Articles

Conservation Column: Be Alert to Drongo Tactics in Congress

Drongos are short-legged birds who literally speak with forked tongues, as do many passerines. They are good mimics. Birds mimic for many reasons, but the drongo can use this ability for tactical deceit. When they see a meerkat carrying food, the drongos loudly mimic a meerkat alarm call. This causes the duped individual to drop their food and run for cover. Guess who gets the food?

Similarly, some people in Congress are giving an alarm call about forest practices and wildfire danger. Proponents of HR 2936 and SB 1731 claim that these new laws would make our forests healthier. What seems more likely is that they will provide benefits to timber companies without protecting the forests. The ironically named “Resilient Forest Act” just passed in the House. The Senate version, “The Forest Management Improvement Act”, has been introduced and may soon be up for a vote. Some troubling aspects of the bills are that they exempt forest projects from review and from the protection of environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act. For example, the Forest Service would no longer need to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts to determine if a project would harm a protected species, and they would no longer need to do an environmental review to determine what the impacts of their project would be.

Conservation Column: Roadside Spray

Roadside herbicide spraying has long been a controversial issue in Lane County, and that hasn’t changed.

Lane County served as a model for environmental stewardship when it banned roadside herbicide spraying in 2008 in response to community concerns. Mowing and other mechanical/manual techniques have proven largely effective at managing our county roadsides since then. Unfortunately, inadequate funding has negatively impacted that effectiveness, so a task force was convened in 2015 to deal with the problem. While some members of the task force were reportedly skeptical about lifting the moratorium on herbicides, they understood the need for addressing problem areas. As a result, ordinance 16-07 was passed in July 2016. The task force recommended several well-considered measures to protect and inform the public while allowing for limited use of herbicide spray.

Most of the problem areas relate to guardrails that are not easily reached by mowers.

Conservation Column: Ravens or Humans—Which Plan Better for the Future?

ravenIn a research study published in July, ravens learned how to get food out of a puzzle box using a stone tool. The next day, when the ravens were given a choice of items to collect, they preferentially selected the stone tools, even when the puzzle box was nowhere in sight. The stones might come in handy later on, when the puzzle box was around. They also learned to trade bottle caps for food. Later, when given a choice between bottle caps and other items (even small food treats), they choose the bottle caps—a fun demonstration that birds are good at planning for the future.
Like ravens, humans also need to plan for the future. National monuments protect species, biodiversity, and important habitat. But the effectiveness of the protected areas decreases over time, due to encroaching development and shifts in species’ ranges due to climate change. How to plan for the future?

One way is to expand existing national monuments. This is just what was done with Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, first designated in 2000. This area is part of the Pacific Flyway, a migratory corridor essential to birds. At the crossroads of four distinct eco-regions, it was created to protect the area’s unique biodiversity. Scientists expressed concerns that the original boundaries were not large enough to preserve the connectivity between species, and that an increase in area development threatened habitat. These concerns, plus evidence indicating that the area was not large enough for species to withstand range shifts due to climate change, prompted an expansion of the monument in 2016. Good planning for the future.

Conservation Column: How Many “Dees” Are We Up To?

Did you know that the higher the threat level, the more “dees” chickadees add to their alarm call? A red-tailed hawk, not much of a threat to chickadees, will elicit a relatively short alarm call but the presence of a Northern Pygmy-Owl (which specializes in hunting small birds) will bring forth a long alarm call, with as many as 12 “dees” strung together.

Between the new administration and this year’s Congress, many of our country’s environmental regulations are under threat. For example: The Clean Water Act and the Clean Power Plan are being eroded. No more must federal officials consider climate change impacts when making decisions.

Conservation Column: Global Cooperation Necessary For Future Generations’ Survival

Rather than read the back of the cereal box, I am currently reading articles on bird behavior, including “Parental cooperation in a changing climate: fluctuating environments predict shifts in care division.” 

Cooperation among birds has been shown to increase the chances of successfully raising offspring. Sometimes this means taking turns sitting on the nest and incubating the eggs. In plovers, the females do more of the incubating and typically take the day shift, while the males sit on the eggs at night. As temperatures rise, it becomes more difficult for the females to sit during the day. This study examined populations at different temperatures.

