Friday, April 23, 2004

Audubon at Home
The Audubon at Home program encourages us all to think about the relationship between ourselves, our yards, and the larger environment. The website includes tips on how to implement five major suggestions for improving the environment of our yards: Reduce Pesticides, Conserve Water, Protect Water Quality, Remove Exotic Plants, and Plant Natives. These five steps can improve our own personal health and quality of life, as well as the quality of our environment.

Many local Audubon chapters are promoting this program, including Tulsa, and especially Seattle (cool downloadable book).

The National Audubon Society is teaming up with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to promote this program across the country.

So take a look around your yard, see what more you can do...practice Audubon at Home.
From the latest Audubon Advisory...
Want to help protect some of the most endangered birds in North America -species like the Kirtland's Warbler, Bicknell's Thrush, Black-capped Vireo, as well as a species of great concern, the Cerulean Warbler? Well one way you can is to encourage the U.S. Congress to fully fund the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. Habitat destruction overseas has pushed far too many bird species closer to extinction, and Neotropical migratory bird populations are dwindling due to destruction of their wintering habitats. Congress passed this 5-year law passed in 2000 to address the problem. The Act established a $5 million per year fund to support partnership programs to protect and enhance critical habitats in the U.S., as well as the Caribbean and Latin America, where approximately 5 billion migratory birds of 500 different species spend their winters. Unfortunately, every year, demand for the grants is much greater than the actual funding levels, and because of this, 113 worthy projects could not be funded last year. If we can convince Congress to approve full funding for this program, more of these bird conservation partnerships will get off the ground. Audubon and our partners in conservation are focused on that effort, and you can help by asking your federal lawmakers to support full funding of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund - and keep those beautiful songbirds coming back to our yards! CLICK HERE for more information and to take action.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Washington, DC Bird Bibliography
A good example of a bibliography useful for local urban bird conservation is this bird bibliography for Washington, DC compiled by Ryan Shepard, Collections Librarian, The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

This bibliography contains notes on birds dating back to an 1862 Smithsonian report on DC birds and an 1871 John Burroughs piece on birds at the capitol (online here).

Comprehensive bibliographies like this make it possible for conservationists to look at historic local bird distributions and birdscapes, contrast those with current conditions, and start to envision more viable urban birdscapes for the future. Barn Owls used to nest in the Smithsonian tower on the National Mall. Wouldn't that be cool...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Local Bird Atlas Projects
One of the first things that needs to be done in trying to preserve and conserve birds and their habitats in urban areas is to find out where birds are in the city. Local bird atlas projects are a great way to find out what birds are around.

In the United States, most states have published atlas projects, and several are conducting their second round of atlasing. County level bird atlas projects, which provide a much finer resolution of bird distribution patterns are rare in the United States. The first county-level bird atlas projects were conducted in Maryland. The Breeding Bird Atlas of Montgomery and Howard Counties, Maryland was published in 1978.

The next county bird atlas--The Atlas of the breeding birds of Los Alamos County, New Mexico--was published in 1992.

California is the epicenter for county bird atlas projects in the United States. Bird atlas projects have been completed for Marin (1993), Monterey (1993), and Sonoma (1995) Counties.

One of the most recent county-level bird atlas projects is being completed in San Diego, CA (field observations concluded in 2002).

These local atlas projects are great because they show where birds are at a local level. If each city or metropolitan area had a bird atlas project, local bird conservation organizations would have better data on where birds are and how they might be impacted by development projects.

There are other ways to collect distribution data for an urban area. Point counts spread across a city can provide valuable information on where birds are located and what habitats they are utilizing. Local bird surveys of this type have been conducted in many cities, with the most extensive projects being the Tucson Bird Count, Washington, DC Project Birdscape (see Hadidian, J. et al. "A citywide breeding bird survey for Washington, D.C.," Urban Ecosystems 1(1997): 87-102.), and the Baltimore Urban Birdscape Project.

If you want to conserve birds in your city or town, you need to know what species are present, where they are, and what resources they need. It is vital that we conduct atlas projects or surveys in our cities if we are going to protect and conserve urban bird populations.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

John Marzluff and Seattle Urban Bird Ecology
John Marzluff is one of the premiere urban bird ecologists in the country. His work with the University of Washington Urban Ecology program (here) is addressing many of the most difficult issues, including population dynamics of birds in fragmented urban landscapes.

A Christian Science Monitior article about his work with American Crows gives another good indication of what his lab is looking at.

In 2001, Marzluff co-edited Avian Ecology and Conservation in an Urbanizing World , a review of bird ecology studies in urban environments. It's a very expensive book, but worth finding at a university library. This book is the current state of the art review of urban bird ecology.

In 2001, Marzluff and Ken Ewing published an article in the journal Restoration Ecology, which gives 15 suggestions for restoring bird populations in fragmented urban areas (abstract here).

Friday, April 09, 2004

Urban Birds on Birdzilla
The Birdzilla World Bird Omnibus website has the complete text of the classic 1937-68 Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds. Until recently, these were the standard life history accounts for most birds in North America, and they still provide a remarkable view of birds--especially urban birds--from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

An easy way to search this site for information about birds in urban areas is to do a site-specific google search. At google, enter a search term, followed by site:birdzilla.com. This will return all entries with that term from within the birdzilla site (of course, this little google search tip works for any website). For instance, a search for lawns site:birdzilla.com reveals early statements about Anna's Hummingbirds bathing in lawn sprinklers and Black Phoebes "sweeping over city lawns, or even hunting in the artificial canyons of downtown Los Angeles."

You can do a google search to look for mention of birds in your own hometown or to see how many birds foraged in garbage dumps. While this information may not help you immediately save the birds in your city, it can help place urban bird behavior in a historic and ecological context...and provide interesting stories to share with others while watching urban birds.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Bird Health and Electromagnetic Fields
We've all seen birds perched on electric wires--ever wondered if electromagnetic fields generated by power lines have any effect on birds?

A study of birds nesting under power lines found reduced nesting success in Tree Swallows, but not in House Wrens or Eastern Bluebirds. Recent studies of American Kestrels found electromagnetic fields to effect melatonin levels and growth of hatchlings--according to one article, "EMF exposure affected
reproductive success of kestrels, increasing fertility, egg size, embryonic development, and fledging success but reducing hatching success."

A helpful literature review with references introduces potential health effects of electromagnetic fields to humans and other species. Magda Havas of Trent University in Ontario has published a more complete review of health effects. While these studies focus on human health, they do present evidence of effects on birds as well.

© Copyright 2004 Rob Fergus All rights reserved.