.
Containing cats is an easy way to provide cats with healthy, safe lives while reducing needless bird and other wildlife deaths. If you’ve already taken our Cats Indoor Pledge, here are five more ways you can help:
Big step forward in WildEarth Guardians’ decades-long battle to protect imperiled species
WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) announced its proposal to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to the lesser prairie-chicken, a charismatic grassland bird that now occupies approximately 15% of its historic range. The Service’s proposed rule was submitted as the result of a settlement agreement between the federal government and WildEarth Guardians and partner organizations finalized in 2019, following failure to act on a 2016 listing petition.
The proposed rule includes listing the lesser prairie-chicken in two distinct population segments (“DPS”), with the Northern DPS—encompassing Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma—proposed to be listed as “threatened” and the Southern DPS—consisting of birds in New Mexico and Texas—proposed to be listed as “endangered.” All populations face severe threats of habitat loss and fragmentation caused by oil and gas development, cropland conversion, livestock grazing, roads, and power lines.
“WildEarth Guardians has been fighting for more than two decades to get ESA protections for the lesser prairie-chicken and we are encouraged that the Service has finally recognized the need for federal listing status,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “For far too long, this iconic dancing bird has seen its numbers dwindling towards extinction and we are hopeful this is the first step towards rebuilding populations and preserving habitat.”
Federal listing petitions for the lesser prairie-chicken date back to the mid 1990s. For two decades, voluntary state agreements were relied upon to protect the species in lieu of federal government protections. In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened. But protection was overturned on procedural grounds after a lawsuit from the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four counties.
“The lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat have been absolutely trashed by unchecked oil and gas extraction,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians. “This proposed rule means that the ESA finally stands to provide the safety net desperately needed to protect the lesser prairie-chicken in the face of rampant fracking in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico and west Texas.”
The lesser prairie chicken—an icon of the Southern Plains—once numbered in the millions but has declined to just roughly 38,000 birds across less than 17 percent of its original range. Experts estimate the population of lesser prairie chickens at 3 million birds before the beginning of Euro-American settlement on the Great Plains.
The Service will be accepting comments on the proposed rule for 60 days once the proposal is published in the Federal Register before issuing a final decision.
Beach-nesting bird populations in the Gulf Coast have seen a steady decline since the days John James Audubon fell in love with its abundant birdlife. For the Fab Four of beach nesting birds, the Wilson’s Plover, Least Tern, Black Skimmer and Snowy Plover, nesting on the beach can be a huge challenge. Coastal development, off-road vehicles, beachgoers, and pets equal a perfect storm of threats and endanger their very existence. But, you can help beach-nesting birds.
Help Beach-Nesting Birds
Every year, these birds are the first to arrive at the beach and lay claim to a spot with the purpose of hatching their young safely. Natural and unnatural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, set back beach-nesting bird populations dramatically. It takes years for population recovery and as competition for space on the beach increases, they can’t do it without our help.
Snowy Plover with chick by Michael Wharton
These coastal birds will be setting up camp at popular beaches such as East Beach, Bryan Beach and Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture in Texas, Holly Beach, Rutherford Beach, Grand Isle State Park and public beaches in Louisiana, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island in Florida and Bon Secour in Alabama. The time to help beach-nesting birds is now. Spring and fall represents a critical time for these birds and together we can help them thrive.
A sign raising awareness and protecting a Least Tern nest by Kacy Ray
“Fish, Swim, and Play from 50 Yards Away” has proven to be a successful approach to protect beach-nesting birds. This educational campaign raises awareness among beach-goers of the recreational impacts on beach-nesting birds. Educational, media-based campaigns such as this, are a major strategy identified in most conservation plans to recover shorebird populations in decline. To date, the only Gulf program for beach-nesting birds that combines the use of media marketing with protection, monitoring, and on-the-ground outreach is the Fish, Swim and Play from 50 Yards Away campaign.
Funds from this campaign will help ABC and our partners increase nest and fledging success and further the stewardship of Wilson’s Plovers, Least Terns, Snowy Plovers, Black Skimmers and other species of concern across the Gulf Coast. If we do not protect their nests, their numbers will continue to decline. Please make a gift today to protect beach-nesting birds.
American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere’s bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.
Audubon Louisiana mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.
Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program mission is to involve a representation of a broad base of people to support the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP). This includes supporting the mission of stewardship of the cultural, economic and ecological resources of the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins.
Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP) is dedicated to protecting, researching and restoring the bays and estuaries in the 12-county region of the Texas Coastal Bend. As part of the National Estuary Program, CBBEP works with local governments, conservation groups, teachers, students and the public to raise awareness of our natural surroundings through research, restoration and recreation projects.
Eckerd College mission is to challenge students to embark on a journey of development through the coordination of service to the college, to the Church, and to the community.
Florida Shorebird Alliance is a statewide partnership of government and non-government organizations committed to advancing shorebird and seabird conservation in Florida through coordinated and collaborative work that helps identify and address important needs with regard to research, management, education, outreach, and public policy.
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory mission is to protect the birds and their habitats around the Gulf of Mexico. They are recognized as an innovative organization, which has designed and conducted a significant number of large conservation projects, including migration studies, habitat enhancement, land acquisition, regional habitat mapping, and others.
Houston Audubon is dedicated to the creation of a healthier natural environment and more beautiful place to live by leading and nurturing a community that values and supports birds. Their mission is to advance the conservation of birds and positively impact their supporting environments. They own 17 sanctuaries in five counties, including the internationally known High Island and Bolivar Flats sanctuaries.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mission is to manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) mission is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
Each spring, hummingbirds return to our gardens, farms, and parks, bringing their sparkle and activity. Birders and non-birders alike are excited to see these birds return. The hummingbird species we see vary depending on location, but these colorful birds brighten up any backyard with their beauty. Their majesty is not without mystery, though — especially when it comes to their nesting habits. Hummingbirds are masters at camouflaging their nests, making them almost impossible to spot, even when you are looking.
To shed some light on how hummingbirds breed, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide. So, if you’ve ever wondered about the size of hummingbird nests, what time of year these tiny birds build these natural structures, and what to look for, read on!
Where do hummingbirds nest?
Hummingbirds can be picky about where they nest. While some species like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird have adapted to urbanization, sometimes even nesting on wires, plant hangers, and other human-made items, most prefer the cover of deciduous trees growing near water. Tree foliage provides shelter for the parents and their chicks, while the water helps to keep the area cool. Hummingbirds also need to live near food sources, including nectar-rich flowering plants — another reason why sites near water are important for hummingbirds in dry regions.
Due to the small size of hummingbird nests, you’re not likely to find one in the crook of a large branch. Instead, hummingbirds tend to “set up shop” on thinner branches roughly one foot from tree trunks, often at a fork.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird and chicks. Photo by Agnieszka Bacal/Shutterstock
How can you attract hummingbirds to nest?
Unlike some other popular backyard birds, hummingbirds do not nest in birdhouses. However, there are a number of good ways to tempt them to your yard. You can maintain or plant native flowering plants, provide reliable water sources, and avoid chemicals that harm birds and other wildlife, including the insects hummingbirds prey upon. Properly maintained feeders can also supplement hummingbirds’ natural diets and attract them to your property.
How big is a hummingbird nest?
In general, hummingbird nests only measure a little over one inch in diameter! Their size depends on several factors. Different species, of course, build different nests. In general, larger species build larger ones than smaller species do. Construction materials and location can also affect the shape and size of nests.
Hummingbird nest and eggs. Photo by Wellington Nadalini/Shutterstock
What are hummingbird nests made of?
Hummingbirds like their nests to be soft and flexible. To construct them this way, they use a variety of natural materials. Like most birds, hummingbirds start with twigs and other bits of plants, using leaves for a base. However, hummingbirds will also use moss and lichen to camouflage their nests and to make them softer. The secret to a successful hummingbird nest, however, is spider silk. More about that directly below.
How do hummingbirds build their nests?
Female hummingbirds spend up to seven days building their flexible, bowl-shaped nests. First, they create a base layer. Then, they incorporate spider silk by rolling it over the unfinished structure. The silk, which holds the nest together and anchors it to a foundation, is inserted into nooks and crevasses to ensure attachment. Construction requires several hours each day.Video Player
WATCH: Hummingbird arrives with spider silk to reinforce her nest. Video by Freebilly Photography/Shutterstockes-at
What does a hummingbird nest look like?
