On Friday, March 2, there was a Hermit Thrush in our yard apparently foraging. It was the first time I saw “our” thrush move to the ground of all its visits (I’m assuming it was the same bird I was seeing a couple of months ago). While it was searching, I noticed its legs shivering. I was close, I was just on the other side of a glass door to the yard, and could see the bird quite well. The shaking was unmistakable.
Many of us share an appreciation for migratory birds. One hundred years ago (that’s 1918), people recognized the need to protect migratory and native species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) that resulted is one of the finest and most far-reaching environmental laws ever passed in the United States. Now it’s in trouble.
The 76th Eugene Christmas Bird Count (ECBC) on Sunday, December 31, 2017, started on a cold and foggy morning. We had all hoped it would be sunny like the day before, but the fog persisted all day long. Luckily, the 149 field participants also persisted, and we saw 130 species of birds, a total of 71,084 individuals. Another seven species were seen during Count Week.
The details of those sightings are reported by Vjera Thompson, see Resources/Christmas Bird Counts on this website. Vjera was Species Compiler for the first time this year, replacing Dan Gleason, who has been involved with the ECBC for more than four decades. We appreciate his hard work throughout that time.
The 149 field participant total was high, approaching our previous record of 157, set in 2012. The 130 species seen was about the average of what we’ve been seeing over the past 15 years, but high compared to the first 60 years of the ECBC. Despite the cold, foggy conditions, the teams walked 118 miles in 172 hours and drove 571 miles in 69 hours. Six teams even went owling in the dark for 6.5 hours and covered 22 miles.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: