Spring is in the air—time to talk about the birds and the bees. Perhaps not “the talk” that first springs to mind, but rather the one about pollinators and how important they are to life on earth (not to mention their financial impact worth over $15 billion in crop value each year). It’s also time to consider why so many populations of bees and birds are in serious decline.
“Birds of a feather flock together.” This old saying applies to both birds and humans. The benefits of flocking for birds are many: They use mobbing to chase off potential predators, even when the predator is larger than they are. They flock together when eating, roosting, and nesting. Who among us does not wish to be able to understand their communications when they gather for “information exchange?” Flycatcher pairs communally defend their nests from predators and issue alarm calls to rouse their neighbors for help. In one study, researchers prevented a flycatcher pair from aiding their neighbors when an artificial predator was placed in the area. When that pair alarm-called in the next round, the neighbors did not respond. Apparently, birds take note when others don’t pull their weight in a group. It pays to cooperate.
Imagine: You watch a friend get into a heated argument with someone. Afterward, you think your friend must be feeling bad, so you spend some time consoling him in the hope of making him feel better. Scenarios like this probably seem commonplace to you, and you are likely not surprised that such behavior occurs. But many people are astonished to learn that a goose or monkey might display similar behavior. It was long thought that people were the only animals that could understand the minds of others and respond as if they knew what others were thinking or feeling, a trait often dubbed empathy. Scientists have devised studies to demonstrate this ability in nonhuman animals and have shown that we are not the only ones that display empathy. Many of these studies featured our closest relatives, chimpanzees and other primates, but researchers have found intriguing evidence that birds have this ability as well.
The O&C lands consist of 2.8 million acres of public land in western Oregon. Originally given to the Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad Company in 1866, they were put into the public trust under federal management in 1937. Even after years of timber harvesting, these lands represent some of the best mature and old growth forest in the western United States. Counties with O&C lands received money when the forests were logged, and they came to rely on these funds. In 2000, the struggling counties began receiving federal funds, which continued each year to give them time to develop better economic models. Unfortunately, they did not do so, and the counties are now in crisis...
This summer saw the release of the fourth State of the Birds report, a collaborative effort on the part of federal and state wildlife agencies, National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, American Bird Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and several other organizations. The status of bird populations is widely considered one of the best indicators for the health of ecosystems. The 2013 report focuses on the distribution of bird populations and conservation opportunities on private lands.
Lane County Audubon Society has joined more than 100 conservation and scientific organizations in signing a letter to the Obama administration requesting greater protection for the Marbled Murrelet, a federally threatened seabird (click here to see the article on the Marbled Murrelet).
A shout out to Dave Stone for reporting on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) during its 40-year anniversary. This is a powerful law with the potential to make a great deal of difference for the protection of species and ecosystems. However, vigilance is required against the many political attempts to weaken the law and slash funding.