Because it is adorned with compacted green lichen, moss, and spider silk, a hummingbird nest can appear like a small knot of wood. Its shape and coloring work as camouflage to keep hummingbird eggs and chicks safe.
When do hummingbirds nest?
The time of year that hummingbirds nest and lay eggs varies by location. In the southern U.S., hummingbird breeding begins as soon as March. In contrast, the process may not start until July in cooler, northern or montane regions. Some western species, such as the Anna’s Hummingbird, may start nesting with the first winter rains in November.
Hummingbird chick. Photo by Damsea/Shutterstock
How do you find a hummingbird nest?
Hummingbird nests are extremely hard to spot. As noted above, they are both well-hidden and camouflaged. The best places to look are on thin, forked branches and in dense shrubs. As mentioned above, these nests often look like tree knots. If you spot an oddly placed knot, you might have gotten lucky!
Carefully observing hummingbird behavior is usually key to finding their nests. Watching from a distance, you might be able to spot a female repeatedly visiting the same site during the process of nest construction. During incubation, females leave their nests only for brief periods to forage. If you are lucky enough to spot a female during this phase of breeding, and luckier still to be able to follow her flight path, she may lead you to her nest.
Can I touch a hummingbird nest?
You should not touch hummingbird nests. In the United States, it is illegal to touch, relocate, or remove an active nest. If you discover one, it is best to observe it from a distance. Binoculars will enable you to view the female or young from afar. This will minimize disturbance and avoid inadvertently tipping off a predator, such as a jay, to the location.
Hummingbird chicks. Photo by F Armstrong Photography/Shutterstock
Do hummingbirds leave their nests at night?
Hummingbirds use the night to sleep. In most cases, they will sleep on or by their nests, but not always.
Do hummingbirds reuse their nests?
No. Because hummingbird nests are flexible and expand as chicks grow, they eventually stretch, losing their shape and becoming unsuitable for new use. This means that every new set of eggs requires a new nest!
What can you do to help hummingbirds?
We all can do our part to protect hummingbirds.
American Bird Conservancy and our Joint Venture partners have improved conservation management on 6.4 million acres of U.S. bird habitat — an area larger than the state of Maryland — over the last ten years. This is a monumental undertaking, requiring the support of many, and you can help by making a gift today.
Policies enacted by Congress and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have a huge impact on America’s birds. You can help shape these rules for the better by telling lawmakers to prioritize birds, bird habitat, and bird-friendly measures. To get started, visit ABC’s Action Center.
Finally, don’t overlook the impact you can have in your yard. Creating and improving habitat for hummingbirds can be easy. Check out our “Hummingbird Paradise” post to learn more. For a complete list of daily activities you can take to help birds, visit our Bird-Friendly Life page.
Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo by Feng Yu/Shutterstock
How does American Bird Conservancy help hummingbirds?
ABC works with conservation partners and local communities to ensure the survival of the world’s most endangered hummingbirds, as well as many other rare, declining bird species and their habitats.
With partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have created 93 reserves spanning more than 1 million acres, where 234 hummingbird species find protection.
Habitat restoration is another hallmark of our work with hummingbirds. To date, ABC has planted more than 6 million trees and shrubs to revitalize key habitats, and we’re planning to plant 70,000 more.
The rose-red male Summer Tanager is the only completely red bird in North America — the male Northern Cardinal has a black mask; the closely related Scarlet Tanager has black wings and tail; and the duller-red Hepatic Tanager has grayish flanks and cheek patches. The female Summer Tanager is a warm orangish-yellow, and first-spring males have an interesting intermediate plumage patched with yellow and red.
This chunky, thick-billed songbird is surprisingly difficult to spot in the treetops, but it can be easily detected by its burry song and chuckling call notes.
The Summer Tanager’s stout, pointed bill allows it to easily capture and neutralize its preferred prey, bees and wasps and their larvae. Its predilection for stinging insects earned this songbird the nickname “Bee Bird.” When foraging, the Summer Tanager darts out from a perch to snatch a bee or wasp in mid-air, then subdues the insect by beating it against a branch. Before eating its catch, the tanager first removes the stinger. Summer Tanagers also rip into wasp nests to eat the larvae inside.
Many beekeepers consider the Summer Tanager a pest, but it rarely takes enough insects to pose a significant threat to a hive.
Northeast by Southwest
The Summer Tanager breeds across much of the eastern and southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Eastern and southern populations prefer open oak, hickory, and mixed oak-pine woodlands, and western populations breed in riparian woodlands of cottonwood and willow.
Like the closely related Western Tanager, the Summer Tanager is a long-distance migrant, moving south to winter from central Mexico into South America, as far south as Bolivia and Brazil. It migrates during the night, with eastern populations making the long flight directly across the Gulf of Mexico.
On its wintering grounds, the Summer Tanager also favors open woodlands, but can also be found in second-growth forest and edge, on plantations, and even in urban parks and gardens.
There are two widespread Summer Tanager subspecies. The western group is duller and paler-plumaged than the brighter-red eastern subspecies. A third subspecies is only found in northwestern Arizona.
The Summer Tanager’s distinctive call is a staccato “picky-tuck-tuck.” Its song is similar to that of the American Robin, but slower and more variable.
Although Summer Tanagers specialize in hunting bees and wasps, they also take a wide variety of other invertebrates, such as beetles, dragonflies, cicadas, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and spiders. While foraging, Summer Tanagers stay in the mid- to upper levels of the forest canopy, often repeatedly sallying out from the same perch like a flycatcher.
This versatile tanager also feeds on small fruits and berries, particularly on its wintering grounds. It may also visit backyard feeders for jam and suet.
Male Summer Tanagers arrive on the breeding grounds first, then stake out a territory that they defend against other males through singing duels and frequent chases. They continue to defend their nest site and a feeding territory throughout the breeding season. After females arrive on the breeding grounds, males court them with more singing, calling, and chasing.
Female Summer Tanager with insect. Photo by Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock
After mating, the female builds a cup-shaped nest of stems, leaves, and grasses high up and well out on a horizontal branch, often over a clearing or stream. There, she lays two to four eggs. The male feeds the female as she incubates, and both parents feed the hatchlings as they mature. A Summer Tanager pair usually raises only one brood per season.
Summer Tanagers seem to recognize the threat posed by brood parasites such as Brown-headed Cowbirds, chasing them away from their territories whenever possible. Nevertheless, their nests are often parasitized.
Keeping the Bee Bird Buzzing
Although Summer Tanager populations are currently considered stable, the species is still vulnerable to habitat loss, particularly the clearing of riparian habitat in the western United States. There, the Summer Tanager shares habitat with several threatened birds, including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and western race of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
ABC works to preserve riparian habitat throughout the Southwest. We have advocated for the San Pedro River, one of the last major undammed rivers in the American Southwest. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, which protects important habitat for the Summer Tanager and many other species, including the Elf Owl and Costa’s Hummingbird, was the first site designated by ABC as a Global Important Bird Area.
Migrating Summer Tanagers are vulnerable to collisions with communications towers and other human-built obstacles along their journeys. ABC offers a variety of solutions to this problem, both for interested birders and businesses.
Until higher education is accessible, equitable, and free, we will be here to support Black & Latinx Birders in STEM.
Are you a Black birder or Brown birder that lives in the contiguous United States and identifies as Black, African-American, and/or Latinx/e/a/o? Are you also an undergraduate student studying in STEM? Apply for the annual Black and Latinx Birders Scholarship, today!
Open to undergraduate students 18 and older, in any year of their college studies (full-time undergraduate). Through this scholarship, we seek to increase the number of Black birders and Latinx birders studying in STEM*. Scholarship awards range from a minimum of $2,500 to a maximum of $5,000, depending on funding for the current year. Two students will receive a one-time annual award.
1. Live in and attend college in the contiguous United States. 2. We want to hear from you!
Tell us about your birding** experience! Please answer these questions:
How did you become a birder?
How are you involved in the birding community?
Why are you pursuing a degree in STEM?
How do you plan to bring back your knowledge and skills to your community?
How to tell us:
Essay: no longer than two pages double spaced. Get creative! Maybe your essay is a Twitter thread that you started? Perhaps an extended IG post? Or maybe you prefer a standard essay format? Either way, tell us about you and answer the four questions above.
YouTube Video: Instead of an essay, send us a video link (two minutes maximum) sharing why you are pursuing your degree and how you plan to share your knowledge with the community.
3. One letter of recommendation to serve as a reference from a current or recent teacher. This can be forwarded to us by you, or sent directly to us. 4. Proof of enrollment at a 2 or 4 year college or university and proof of a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA (high school or college, as appropriate). A letter from the admissions office and a copy of your transcripts are needed. 5. Must be 18 years or older. 6. Interview with the committee via Zoom.
