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.
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.
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?
“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.
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.
This year we are excited that we have a pair of Western Bluebirds nesting in a nest box on our property southwest of Eugene. This has not always been the case, so we feel very fortunate to have them successfully raising six chicks this year. As I write this in mid-June, these chicks are within a day or two of flying. The pair of adults may even nest again this year if all goes well!
It is quite a treat to see them on a daily basis. They hunt insects in the vegetable garden, come to the water source in the front yard, and make food deliveries to the nest box throughout the day. They vigorously defend their box from any other birds that get too close. One morning the male bluebird chased off a Western Wood-Pewee looking for a perch and forced it to move on to a nearby tree.
Western Bluebirds have population pressures due to habitat loss and competition from other bird species, mainly European Starlings and House Sparrows. These two non-native species nest earlier and take nest cavities that might otherwise be used by bluebirds.
In 1916, at the urging of dedicated, concerned citizens, the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds was signed, and twenty years later it was expanded to protect birds throughout North America. This spring, in recognition of the convention’s 100th anniversary, numerous organizations across the continent collaborated to produce the annual State of the Birds report, which focuses on an assessment of all native bird species that live in Mexico, the continental United States, and Canada—birds which, of course, know no borders. Extensive data, some of it from e-bird submissions, were used to determine the conservation status of each species as well as to determine conservation standing of various habitat types. The analysis included trends in population growth and size, extent of breeding and wintering ranges, and an evaluation of the severity of the threats impacting the birds. Although the report is careful to highlight conservation successes, the overall trend is distressing. Of the 1,154 bird species analyzed, a whopping 37% of them are considered to be at high risk of extinction; 49% are species of concern with a moderate risk of extinction, while only 14% are classified as being of low concern.
Springtime brings birdsong and baby birds and feelings of exuberance. There was uplifting news this month out of Midway Island when it was announced that Wisdom, the world’s oldest Laysan Albatross on record and a symbol of hope for many people, has hatched yet another egg—likely her 40th baby! Her new chick is named Kukini, after the Hawaiian word for messenger.
ODFW and the City of Eugene are seeking volunteers to assist with breeding-bird surveys and grassland-bird monitoring on restoration projects south of Fern Ridge Reservoir, specifically along Nielson and Cantrell Roads. Ideal volunteers should have significant bird identification experience, both by sight and call, with grassland birds, waterfowl, and other associated species found in the Willamette Valley. We also want general observations by birders to provide usage information about the sites.
Links to information and maps of the monitoring sites are on the LCAS website: www.laneaudubon.org/node/556.
Surveys will begin in April and continue through June. If you’re interested, please contact Chris Vogel at 541.935.2591 or email@example.com. Call soon to get on the schedule!
by Cheron Ferland, Wildlife Biologist, US Forest Service
It was several years ago that I first heard about a particular wildlife conflict—one which I assumed occurred infrequently. I saw a photo of a Saw-whet Owl standing in the bottom of a recreation toilet—yep, down in the nasty slurry. By recreation toilet, I mean the ones that you find in national forest and national park trailheads and campgrounds. Somehow that owl was rescued from the unsavory environment. I have retrieved many distressed raptors in my day, but thankfully have never had to execute that type of retrieval. At the time, my impression of the situation was that it was probably very unusual and unlikely. Then I heard about a Barn Owl showing up in another recreation toilet, and a duck in another. And then I read an article called Bird Death Pipes by California Audubon that documented the deaths of 200 birds that were found in one 6” wide x 10’ tall pipe! LCAS President Maeve Sowles highlighted this very issue in her From Our President column in the April 2012 issue of The Quail.
So as I thought about it more, I realized that wildlife—not just birds, but also reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals—view hollow pipes as potential nesting sites or sources of refuge. They are often curious or seeking shelter or nest sites, and once they enter an open pipe, it is often impossible for them to get out.