We Can All Work Together to Protect Bird Populations
Why do birds matter? As author Jonathan Franzen wrote in the January edition of National Geographic, “they are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding.”
As a subscriber to National Geographic, I was pleased to get my January issue and learn the organization had declared 2018 “The Year of the Bird.” The cover story “Why Birds Matter” by Franzen was just one part of the issue detailing the state of birds. National Geographic will continue the series examining how the changing environment is leading to dramatic losses among bird species around the globe throughout the year in all of its media outlets. The series will also document how we can work together to protect birds.
National Geographic is partnering with the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on this important series. The series is, in part, a celebration of the centennial of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects 1,026 bird species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed by Congress in response to the extinction or near-extinction of a number of bird species as a result of hunting for sport or feathers.
The treaty makes it illegal for anyone to “take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase or barter any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”
Readers of this column may recall my recent experience volunteering to help count birds during the Christmas Bird Count. My role at The Last Green Valley has also included assisting the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection conduct its midwinter eagle survey, as well as monitoring a few bald eagle nests in the region. I guess I have always had birds on the brain, and that is why I am happy to see a nationwide effort to draw greater attention to birds in 2018.
If you too are interested in documenting birds, then you may want to consider participating in the Great Back Yard Bird Count – Feb. 16-19. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society began the Great Back Yard Bird Count in 1998. It was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display the results in real-time.
There are now more than 160,000 participants worldwide taking part in the four-day count. The nice thing is you can count from anywhere you want, for as long as you want — even for just 15 minutes by looking out your window. You’ll need to tally the number and species of birds you see and then input that data on the data collection and website eBird.
I have already created my free account online and am ready to participate during the specified days of the count. To create your listing, go to the Great Back Yard Bird Count website, http://gbbc.birdcount.org, and click on the “sign in or register as a new user” tab at the opening page of the website. It only took me a few minutes to sign up and to list my viewing and counting location. I also listed other locations where I go for bird-watching. The data is managed by eBird.org, an excellent resource for learning about birds.
In 2017, people in more than 100 countries counted 6,200 bird species on more than 180,000 checklists. These results have provided a huge amount of data to aid scientists understand more about our important global bird populations. With eBird you can continue to count throughout the year and enjoy the process of helping to document birds year-round. Once you set up your account, you can go back any time to add to your list of birds sighted, specific date, etc. This can also be a fun, family activity and help children gain a greater appreciation for our natural world.
Perhaps you are wondering why it’s important to count birds and record their numbers, locations and species? Here is the answer from the Great Backyard Bird Count website.
“Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
Scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the
Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like these:
• How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?
• Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?
• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
If the Great Back Yard Bird Count is not enough to keep you busy participating in a citizen science project, then there is another important bird-related project seeking volunteers. The Connecticut Bird Atlas was last updated in the early 1980s, and work has already begun on a new update. To update the atlas, volunteers are needed to assist gathering data on birds in Connecticut.
The project is being spearheaded by Min Huang, a wildlife biologist for the DEEP, and Christopher Elphick, an associate professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at the University of Connecticut. Huang and Elphick are working with many partners, including Connecticut Audubon and National Audubon’s Connecticut chapter, on the Connecticut Bird Atlas, which will map all species found in the state during both nesting and non-nesting seasons.
Birdwatchers are needed to help document the distribution, abundance and breeding activities of birds at sites throughout the state and especially in northeastern Connecticut, where data has been more limited. The resulting data will be used to document changes since the last comprehensive survey of 30 years ago. The Connecticut Bird Atlas will help to inform the State Wildlife Action Plan and determine priority areas for bird conservation and land protection. For more information on this important project, visit http://www.ctbirdatlas.org.
It is the second week of February and believe it or not, spring will be here before you know it. I already hear the chickadee “fee bee, fee bee” song foretelling the arrival of our migrating springtime songsters.
I hope you’ll join me and others in celebrating the Year of the Bird, remembering the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and also by volunteering to gather data on the numbers and species of birds living or traveling through our region. The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor is a beautiful place to live, work and visit. I hope you’ll join us as we care for it, enjoy it and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for more than 35 years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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