*Note: STEM (Science Technology Engineer Math) includes Science Communications.
**Note: we use the term “birder” in a broad context. Perhaps you’re a lister, volunteer at a nature center and engage your community with live birds, lead bird walks, have worked on or are working on a bird-related conservation project at your school. A birder in this context is someone who is actively engaged in lifestyle, with projects, etc. that are centered around birds, bird advocacy, and/or bird conservation.Apply Today! The application period for the Black and Latinx Birders Scholarship ends June 18, 2021.
Please forward this email to your colleagues, students, and networks. Our scholarship offering has increased this year due to American Bird Conservancy matching donations up to $10K! We need your help to share this scholarship with your networks. Thank you!
Conservation efforts paid off for species previously considered Critically Endangered, including Peru’s endemic Junin Grebe.
Each year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) evaluates the status of species on its Red List of Threatened Species, a key listing that ranks most of the worlds’ species by conservation need. This evaluation measures carefully chosen criteria, such as each species’ population size and trend. The 2020 update brought some welcome news: In the Americas, an important group of species that ABC and our partners have worked to protect have lowered threat status. A few others, however, moved to a higher threat category.
First, the good news: Conservation efforts paid off for three species previously considered in the highest threat category, Critically Endangered (CR). Peru’s endemic Junin Grebe and two hummingbirds — Black-breasted Puffleg of Ecuador and Glittering Starfrontlet of Colombia — dropped to the lower threat category of Endangered (EN). ABC partners have protected reserves for the two hummingbirds and worked to reduce nesting area loss around the grebe’s lake habitat.
Junin Grebe by Pete Morris
Nine species ABC partners have protected changed from EN to less dire Vulnerable (VU) and Near Threatened (NT) status, indicating that dedicated conservation and careful monitoring have had a positive impact. Two of these, the Long-whiskered Owlet and Yellow-eared Parrot, have benefited from ABC’s flagship conservation programs with our Peruvian partner Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos, in the case of the owlet, and Fundación ProAves in Colombia, for the parrot.
For some ABC focal species, though, ramped-up efforts are needed to turn the tide. Three species with which ABC and partners have recently begun conservation efforts shifted from EN to CR status, indicating they are more threatened than previously thought. For one of these, the Lilacine Amazon parrot in Ecuador, ABC and partner Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco have recently initiated projects with local communities to protect roost areas and reduce poaching. For the other two, the Santa Marta Sabrewing hummingbird and Great Green Macaw, ABC and partners have created reserves, but more work is needed to ensure adequate habitat is protected.
Some species for which ABC has yet to begin conservation efforts jumped to more-threatened categories. These include the Perijá Starfrontlet hummingbird that occurs at the border between Venezuela and Colombia and the Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner of Colombia, as well as these island birds: the Great White Heron, Bahama Warbler, and St. Lucia Oriole. The heron, still considered by some experts to be an all-white Great Blue Heron subspecies, also occurs in southern Florida in the U.S. These species will be priorities for ABC and our partners’ work in the near future.
Great Green Macaws by Evgeniapp/Shutterstock
Parrots in Peril
The 2020 IUCN Red List update has moved four New World parrot species — the Great Green Macaw, Lilacine Amazon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Black-billed Amazon — to higher threat categories. All are threatened by habitat loss, direct persecution, or capture for the pet trade. Over half of New World parrots are classified as Near Threatened, globally threatened, or extinct, but thanks to targeted conservation by ABC and partners, 12 of these species, including the Lear’s Macaw, Blue-throated Macaw, and Yellow-eared Parrot, have stabilized or increased their populations.
David Wiedenfeld is ABC’s Senior Conservation Scientist.
The feisty Black-capped Chickadee is the most common and widespread of the seven chickadee species found in North America. Named for its call and trademark black cap, this little bird is a common sight at backyard bird feeders, along with species such as the Northern Cardinal, Pine Siskin, and American Goldfinch.
Remarkable Bird Brain
Each fall, Black-capped Chickadees gather and store large supplies of seeds in many different places – an adaptation that helps them to survive harsh winters. But how do they remember where they stash their supplies of seed?
Scientists have shown that Black-capped Chickadees are able to increase their memory capacity each fall by adding new brain cells to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that supports spatial memory. During this time, the chickadee’s hippocampus actually expands in volume by around 30 percent! In the spring, when feats of memory are needed less, its hippocampus shrinks back to normal size. This phenomenon also occurs in other food-storing songbirds, including jays, nutcrackers, and nuthatches.
This remarkable plasticity is related to hormonal changes in the birds’ brains. Scientists are studying this ability in the hopes of eventually helping humans suffering from memory loss.
Weathering the Winter
During extremely cold winter nights, this remarkable little bird shows another interesting ability: Like a Costa’s Hummingbird or Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, it can lower its body temperature and enter short periods of torpor. This ability to go into controlled hypothermia helps it conserve essential energy. In addition, Black-capped Chickadees sometimes cluster together in tree cavities for extra warmth.
The Black-capped Chickadee has nine recognized subspecies and occurs from Alaska through the southern half of Canada and south to roughly half of the lower 48 U.S. states. All populations are nonmigratory, although some birds may move south within their range in the fall or winter.
Black-capped Chickadees live in small groups from late summer through winter, under a dominance hierarchy or “pecking order.” Each bird is known to the other according to rank, which is determined by degrees of aggressiveness.
Black-capped Chickadee. Photo by FotoRequest, Shutterstock
The Black-capped Chickadee’s vocal repertoire is quite complex, with at least 15 different sounds that serve as contact calls, alarm calls, individual identification, territorial markers, or in recognition of a particular flock. They also call when they find food, to signal flock members. Other small birds, such as the Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper, also listen for the Black-capped Chickadee’s calls and follow them in search of food during the winter.
Listen to two of the many vocalizations of the Black-capped Chickadee below.
Typical “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call:
“Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)” Xeno-Canto Thomas Magarian
Black-capped Chickadees eat many insect and spider eggs, larvae, pupae, and nymphs. These adaptable little birds also consume berries, seeds, suet, and even bits of carrion, particularly in the winter when insects are scarce. They are commonly seen at bird feeders, and they can be tame, even learning to take seed from a human hand. In far-northern latitudes, Black-capped Chickadees are among the few small songbirds able to endure the long, snowy winters.
In spring and summer, these normally social birds split up into monogamous breeding pairs. Cavity nesters, they usually select a site in a decayed snag, branch, or knothole. They may also take advantage of old woodpecker holes or nest boxes. They prefer a side entrance to their nest cavities, and if the branch or snag they select is slanted, the chickadee places the entrance on the lower surface, providing protection from the elements.
Chickadees can excavate their own nest cavities in soft, dead wood, taking the wood chips away from the site to avoid attracting predators. Once the nest cavity is established, the female builds a cup-shaped nest of moss and bark at the bottom and lines it with softer material such as animal fur.
Adaptable, Yet Vulnerable
Like the American Robin and Downy Woodpecker, the Black-capped Chickadee seems to thrive in suburban habitats. Although it remains common, this bird faces the same threats as less-adaptable species, particularly predation by cats and collisions with glass.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is backing a plan to trap 16 sheep-hunting golden eagles and move them up to 400 miles away, including out of Wyoming.
The plan is both a research project and a way to “alleviate conflicts” with domestic livestock, according to a memo to Game and Fish commissioners from the chief of the agency’s wildlife division. The matter is scheduled for consideration and potential approval by the commission Thursday at its Jackson meeting.
The goal of the research is to identify best practices for relocating depredating golden eagles and reduce conflicts, said Nate Bickford, a Colorado State University professor in Pueblo, Colorado, who proposed the project. With today’s tracking technology enabling researchers to fit devices on birds, the project could benefit both eagles and stock growers, he said.
“We can move these eagles and, with telemetry, actually track their movements after they are released,” Bickford said. Bickford and associates may identify the environments where relocated eagles stay and possibly figure out why. At the same time, the project could determine what factors influence eagles to take wing and return to lambing areas after being relocated, he said.
Something as simple as an abundance or scarcity of natural prey, such as rabbits, in any given year could be a factor in relocation success, research has suggested.
A dozen eagles could be relocated this year, and four more in 2022, Bickford said. Neither he nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could say by deadline how many eagles, if any, were moved last year.
