Saturday, May 15, 2004

Power Lines
As early as 1876, ornithologist Elliot Coues noted that telegraph wires formed a flight hazard for birds (Coues,E. "The destruction of birds by telegraph wires," American Nature, 10:734, 1876). In 1904, W. Otto Emerson described dozens of shorebirds killed by striking wires running along a road through a salt marsh (Emerson, W. O., "Destruction of birds by wires," Condor 6(2):37-8, 1904). Over 100 years later, 157,810 miles of transmission lines and over 4 million miles of electrical distribution lines pose a potential electrocution hazard, as well as a dangerous flight obstacle for many species—especially those with high wing loading and low aspect, such as rails, cranes, pelicans, and herons (Bevanger 1998). Collisions with transmission lines are a problem for California Condors, and are a major source of mortality for the critically endangered Whooping Crane (Doughty, R. Return of the Whooping Crane, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 1989).

In the late 1980s, the Edison Electric Institute formed an Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) to address the problem of cranes colliding with power lines in Colorado. Originally comprised of EEI, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Audubon Society, and 10 electric utilities, APLIC has expanded to address additional power line issues faced by birds, and now has over 20 members, and is open to electric utilities, utility organizations, or federal agencies involved in bird and power line interaction issues. In 1994, APLIC published Mitigating Bird Collisions with Power Lines to address the problem of birds colliding with transmission lines. In 1998, they issued an 18 minute companion video showing bird/power line interactions and mitigation techniques.

Some utilities have tried placing large balls or other devices on the wires to make them more visible to birds, but researchers are still trying to figure out how to better minimize the impact of bird-wire collisions.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The first use of the term "birdscaping" that I can find is in the title of Birdscaping Your Yard, a 47 page pamphlet published by the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in 1972. The term "birdscaping" is not used in the text itself, where the process of creating wildlife habitat in residential yards is termed wildlife gardening or landscaping.

In 1994, Rodale Press published Birdscaping Your Garden by George Adams. This 208 page reference work uses the term birdscaping frequently in the text, and also refers to created bird habitats as "birdscapes."

In the past decade, the term birdscaping has become more common. A Google search yields 835 websites using the term, including sites published by Wildbirds.com, havahart.com, KVFS TV 12 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and the Sydney, Australia Birds in Backyards Project.

In 2000, Birdscapes was launched as the all bird conservation magazine of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

While the term birdscapes and birdscaping are only recently gaining currency, the concept of landscaping to attract birds has historic roots in English bird-bottle and Colonial American birdhouse technologies, the landscape gardening movement in 18th Century England, the bird-preservation studies of Baron von Berlepsch in Germany in the late 1900s, and the popularization of bird feeding, gardening, and landscaping in America during the early 20th Century "Back to Nature" movement.

The strength of birdscaping as a conservation strategy lies in its inherently positive (you can attract and save birds because you like them) rather than negative (birds are being wiped out so we have to do something) approach. In this sense, it transcends the traditional understanding that wildlife management is typically spurred upon realization of declining populations of valued species.

In short, birdscaping is a positive conservation concept and strategy that can appeal to nature-loving homeowners in urban and suburban neighborhoods without resorting to doom-and-gloom rhetoric frequently common in current environmental discourse.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Seattle Urban Nature Project
The Seattle Urban Nature Project is a local non-profit organization dedicated to increasing understanding of Seattle's public natural resources. They have recently mapped the vegetation and wildlife habitat on Seattle's public land, and these maps and data are now available for use and study.

Mapping is the primary activity required for inventorying and modeling ecological activity in a given area. Maps show where habitats are, and reveal opportunities for ecological restoration and management of the urban area. The maps can be used for a host of convservation purposes.

In mapping the urban ecology of Seattle, the project developed its own classification system for urban habitats, based on amount of development and vegetation structure. Their website has an interactive key for classifying these habitats.

Every community in America needs a project like this. The Seattle Urban Nature Project can be a model for others to emulate, and as such, represents the future of community-based urban conservation mapping and planning.

Friday, May 07, 2004

National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitats
In 1973, the National Wildlife Federation started a Backyard Wildlife Habitats program to promote residential landscaping for wildlife. As of April 2004, it had certified 40,300 backyard habitats--up from 22,500 in 1998. While the increasing number of certified habitats is encouraging, it is still a tiny fragment of the more than 68.5 million single-family residences with yards in the United States.

One difficulty in promoting the NWF backyard habitat is that membership in NWF is mainly through magazine subscribers that are affiliated with statewide advocacy organizations. Without local chapters, NWF has to rely on magazine articles and paid staff in regional offices to promote its programs. Recently, NWF has teamed up with Home Depot to conduct backyard habitat clinics to teach people how to improve their yard for wildlife.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Monday, May 03, 2004

New Orleans Bird Studies
One of the challenges of protecting local urban birdscapes is the difficulty in getting good information about what birds are present and what factors influence local bird distribution. Birdwatchers may know a lot about locations for finding the local birds, but may not have scientific information to help explain patterns of local bird distribution. Finding a local biologist or ornithologist doing research in your city can be an excellent way to start get information about local bird populations.

Peter Yaukey of the Department of Geography at the University of New Orleans is a good example of an academic researcher doing excellent research on local bird ecology. Yaukey's research is focused on the effects of development on bird distribution. His papers include:
"Habitat use by migrant birds in a disturbed habitat" (1992), Physical Geography 13:149-159.

Make sure to check your local university for professors or graduate students doing local bird surveys or projects. Having scientifically collected data on your side can be more valuable than years of birdwatching sightings when trying to get local officials to address bird conservation needs.

© Copyright 2004 Rob Fergus All rights reserved.