Articles

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?

Conservation Column - Which Words Will Prevail?

“Words are the bricks of our world and they have the power to change it.”

—Enock Maregesi, “East Africa: Writing for Kiswahili Language Revolution,” The Citizen (2016)

So far it’s just words, but for those who favor more protective conservation measures, the new forest management plan looks like a giant step backwards. In August, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Western Oregon. Unfortunately, the approved plan will replace the carefully considered, science-based 1994 Northwest Forest Plan on millions of acres. It reduces streamside protective buffers by half or more, a loss of 300,000 acres of streamside reserves and a threat to the clean, cool water needed by salmon and other fish and wildlife. An increase in road construction and off-road vehicle access will further fragment and degrade habitat. Logging levels will increase by 37 percent. In the nearly half a million acres managed for timber, logging will be of the more destructive clear-cut variety.

The proposed plan includes 2.6 million acres of federally managed public forests. The recreational opportunities of this public land; the essential habitat for  fish, birds and other wildlife; and the many ecosystem services such as clean water, clean air, climate change mitigation,  and landslide and erosion control, should not be traded away for short-term profit. Many people in federal agencies have worked for years to find programs that balance the demand for logging with environmental values. The direction of the new proposal puts that strategy and our forests at risk.

Conservation Column - Communications between Humans and Wild Species—It’s Essential

I wish more people talked to animals. Communing with nature has been shown to improve both our mental health and physical well being. I wish more people listened to nature. Paying attention to wild animals is a window to both the endless wonders of nature and to the quality of the job we are doing at protecting it. With so many birds and other wildlife in such steep decline, it is a thundering wake-up call to change business as usual. A connection with nature helps us all to appreciate long-term values rather than just concentrating on short-term profits.

In a fascinating example of cooperation between free-living wild animals and human animals, the African Greater Honeyguide cooperates with people to find bee nests and share the spoils. The birds guide people to the location of a bee nest (hence the name) and the people secure the nest. They then share the food without competition; the birds are wax eaters and the people are honey eaters. This mutual cooperation requires two-way communication. Honeyguides call in a particular way to get people’s attention and then guide them to the food source by flitting from tree to tree. A study by Spottiswoode et al. published this summer explored the human side of the conversation. Scientists found that a special vocal call made by Mozambican honey-hunters notably increased the probability of mutualistic success.

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