Ranchers and their certified eagle trappers “would be doing some of that work regardless of our project,” Bickford said. The proposal appears to contemplate giving some birds to raptor handlers — falconers and austringers — with the result of those birds being removed from the wild population.
Researchers would move eagles up to 400 miles, Wildlife Division Chief Rick King’s memo to the Game and Fish Commission states. “Careful consideration is given to the release sites and researchers are evaluating several locations outside of Wyoming.”
Game and Fish will collaborate with the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, International Eagle Austringers Association, North American Falconers Association and Colorado State University, according to agency documents. The Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board funded the project, according to Bickford’s research application.
Tracking a key element
Bickford must share tracking information and possibly blood samples with the Game and Fish, according to a Wyoming research permit dated April 6 and signed by Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the agency’s wildlife division. Where the eagles will be trapped will depend on what ranches secure depredation permits from the federal government, Bickford’s application states.
Most likely the project will center on three ranches in the Green River region, three in the Powder River Basin and one in the Shirley Basin, the application states. A golden eagle rescued from apparent lead poisoning in the Dubois area takes off during a training flight at the Teton Raptor Center. (Provided/Teton Raptor Center)
Research would take place for three years, according to a separate application for funding to the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board. The undertaking would cost some $60,920 a year and employ non-lethal management methods, that application states.
Bickford will receive $45,000 a year from the ADM board, according to the organization’s website. The application in 2020 shows he was seeking, $2,500 a year each from Wyoming Wool Growers Association and North American Falconers Association and $5,000 from the International Eagle Austringer Association.
CSU would make $5,920 a year in in-kind contributions, according to Bickford’s ADM grant application that was copied to Game and Fish. There is no indication of any funding from Game and Fish.
Golden eagles are adept at killing lambs and can inflict significant losses. Since lawmakers in 1962 amended the 1940 Bald Eagle Act to protect golden eagles, researchers and ranchers have tried various methods for protecting sheep without harming the raptors.
A 1988 paper by federal researchers Robert Phillips and F. Sheridan Blom of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said eagles can have “substantial economic impact on individual producers.” They cited a 1975 case documented by B.W. O’Gara at the University of Montana in which two neighboring Montana ranches lost $48,000 worth of lambs that year.
More recently, a Johnson County rancher in 2019 complained that eagles took all but 25 of his 200 lambs, killing some of them “just for the fun of it,” according to reporting by the Buffalo Bulletin.
Investigations in the 1970s by O’Gara suggested ranchers would take matters into their own hands and kill eagles, despite federal laws, if predation by eagles could not be prevented by other means.
In 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with Wyoming Game and Fish investigated the poisoning deaths of a golden eagle and ravens near Wamsutter. Investigators found poison-laced baits along with the dead birds.
By 1987, O’Gara and W. Rightmore determined scarecrows and harassment of eagles offered “the most feasible means of protecting lambs under range lambing conditions,” in Montana. Range lambing occurs when sheep give birth in open pastures instead of in sheds.
Bickford discounted that technique, saying golden eagles become habituated to scarecrows and hazing.
Live trapping and moving golden eagles became the most common method to alleviate ranchers’ problems, USDA researchers Phillips and Blom wrote in 1988. On one Montana ranch, trappers moved 430 eagles during the period 1975 to 1983.
“Most field investigators who have dealt with eagle depredation problems feel that where eagles are preying on lambs in large open range pastures, scare tactics and the general live-trapping and relocation of eagles have been ineffective,” they wrote.
Other research had different results. Starting in 1999, a group of California researchers trapped and relocated golden eagles from the Channel Islands off the state’s southern coast to stop a “catastrophic decline” in three subspecies of island fox.
Live-trapping and moving the eagles was an “effective non-lethal method of reducing the island golden eagle population,” they wrote.
But by 1991, Phillips had found the method somewhat ineffective when dealing with breeding golden eagles near Sheridan. “Our observations of 14 relocated resident golden eagles showed a well-developed homing instinct for this species, with 12 of 14 individuals returning to their former territories,” he wrote.
Some were back within 11 days. Two came back after being moved twice, each time in different directions.
“Because most relocated birds reestablished their territories, it appears that relocation of breeding adult eagles offers, at best, only a short-term solution to the problem of eagle predation on livestock,” Phillips wrote.
Bird Calls Black-and-White Warbler, Dennis W. Donohue/Shutterstock
Birds make many amazing sounds, from trills and warbles to screeches, hoots, and quacks. While not exactly considered the virtuosos of the bird world, woodpeckers do make many incredible noises, vocal and otherwise. Understanding the sounds woodpeckers make can give birders interesting insights into these beautiful birds and how they communicate.
Black-backed Woodpecker. Video by Justin Hoffman/Outdoors
A Feathered Drumline
The most famous and familiar woodpecker sounds aren’t songs or calls, but drumming, which is also called rapping, tatting, and tattooing. Woodpeckers peck on objects to create sound patterns as communication. Resonant objects such as hollow trees, logs, and stumps are favored for drumming because their resonance increases the strength and volume of the drumming so it can be heard further away. Other objects that make popular woodpecker drumheads include:
• utility poles and transformer boxes • metal chimneys and attic exhaust vents • rain gutters and downspouts • trash cans • exterior light covers.
Pileated Woodpecker by Jesse Seniunas/Shutterstock
The tempo, rhythm, duration, and repetition of drumming patterns vary between different woodpecker species. Because these patterns can be very distinct, they can sometimes be used for species identification. In a particular area, birders can learn to decipher which woodpeckers are nearby just by hearing drumming patterns. But individual woodpeckers can tap and drum at different speeds and volumes, and sound travels differently depending upon weather and distance, so this takes practice!
Drumming means a lot more than just identification to the birds, however. A strong, vibrant drumming pattern indicates a healthy, dominant bird, one that controls a rich territory or would make a good mate.
Both male and female woodpeckers drum, most often in late winter or early spring when they are more actively seeking mates and establishing territories. Drumming is common in the morning, but woodpeckers may drum at any time of day.
Woodpecker calls, even if they are composed of a variety of notes and cadences, lack distinct melodies, and are not considered “songs” in the same sense as those sung by warblers, cardinals, or mockingbirds. Nevertheless, woodpecker sounds can be just as varied and distinctive as other birds’ songs and calls.
Calls may signal alarm, show agitation, or send a signal to a mate. Woodpeckers may not be as vocally adept as other species, but they do use churrs, purrs, rattles, chatters, screeches, and other short sounds, such as “peek” and “pik” notes.
“Red-shafted” Northern Flicker by Tim Zurowski/Shutterstock
Like drumming, the tempo, length, tone, and rhythm of woodpecker calls vary widely between species. Larger birds, like the tremendous Pileated Woodpecker, have deeper, more robust voices, while smaller species, such as the diminutive Downy Woodpecker, have brighter, lighter voices and higher tones. The Northern Flicker is one of the most vocal of the North American woodpeckers, uttering a laugh-like “ha-ha-ha-ha” call, soft screeching begging calls, and “kreee” or “kwirr” calls.
People enjoying the outdoors may simply appreciate the symphony of woodpecker sounds, but those sounds can also be useful for bird identification and so much more. Learning the precise rhythms, tempos, and durations of drumming and calls can help pinpoint which woodpeckers are around. Furthermore, even if the sounds aren’t precise enough for a positive identification, they can be useful to help triangulate a bird’s location for a closer look. The type of sound, such as a relaxed call note compared to an alarmed chattering, may also help explain the bird’s behavior and alert birders to other activity in the area.
Hairy Woodpecker by female_rck_953/Shutterstock
Protecting Woodpecker Sounds
The more we learn about woodpeckers and their sounds, the more we can appreciate these birds’ diversity and distinctiveness. But without protection, it is possible that the drumming, chatters, laughs, and churring may be heard less and less.
American Bird Conservancy is working diligently to protect woodpeckers’ habitats and to promote initiatives that can protect these birds. While many woodpeckers have healthy, even thriving, populations, increased habitat loss and pesticide use have put others at risk. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, for example, likely went extinct following widespread habitat loss and shooting in the southeastern United States.
Species with limited ranges and specialized habitat requirements, such as the Lewis’s, Red-cockaded, and White-headed Woodpeckers, especially benefit from targeted conservation efforts. These efforts include best practices for land management with birds in mind, increased awareness of the importance of forest conservation, and direct protection of the most critical areas of habitats.
With your help, woodpeckers can continue to make their varied sounds for generations to come.