Conservation Column: Celebrate and Help Migrating Birds

Birds do not recognize the man-made boundaries between countries, and yet they need to cross them to survive. Consequently, it’s up to us to coordinate efforts to protect them as they move through their annual cycles. International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), officially designated in 1993, celebrates the migration of billions of birds each year between their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada, and their winter homes in Mexico, Central and South American, and the Caribbean. Events celebrating bird migration occur throughout the region, (for information on LCAS’s IMBD event on May 13, see page 7), with the growth of IMBD prompting the creation of the nonprofit organization, Environment for the Americas, to provide educational materials and outreach. In fact, one of the first landmark conservation laws was the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916, signed by Canada, U.S., Mexico, Japan, and Russia. The act grants full protection to over 800 species of birds, including their feathers, eggs, and nests. 

Migration is an extraordinary feat. It’s mind-boggling to imagine a Warbling Vireo, who weighs barely half an ounce, traveling several thousand miles from an over-wintering roost in Mexico to a nesting site in Oregon.

Conservation Column: Springfield’s LED Street Lights

As many of you are aware, streetlights can negatively impact the health and welfare of both humans and birds. New streetlights purchased by the city of Springfield seem likely to exacerbate those impacts.

What’s the problem?

Impacts on people include: 

•Disruption of circadian rhythms. The light, especially the blue light, interferes with the natural production of melatonin, a hormone which regulates our natural daily rhythms. Interference with circadian rhythms causes sleep disruption which, in turn, increases sleepiness and decreases alertness during the day. Research suggests that an increase in certain diseases may be associated with artificial lighting at night.

•Light pollution obstructs our ability to view the night sky. According to the International Dark Sky Association, 4000Kelvin LED lights more than double light pollution. 

•LED lights increase glare, constricting the pupils and interfering with our ability to see, especially in the aging eye. This increases the risk of automobile and pedestrian accidents. Many compare LED light to a car heading toward you with its brights on. 

Impacts on birds include:

Conservation Column: California Condor Recovery Update

Rowdy teenagers were getting into some trouble and people were concerned about their ability to comfortably fit into a complex society. The solution: a mentorship program where an experienced adult was able to keep the rambunctious youngsters in line and engage their interest. This mentor program has been working successfully for years as part of the California Condor recovery effort, where conservationists and scientists work hard to save the condor from extinction and reintroduce the birds into the wild. In 1987, only 22 individuals were found in the wild and shortly thereafter were taken into captivity. Thanks to a comprehensive recovery program with its focus on careful breeding, mentorship and training programs, there are now over 400 condors with just over half of them living in the wild. 

Conservation Column: History of the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and How the Data Is Used Today

How the Count Started

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas Side Hunt. They would choose sides and go afield with their guns. Whichever team brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.

Conservation awareness was just in its beginning stages then, as many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a Christmas Bird Census that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. So began the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Thanks to the inspiration of Chapman and the enthusiasm of 27 dedicated birders, 25 Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. Locations ranged from Toronto, Ontario, to Pacific Grove, California, with most counts in or near the population centers of northeastern North America. The combined tally of the original 27 Christmas Bird Counters came to around 90 species. 

In the present, from December 14 through January 5 each year, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, or rain to take part in the effort. 

Conservation Column: Outdoor School—The True Elixir

Daffy’s elixir was a popular product sold in Britain in the 18th century. It promised to prevent or cure pretty much every ailment known to man, from lack of energy to “griping of the bowels.” Despite its popularity for over a century (later the recipe was found to be mostly brandy), few people today would be duped by its claim as “the choice drink of health.” But what if something like this were real? What if there was a relatively quick and inexpensive way to achieve the following health benefits for our children: stress reduction, prevention of mental health disorders including depression, decreased need for ADHD drugs, and improved attention spans? What if it also had been shown to lower the risk of smoking and substance abuse, boost serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter), increase levels of Vitamin D, result in better distance vision, and decrease the risk of obesity and other metabolic disorders associated with too much inactivity?

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