Melissa Mayntz is a birder and a writer, naturally writing about birds. Her work has appeared in National Wildlife magazine, WildBird, Bird Watcher’s Digest online, and other publications. She is the author of Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds (Quadrille Publishing, 2020).
Buildings, landmarks and monuments are turning off lights to prevent fatal impacts as birds set off on spring migration.
Published April 10, 2021Updated April 12, 2021
Dozens of American cities are being transformed this spring, enveloped in darkness as the lights that usually brighten up their skylines are turned off at night to prevent birds from fatal impacts during their annual migrations.
Each year, an estimated 365 million to one billion birds die by smacking into reflective or transparent windows in deadly cases of mistaken identity, believing the glass to be unimpeded sky.
“These birds are dying right in front of their eyes,” said Connie Sanchez, the bird-friendly buildings program manager for the National Audubon Society, which for two decades has asked cities to dim their lights from about mid-March through May, and again in the fall, under its Lights Out initiative.
Since late last year, at least six cities have joined forces with the 35 other places where the society, local organizations, ornithology experts and some of the nation’s largest companies have been helping birds navigate in urban centers. The efforts are gaining ground in cities including Chicago, Houston and New York City, which are among the top 10 in the United States for light pollution.
Cities from Dallas to Philadelphia take part.
The timing of the lights-out campaign varies based on location. In Texas, whose coastal lands are the first that birds encounter after they cross the Gulf of Mexico, buildings will go dark in Dallas from mid-March through May. In Fort Worth, at least 11 of the city’s most prominent buildings will dim their lights from midnight to 6 a.m. through May 31.
In Jacksonville, Fla., where migration started in mid-March, building owners and managers are examining data from volunteers who walk the city, collecting carcasses and documenting where birds have fallen.
Buildings in Philadelphia have also joined the nationwide effort, a step that experts hope will help to avoid a repeat of the deaths of more than 1,000 birds last October, an event reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer as one of the largest such avian fatalities in decades.
Finding dead birds, and what killed them.
Bird populations are already imperiled by climate change, habitat loss and cats. Turning lights out at night can mitigate one more risk to their lives, experts say.
But before a city knows if a lights-out campaign will work, it first has to know how many birds it might help. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has used radar data to identify abnormal bird densities. In some cities, the approach is old-fashioned shoe leather.
Three days a week, at about 7 a.m., volunteers hit the streets of Jacksonville, Fla., peering into shrubs or searching the bases of the city’s tallest buildings. In the week of March 14, they found two warblers and a dove. The tiny bodies were put into bags and handed over to the zoo for analysis.
Then the business of forensics begins. As in any cause of death investigation, clues must be extracted from their surroundings. In the case of birds, the only certainties are flight, gravity and thin air.
Moments after a fatal impact, birds plummet to sidewalks, drop onto high-rise ledges inaccessible to the public, or sink into bushes on private land until discovered there inexplicably dead, throwing the possible answers to the who, what, when and where of their deaths into disarray.
Sometimes, stunned by the impact, they keep flying before they fall, making the place of their original blow difficult to trace. Often, cleaning crews sweep up carcasses before the volunteers can document them.
Mike Taylor, a curator at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, who works with the volunteers, said cats will also get to the birds. “We don’t know if they caught the bird, or just took advantage of this free meal that fell to the ground in front of them,” he said.
Last October in Philadelphia, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 birds in one night flew into buildings in a radius of just over three blocks of Center City, possibly because of a low ceiling of bad weather that interfered with migrating birds from Canada, Maine, New York and elsewhere toward Central and South America, The Inquirer reported.
After the event, Audubon Mid-Atlantic, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club and two other local Audubon chapters formed a coalition to tackle the problem.
The response has been “extremely robust” among the city’s iconic properties, said Kristine A. Kiphorn, the executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association in Philadelphia. Comcast, One and Two Liberty Place and the Wells Fargo Center are among the 30 buildings that have so far signed up to go dark this spring.
“We feel it makes ethical, ecological and economic sense,” she said.
Flip a switch, save a life.
Bird strikes against buildings have been recorded for decades in Philadelphia. The first recorded window kills date back to the 1890s, when City Hall was lit up, said Nate Rice, the ornithology collection manager at Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Dr. Rice said the academy’s database now has 823 specimens that have been identified as window strikes in Philadelphia.
“If we can generalize, say, ‘Let’s keep lights out or at a minimum during peak migration time,’ this can have an impact on wild bird populations,” he said.
Modern architecture has accelerated the problem as sky-piercing, reflective structures are illuminated at night.
Birds use stellar navigation, and twinkling lights, especially on overcast nights, can confuse them, leading them to fly in circles instead of proceeding along their route. Others drop exhausted to the ground, at risk of predators, cars or smacking into glass when they take wing again. Some crash into buildings if they see a plant in the window or a tree reflected in the glass.
Many buildings do more than flip a switch. Some use glass with patterns to help birds differentiate between open sky and a deadly, transparent wall.
And in St. Louis, exterior lights at the Gateway Arch landmark are turned off at night to avoid disorienting birds during migration in the first two weeks of May, when warblers and other birds fly from Canada to Central and South America.
With the help of volunteers who are canvassing for bird bodies, the local Audubon chapter is preparing to introduce a formal Lights Out program for the city.
“We wanted to see what areas of downtown are causing problems to birds,” Jean Favara, the vice president of conservation at the St. Louis Audubon Society, said. “I hope by 2024 we will have 30 to 34 buildings enrolled, and we can go from there.”
Spring migration, one of nature’s greatest annual journeys, is underway as billions of migratory birds leave their wintering grounds and head north toward seasonal food sources and favorite nesting spots.
But this high-endurance pilgrimage isn’t without danger. Outdoor cats, poorly placed communication towers, unforgiving and — to birds — invisible glass surfaces, and pesticide-laced plants all await. Add to that an ongoing crisis of habitat loss and it’s no mystery why so many birds fail to reach their destinations during spring migration.
The good news is that all of us can take steps to make migration a little safer. Even better, many of these activities are simple, free, and require only a few minutes. To get started, have a look at our staff’s top 10 suggestions — and find the solutions that work for you.
10. Paint a Window Warning
“Hundreds of millions of birds in the U.S. die from hitting glass every year – almost half of those on home windows. Luckily, there are many ways to make your windows safe for birds. One of my favorite methods is applying tempera paint to the outside surface of glass. Tempera is nontoxic, cheap, easy to use (and remove) and amazingly long lasting — even in rain. If you’re short on time, using a sponge is a good way to make a quick pattern. With a little more effort, you can create spring-themed designs or even small works of art depicting your favorite birds; either will help prevent collisions. Remember: Whatever kind of design you use, make sure your lines are no more than two inches apart to help smaller birds avoid collisions.”
Chris Sheppard – Bird Collisions Campaign Director
9. Support the Laws that Migratory Birds Can’t Live Without
“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation affecting birds in the U.S. But a new government position asserts that the MBTA does not address unintentional harm that industrial activities cause to birds, effectively letting business off the hook. This move will have a negative impact on bird populations and hurt bird conservation, but that’s not all. It also puts our public heritage as the owners and stewards of our nation’s birds at risk. You can help protect this important law by signing ABC’s online petition.”
David Wiedenfeld – Senior Conservation Scientist
8. Protect Birds from Cats
“Cats are lovable pets, but they’re also instinctive predators. One cat alone may kill up to 55 birds each year. It all adds up! So keep your cat on a leash or in an enclosure to protect migratory birds (and keep your cat safe, too). Don’t have a cat? You can still support bird-friendly practices in your community by encouraging the passage of local ordinances mandating responsible pet ownership. Learn more about other simple actions you can take to protect birds on our Cats Indoors page.”
Grant Sizemore – Director of Invasive Species Programs
7. Make Your Yard a Bird Paradise For Spring Migration
“I’ve packed my quarter-acre lot in suburban Maryland with dozens of the same native plant species you might see in nearby woods. There’s a “mini meadow” of asters, goldenrods, and native grasses and a tiny woodland of native viburnums, hollies, and other berry-producing shrubs that birds love. But the most important way I support my local birdlife is by learning to love insects. Even seed-eating birds can’t live without insects, since their nestlings need protein-rich caterpillars to thrive. My yard is a “pesticide-free zone” and I prioritize plants that support the most insect species, using Douglas Tallamy’s research on plant-insect interactions as a guide. Some of them, like wild cherry , feed more than 450 species of moths and butterflies in the mid-Atlantic region.”
Clare Nielsen – Vice President of Communications
6. Communicate with Communication Tower Owners
“Roughly 7 million birds die every year in North America from collisions with communication towers. Many of these deaths are caused by towers’ steady burning lights, which attract birds. The simple solution is to use flashing lights as they pose little danger to birds. But sometimes owners need to hear from concerned citizens before making the switch. Giving them a nudge is now easier with the release of the new SongbirdSaver app. The app identifies potentially dangerous communication towers near you and provides contact information for their owners. And because SongbirdSaver can pinpoint towers along common migration routes, spring is a great time to get started.”
Steve Holmer – Vice President of Policy
5. Stamp Your Approval on Spring Migration
“I purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp,” every year to support conservation funding and support bird conservation. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 98 cents of every dollar spent purchasing Federal Duck Stamps is used to acquire and protect habitat or purchase conservation easements. These efforts support not just migratory waterfowl, but other migratory birds as well.”
Conor Marshall – Associate, Communications, Policy and Operations
4. Keep Your Woods Wild
“You can provide habitat for birds during spring migration by letting things around the house get a little messy. I have a wooded backyard, so I try to leave it as natural as possible. I let the understory grow and pull invasive plants such as Japanese stiltgrass and garlic mustard. I leave logs and fallen branches in place to shelter insects and other small critters that birds feed on. When larger trees break or fall, I leave them be — as long as they’re not hanging over the roof. This gives snag-nesting migrants like Great Crested Flycatcher places to nest — as along with year-round residents like Eastern Screech-owl and Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers — and is a nice source of grubs and other bird food.”
Gemma Radko – Communications and Media Manager
3. Give Beach-nesting Birds a Break
“As temperatures rise, many of us begin heading to the beach. And we’re not alone: this is a critical time for several migratory species — I’m thinking of Black Skimmers, Snowy Plovers and Least Terns — that lay their eggs in the sand and are particularly vulnerable. One of the biggest challenges they face are unleashed dogs. Our team in the Gulf Coast region team has seen loose dogs eat eggs and take chicks. This is a big problem considering that nearly all of these birds have declining populations. The obvious solution is to leash dogs. As our team likes to say, ‘Bird-friendly beaches have dogs on leashes!’”
Kacy L. Ray – Gulf Conservation Program Manager
2. Fuel a Hungry Hummingbird
“Put out those hummingbird feeders during spring migration — the hummers are arriving. Be sure to use a mixture of four parts water to one part sugar. And do without the dye: Red dyes serve no purpose. Most hummingbird feeders already have enough color on them to attract hummingbirds, and, even worse, these dyes contain petroleum that may be harmful to hummingbirds. Don’t forget to change the mixture often to be sure it’s fresh and safe for those super-charged flying jewels.”
EJ Williams – Vice President, Migratory Birds & Habitats
1. Inspire a Future Bird Conservationist
“I have younger nieces and nephews in Wisconsin, and when I visit them during spring migration, I like to make sure they get outside, where I can introduce them to birds: Mr. Blue Jay. Mr. Cardinal, Mrs. Common Yellowthroat. Introducing birds to kids at a young age can instill a desire to explore the natural world. And that’s only one benefit. It also helps children bond with wildlife and develop an environmental ethic that will, hopefully, remain with them for the rest of their lives. I’m hoping one of my nieces or nephews will be the John Muir of 2030!”
Excluding seldom-seen vagrant species, eight New World oriole species occur in the United States (see list below). Thanks to their distinctive orange-and-black or yellow-and-black plumage, orioles are fairly easy to identify. And because they inhabit large portions of the country — and occasionally visit feeders — many Americans are familiar with these colorful birds.
Despite their relative abundance, most North American orioles are in decline, some steeply. The Baltimore Oriole, for example, has experienced a 42-percent population decline in the last 50 years; the Audubon’s Oriole has been added to Partners in Flight’s (PIF’s) Yellow Watch List (an indicator of conservation concern); and the Altamira Oriole, which numbers fewer than 500 in Texas, has been listed as “threatened” in the state by the Texas Organization for Endangered Species.
The alphabetical list below includes all orioles, both migratory and resident, that breed regularly in the continental United States. The PIF population and conservation data we use is exclusive to the United States and Canada. (Note that only three listed species reach Canada: Baltimore, Bullock’s, and Orchard.) As a result, population estimates shown here do not reflect total numbers for orioles with parts of their breeding ranges in Mexico and Central America. We have included one exotic species on our list, the Spot-breasted Oriole, which has been established in the U.S. for more than 70 years, and we have omitted several vagrant species that rarely visit.
U.S. Population Estimate: <500 Population Trend: Unknown Habitat: Dry forest and brush near Rio Grande Threats: Habitat loss Note: Although most of the Altamira Oriole’s range lies south of the U.S. border, it can be found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The Texas Organization for Endangered Species lists the species as “threatened” within the state; however, the Altamira Oriole is still considered common in the southern parts of its range.
U.S. Population Estimate: <5,000 Population Trend: Overall trend unknown; decreasing in the U.S. Habitat: Dry forest and brush Threats: Brood parasitism, habitat loss and fragmentation Note: Formerly known as the Black-headed Oriole, Audubon’s Oriole is the only oriole species in the New World to sport a black hood with a yellow or orange back. Conservation concerns have led PIF to add Audubon’s Oriole to its Yellow Watch List.
U.S./Canada Population Estimate: 12,000,000 Population Trend: Decreasing Habitat: Open eastern deciduous forest Threats: Habitat loss Note: Like most oriole species, Baltimore Orioles build hanging nests by weaving an assortment of fibers, including hairs and grasses. The nests, which take one to two weeks to construct, are lined with feathers and downy fibers. Baltimore Oriole populations have decreased by 42 percent over the last 50 years.
U.S./Canada Population Estimate: 6,500,000 Population Trend: Decreasing Habitat: Open western deciduous forest Threats: Habitat loss, possibly pesticide use Note: Bullock’s Oriole enjoy a varied diet, including insects, fruit, and even nectar from agaves and other flowers. They can occasionally be found sipping from hummingbird feeders. Populations of the Bullock’s Oriole have decreased 22 percent over the last 50 years.
U.S. Population Estimate: 350,000 Population Trend: Increasing Habitat: Open woods and brush Threats: Localized brood parasitism by Brown-headed and Bronzed CowbirdsNote: Hooded Orioles, which tend to nest in palm trees, have expanded their range northward, following the introduction of ornamental palms in residential areas. They can now be found as far north as Arcata, California.
U.S./Canada Population Estimate: 10,000,000 Population Trend: Decreasing Habitat: Open woods and brush Threats: Habitat loss, brood parasitism Note: The smallest of North American orioles, Orchard Orioles have a noted tolerance for other birds. In areas of favored habitat, multiple Orchard Oriole pairs will sometimes nest in a single tree. They are also known to nest in close proximity to Baltimore Orioles, American Robins, and Chipping Sparrows, among others. Orchard Oriole populations have decreased 23 percent over the last 50 years.
U.S. Population Estimate: 1,600,000 Population Trend: Decreasing Habitat: Varied open, arid habitats Threats: Habitat loss and fragmentation Note: Although most birds avoid eating Monarch butterflies due to toxins ingested by the milkweed-eating insects, Scott’s Oriole and several other bird species have learned to prey upon them by eating the abdomens of less-noxious individuals. Populations of the Scott’s Oriole have decreased by 29 percent over the last 50 years.
U.S. Population Estimate: Unknown Population Trend: Increasing Habitat: Lushly planted suburban areas in South Florida Threats: Severe winter freezes, habitat loss and fragmentationNote: Native to southern Mexico and Central America, Spot-breasted Orioles were introduced in the U.S. more than 70 years ago. The birds are now found in areas between Miami and West Palm Beach. They nest in human-altered landscapes with an abundance of flowering and fruiting ornamental trees and shrubs, including suburban yards and golf courses.
Chuck-will’s-widow belongs to a family of birds with the folk name “goatsuckers.” The family name, Caprimulgidae, literally means “milker of goats” and is based on an ancient belief that the birds milked goats with their enormous mouths each night.
In reality, the birds’ attraction to livestock was likely due to the presence of insects. Chuck-will’s-widow forages at dusk and dawn, silently swooping over the ground in search of prey. Specialized feathers known as rictal bristles help funnel insects into the bird’s mouth, which is so large that they may occasionally swallow small birds and bats as well!
The “chuck” is the largest nightjar in North America and is almost entirely nocturnal. During the day, the birds roost along tree branches or on the ground, where their beautifully mottled brown plumage provides perfect camouflage against dried leaves and tree bark.
Chuck-will’s-widow and chicks by Dick-Snell
Chuck-will’s-widows do not build nests, instead laying their eggs on the ground among dead leaves, pine needles, or on bare dirt. Incubating adults are almost invisible against the forest floor and only flush off their nests when closely approached.
Since they have a highly insectivorous diet, Chuck-will’s-widows are impacted by pesticide use. They are sometimes killed by cars when they land on roads at night to pick up grit. Habitat loss on both breeding and wintering grounds is also a continual threat.
This nightjar winters in lowland forests throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, where it shares habitat with Wood Thrush, Kentucky and Prothonotary warblers, and Painted Bunting. Chuck-will’s-widow is benefiting from ABC’s efforts to “bring back the birds” in these areas, with our focus on conserving geographically linked habitats both north and south.
NAME: Setophaga petechia POPULATION: 92 million TREND: Stable HABITAT: Breeds in wet woods, thickets, and riparian areas; winters in open woodlands, on farms and gardens with scattered trees, and in mangrove forests
Yellow Warbler range map by NatureServe
The Yellow Warbler is the most widespread American wood-warbler. It nests from Alaska to northern South America (including the Galapágos Islands), and in parts of the Caribbean as well, and winters as far south as Peru.
Tail tip to forehead, this is also the yellowest North American warbler, even more so than the Prothonotary or Blue-winged. Cinnamon breast streaks embellish the male’s gleaming plumage.
Seet: Cowbird Alert!
One of the Yellow Warbler’s calls, a repeated seet, serves specifically as a Brown-headed Cowbird alert. When a female hears another bird make this call, she rushes back to her nest to prevent the cowbird, a notorious nest parasite, from laying eggs there.
Another superlative associated with the Yellow Warbler is the species’ incredible diversity: 37 subspecies are recognized, divided among four groups. Subspecies vary mostly in plumage color and pattern.
The Yellow Warbler nests throughout most of Canada, Alaska, and at least two-thirds of the area covered by the lower 48 U.S. states. Long-distance migrants, few if any of these birds remain north of the Mexican border in winter.
Several resident, or nonmigratory, groups are found in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. A resident subspecies even inhabits the Galápagos Islands off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. Males in nonmigratory populations have varying amounts of chestnut color on their heads, from just the cap to most of the bird’s head, as is the case with “Mangrove” Yellow Warblers.
For years, some ornithologists split the migratory and resident populations into two species, Setophaga aestiva and S. petechia. All now fall under the latter name.
Male Yellow Warbler feeding female on nest. Photo by Ivan Kuzmin, Shutterstock
Coffee Berry Protector
The Yellow Warbler feeds mainly on insects and spiders, gleaning them from shrubs and tree branches or sallying out from a perch to grab winged insects mid-air. This diminutive hunter sometimes hovers while seeking prey that might be hiding on the undersides of leaves. Like many other migratory songbirds, the Yellow Warbler adds fruit to its diet in winter.
Winter or summer, this warbler provides valuable pest control: One study, conducted on Costa Rican wintering grounds, showed that the Yellow Warbler and other insectivorous birds ate large quantities of invasive coffee berry borer beetles, helping reduce infestations on coffee plantations in that country by 50 percent.
A Clutch Performance
A male Yellow Warbler quickly claims a territory on the breeding grounds, chasing off intruding males. He courts prospective mates through incessant singing. In fact, one Yellow Warbler may sing more than 3,000 times in a day to attract a female! Once paired, the male attends his mate closely as she builds her nest, wary for other males, which often invade established territories and attempt to mate with resident females.
Like many other birds such as the Kirtland’s Warbler and Wood Thrush, the Yellow Warbler is frequently parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. This problem is especially common in fragmented habitats, which provide easier access for female cowbirds to lay their eggs in host birds’ nests. But the Yellow Warbler fights back. It seems to recognize the foreign eggs, and often builds a new nest, covering over a cowbird-parasitized clutch with new nesting material. If the cowbird returns and re-lays, the warbler covers them again — sometimes resulting in nests with up to six tiers!
Females build and maintain the cup-shaped nests, incubate the eggs, and brood the hatchlings. Meanwhile, male Yellow Warblers aggressively guard nest sites and bring food to females sitting on eggs or young. Both sexes share chick-rearing duties: After the nestlings fledge, some may follow the mother, while the rest remain with the father.
Warblers on the Landscape
Although still numerous, Yellow Warblers are threatened by habitat loss, chiefly destruction of riparian habitats, and the overuse of pesticides. One subspecies, the Barbados Yellow Warbler, has been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1970.
ABC’s work helps to conserve the Yellow Warbler and other migratory birds across their full annual life-cycle through its BirdScapes approach to conservation. Several BirdScapes in the southwestern United States protect riparian areas for the Endangered western subspecies of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo that also shelter the Yellow Warbler and other birds.
Brown-headed Nuthatches are back in Missouri thanks to habitat restoration and translocation efforts. Photo by Frode Jacobson
The release of 46 Brown-headed Nuthatches, translocated from Arkansas to restored pine woodlands in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest in August and September 2020, marked this species’ return to the state. The brown-capped songbird had been absent since the early 1900s, following widespread habitat loss.
“I really think that a big take-home from all of this, and something we can all be proud of, is how well science, management, and conservation of species came together in this effort,” says Jane Fitzgerald, ABC’s Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV) Coordinator. “Most of the people who, decades ago, imagined all of this happening are now retired, but a new cadre of folks saw, and see, the vision and are moving the ball forward. In the Interior Highlands, we really are a conservation community, and I hope that continues for decades to come.”
During pre-colonial times, 6.6 million acres of Shortleaf Pine and pine-oak woodland covered Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. After settlement and development, which included widespread logging and fire suppression, these ecosystems were reduced to approximately 600,000 acres. The dramatic reduction in habitat led to the extirpation — or regional disappearance — of some bird species tied these open pinelands, including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch.
The nuthatch release was only possible after successful habitat restoration, which required years of hard work and patience. Although the Mark Twain National Forest had been actively restoring 12,000 acres of pine woodland on the Eleven Point Ranger District by 2006, the work was greatly accelerated when the forest was awarded significant funding through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). The CFLRP, administered by the U.S. Forest Service, is intended to encourage collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes on and around national forest lands across the United States.
To help build this collaboration, ABC and the CHJV brought together key partners, including federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations and agencies that formally agreed to work together to restore pine woods in the same large landscape, called the Current River Hills. Ten years of dedicated funding was awarded to the Mark Twain National Forest in 2012, and now roughly 100,000 acres of Shortleaf Pine and pine-oak woodland has been, or is being, restored. It was this habitat restoration work that was vital to establishing the area as a place to bring back Brown-headed Nuthatches.
Shortly after the restoration work in Missouri began picking up, a team of researchers from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the University of Missouri pooled resources to investigate various aspects of the bird’s biology, quantifying the Brown-headed Nuthatch’s preferred habitat conditions in Arkansas; showing how the Missouri restoration efforts benefited other songbirds while confirming the nuthatch’s continued absence; building habitat models; and assessing the habitat structure at the Mark Twain restoration sites.
In addition, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC’s) state ornithologist and a wildlife biologist at U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station worked with ecologists from Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida who had experience with Brown-headed Nuthatch translocations. With this input, they developed methods needed to safely capture the birds in Arkansas, then safely transport them to Missouri.
Because the nuthatches were released on public land, anyone can see these birds. Mark Twain National Forest visitors can help monitor the nuthatches’ presence and movements by submitting their observations to the eBird database (www.ebird.org).
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
Springtime singer or snowy sentinel? The American Robin may be one of North America’s most familiar songbirds, yet its wintering patterns raise a common question: Do robins migrate?
The answer is yes and no. We associate robins with spring for good reason: In many places, they arrive with the warm weather. But that doesn’t mean all of these birds escape winter’s bite.
Unlike long-distance migrants and many hummingbirds, which head south en masse during the fall, robins react to winter’s onset in two ways.
Many retreat southward. Northern Canada empties of robins, while areas far to the south like Texas and Florida receive large winter flocks. But those making the journey are not lured by warmer temperatures: Robins can withstand extremely cold temperatures, adding warm, downy feathers to their plumage. The real motivation is food, or rather the lack of it. As their warm-weather diet of earthworms and insects wanes, robins begin searching for fresh supplies.
First, they change their diet, transitioning from protein-rich invertebrates to vitamin-rich winter fruits and berries, including junipers, hollies, crabapples, and hawthorns.
They also begin moving. In the spring and summer, robins aggressively defend their territories and raise young. In the winter, they become nomadic, searching widely for their favorite cold-weather fare. Weather also influences robin movements. A heavy snowfall that persists for more than a few days may send them on their way, searching for better conditions.
American Robin. Photo by Jeff Rzepka/Shutterstock
Robins also form flocks in the winter. These flocks, which can number in the hundreds or thousands, stand in contrast to the birds’ territorial pairings in spring and summer. Flocking offers critical benefits: Larger groups mean more eyes and improved chances to spot — and avoid —predators. They also increase the odds of discovering food.
Finally — and this is generally true throughout their range — robins make little noise during winter months. Although some males begin singing toward winter’s end as spring approaches and mating hormones kick in, they typically maintain a subdued presence.
Taken together, these changes dramatically lower robins’ profile in the northern part of their range, making sightings much less common, and leading some people to assume they are absent.
American Robin. Photo by Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock
To Stay or To Go
So how do Robins decide whether to stay or go during the winter?
There is not yet a good answer, but gender may play a role, as males are more likely to remain than females in northern areas. This offers an obvious territorial advantage, allowing males early access to the best breeding grounds.
When spring arrives, northern flocks of robins disperse and resume their invertebrate diet, picking earthworms and other invertebrates from the ground. Around the same time, migrating robins return from the South, with males arriving a few days to two weeks before females. In both cases, males sing vigorously as they begin defending territory. The result? Robins seem to be everywhere once again.
American Robin. Photo by Michael Stubblefield
Unlike many other birds, the American Robin seems to have benefited from urbanization and agricultural development. Although its populations are increasing, it remains vulnerable to many of the same factors threatening less adaptable species.
Pesticide poisoning remains an important threat, since American Robins forage on lawns and other open spaces that are often sprayed with toxins. Although DDT has been banned in the United States, other toxic chemicals such as neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos, and glyphosate (used in the familiar weed-killer Roundup) are still in use. Pesticides can also affect populations of earthworms, a major food source for this bird.
Since American Robins often forage and feed on the ground, they are especially vulnerable to predation by outdoor cats. Collisions with windows, communications towers, and car strikes are other common hazards.
Target: Caroline Mulroney, Minister, Ministry of Transportation Ontario
Goal: Protect the colony of Cliff Swallows under the Argyle Bridge before it is demolished.
The Argyle Bridge in Ontario is home to the largest colony of Cliff Swallows in the area. Yet it is slated for demolition and reconstruction, posing a serious threat to the birds. The new bridge design does not allow the swallows to make nests as they cannot build on a metal structure, putting the 65 current nests and their residents in danger. Animal protection regulations are being blatantly ignored since any colony over eight nests must be protected.
The government is paying $2 million to protect the local mussel population in the water, but refuses to make any changes to help the Cliff Swallows. This is especially negligent since simple solutions, such as coating the metal beams, would allow the swallows to safely nest.
Sign this petition to urge the government to responsibly care for a protected migratory species, and safeguard the Cliff Swallows.
Dear Honourable Mulroney,
The destruction of the Argyle Bridge also spells destruction for the Cliff Swallows that find homes under its arches. Simple measures can be taken to make the new bridge a suitable habitat for these animals, yet your government is failing to take adequate measures.
The 65 nests under the bridge make perhaps the largest colony in southern Ontario, and it is negligent to ignore the significance of a nest site of this magnitude.
The project is clearly concerned about its environmental impact, as indicated by the vigilance of the mussels in the water, and I urge you to safeguard all animals who are impacted by this construction.
Protect the vulnerable Cliff Swallows under Argyle Bridge.
Many #endangered#birds, like the Gray-bellied Comet (pictured) lack adequate protected habitat. Identifying which birds need help most — and protecting their habitat — is what our "gap analysis" is all about.
Pattern Energy, an independent renewable energy company, entered into an agreement to fund extensive new research by Bird Conservancy of the Rockies to study birds associated with piñon-juniper woodlands in New Mexico. Pattern Energy’s $80,000 contribution will support scientific monitoring of the potential impacts from management activities on the pinyon jay and other declining birds associated with piñon-juniper woodlands.
Pattern Energy is developing the Western Spirit Wind Projects, collectively the largest single-phase wind project in the United States, in central New Mexico, where the landscape is typified by a mosaic of piñon-juniper woodlands and savannas. The contribution comes from financial agreements for four wind energy projects: Clines Corners Wind Farm LLC, Duran Mesa LLC, Red Cloud Wind LLC, and Tecolote Wind LLC (collectively, the “Western Spirit Wind Projects”).
“The pinyon jay has suffered an 85% decline in population since the 1960s and is predicted to lose an additional 50% of its population by 2035. This research will be absolutely vital to protecting this vulnerable species and its habitat,” explained Carol Beidleman with Defenders of Wildlife in Santa Fe.
“Along with the loss of over a million pinyon jays, many other bird species dependent on piñon-juniper woodlands, such as the juniper titmouse, have also declined significantly. The situation is dire, but thanks to strong support from Pattern Energy there will be reliable science to guide land management projects to better protect this vulnerable habitat and the bird species that are dependent on it,” added Beidleman.
“We have learned from years of conducting extensive avian surveys that state and federal agencies, as well as conservation stakeholders, have expressed a lack of robust data on the current status and vulnerabilities of pinyon jays and we wanted to resolve that,” said Adam Cernea Clark of Pattern Energy. “Given the iconic nature of the pinyon jay and its role as a keystone species in a delicate ecosystem, Pattern Energy wants to build our collective understanding of the species and its habitat in New Mexico.”
Of the iconic landscapes in New Mexico, the most familiar is probably that of the piñon-juniper woodlands. Covering a significant portion of the state, this habitat has always been important to humans, as a source of firewood and the nutritious piñon “nuts,” but also for birds and other wildlife. Without the pinyon jay, however, there would be few new piñon pines. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship, with this beautiful blue jay being the primary consumer, and disperser, of the seeds. It “caches” or buries the seeds, allowing for more successful germination. Many other bird species associated with this habitat are therefore dependent on the pinyon jay, just as we are.
Through a collaboration with Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon Southwest, and The Nature Conservancy of New Mexico, Cernea Clark saw an opportunity to support a new research project focused on piñon-juniper woodlands and their associated bird species in New Mexico. “What I learned from the conservation community is that the pinyon jay, with its caches of seeds, is the primary means for the piñon pine to expand its distribution,” said Cernea Clark. “We know that ecosystems themselves are migrating in elevation and latitude in response to climate change and piñon-juniper woodlands need this bird to adapt to a changing climate. Pattern Energy’s mission is to transition the world to renewable energy, which we need to mitigate the intensity of climate change. There is an eloquent parallel in this bird’s role in the environment and the role of renewable projects like the Western Spirit Wind Projects.”
Some threats to the pinyon jay are known. Climate change and drought, accompanied by insect outbreaks, have killed many piñon trees. But, less is known about how large landscape management projects, such as thinning for wildfire mitigation and clearing for rangeland improvements, affect this rapidly disappearing bird.
“The National Audubon Society’s 2019 Survival by Degrees Report predicts a range loss in New Mexico for the pinyon jay of 19% (+2.0° C) to 30% (+3.0° C) due to climate change,” according to Jonathan Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest, “But we don’t have enough information on the effects of large-scale management of the bird’s habitat.”
Fortunately, there are many bird conservation partners in New Mexico collaborating to learn more about the status and needs of the pinyon jay and to better understand the threats facing this species and associated birds. Peggy Darr, co-chair of the New Mexico Avian Conservation Partners (NMACP), helped initiate this research project with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies to evaluate the response of New Mexico avian Species of Greatest Conservation Need to mechanical thinning treatments in piñon-juniper woodlands.
It started as a subcommittee of the NMACP, and then partners came on board to help us learn more about how to protect this high-priority species in New Mexico. In addition to Pattern Energy, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon Southwest, and The Nature Conservancy of New Mexico, this project partnership includes Santa Fe County, the Bureau of Land Management, State Land Office, Los Alamos National Labs, and U.S. Forest Service.
“Partners in Flight has recently identified the pinyon jay as one of 39 ‘Species on the Brink’ in the U.S. and Canada, and the species most dependent on public lands management,” said Bryan Bird, Defenders of Wildlife Southwest program director. “This new research will be critical to protecting one of New Mexico’s highest priority birds. Pattern Energy is demonstrating that renewable energy and wildlife can co-exist and flourish together.”
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard