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Bluebirds, Swallows, Chickadees Flock to Nest Box Trail Created by Young Birder

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:30

Bluebirds, Swallows, Chickadees Flock to Nest Box Trail Created by Young Birder


A Bluebird Trail of Nest Boxes is Created, Thanks to Young Birders

New Homes For Birds On The Walnut River
Photo © Katelyn Shelton
by Katelyn Shelton (age 14), Ohio Young Birders Club
One Chilly Day In March
One Chilly Day In March
With help from my family and Darlene (Ohio Young Birders Club advisor), we installed a nest box trail in my neighborhood.

Photo © Katelyn Shelton

It was a chilly day in March when I and my family, with my good friend Darlene, set up the boxes. The Big Walnut Trail, which I fondly nicknamed “The Loop,” is down the street from my house, right behind my neighborhood, nestled between the houses and the Walnut River. The center of The Loop was mostly a mixture of meadow and shrubs, and on the west side, which was bordered by the river, was a beautiful deciduous forest. It was a good place for a variety of birds. Despite this variety The Loop usually gets, Eastern Bluebirds have never been a resident there. Sure, they would pass through maybe twice a year, but they never stayed.

My bluebird trail and its boxes, however, changed that. Not only did I attract Eastern Bluebirds to The Loop, but I was pleasantly surprised with Carolina Chickadees in the box that I had put in my backyard. Almost immediately after I saw them going in and out of the box, my father and I ran to the store to purchase a hole reducer so that the House Sparrows wouldn’t be a problem. The chickadees continued bringing mouthfuls of moss and strips of bark. About two weeks later, they had eggs. I was so happy!

Tree Swallows Showed Up in Numbers
Tree Swallows Showed Up in Numbers
Tree Swallows clamored to claim their boxes, sometimes sparring in mid-air while the females looked on.

Photo © Katelyn Shelton

As the temperatures warmed and the weather looked more optimistic, a flock of about seven Tree Swallows showed up. Right away they took to box three, the males sparring in mid-air and the females peeking inside the box. Some even landed on the ground to get small twigs; most of them were small, that is. One male grabbed such a large stick it was poking through the hole of the box, and it twitched and shook as he tried to fit it inside. He was successful in the end; good for him!

After the swallows had their excitement with box three, they all took off for box four. There, the same process was underway; or so I thought. It wasn’t until my next nest check that I realized what had really been going on. Wasps. There were about fifteen of them. I jumped back in surprise when I opened it for I had been expecting a nest underway. I tried pushing them out with a stick, but there were so many, they either did a u-turn back into the box or, in some cases, charged at me. It was spooky, I admit. I knew I wasn’t going to get far with the method I was using. I reasoned that the wasps wanted a safe, enclosed space, so I decided to leave the box open and take a walk. It worked—by the time I got back, they had all disappeared! Soon, the Tree Swallows were going in and out of the recently infested box. I was so proud of myself, battling the scary wasps for the birds.

Eastern Bluebird Male Visits The Loop
Eastern Bluebird Male Visits The Loop
This male Eastern Bluebird made me freeze in my tracks!

Photo © Katelyn Shelton

It was around 8:30am when I saw the Eastern Bluebirds for the first time. I froze in my tracks when I saw the male, a brilliant blue puff ball in a bush. He gave me a quick, wary look, then flew down the trail and turned a corner. He had seemingly disappeared. I continued walking, and from a safe distance, concealed by brush, I spotted him again in a leafless tree near the nest box. I took out my binoculars and watched. After a few moments of the male hunting close to my box, the female darted into view, disappearing into the nesting box. This was all I needed to see, and jumped for joy. I practically skipped home, my smile stretching from ear to ear. I had managed to bring Eastern Bluebirds to The Loop!

Now, the Eastern Bluebird nest and Tree Swallow nests are underway, while a Carolina Chickadee snuggles into hers and keeps her eggs warm and toasty. The bluebird trail had enriched my birding experience, and enriched the habitat around my neighborhood. In fact, the trail made me more adventurous, exploring the areas around my house to know what birds were there. In that process, I found a Cooper’s Hawk nest, a Red-bellied Woodpecker cavity, two American Robin nests, and one Mourning Dove nest. All of these nests were highly active, and I am now able to observe the different nesting behaviors of these species, which is truly beautiful. And I owe all of it to my bluebird trail.

An Index to Our Updated Species Accounts

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 16:50
Indigo Bunting by Norm Townsend via Birdshare.

We’re steadily working to improve the offerings in our All About Birds online species guide. It’s our goal to eventually feature detailed ID information, photos, natural history, cool facts, sound recordings, and videos for all 700+ birds that live in North America. Right now we have basic information for some 621 species, and we’re continually expanding what we offer, species by species, starting with some of the most common and familiar birds.

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As we work, you can refer to this page for an updated list of which species have updated accounts. The number now stands at 367, and we’ll update this post as we grow. Read on for the full list, organized alphabetically:
Acorn Woodpecker
Allen’s Hummingbird
American Avocet
American Bittern
American Black Duck
American Coot
American Crow
American Goldfinch
American Kestrel
American Redstart
American Robin
American Tree Sparrow
American White Pelican
American Wigeon
American Woodcock
Anna’s Hummingbird
Arctic Tern
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Atlantic Puffin
Bachman’s Sparrow
Bald Eagle
Baltimore Oriole
Band-tailed Pigeon
Barn Owl
Barn Swallow
Barred Owl
Bell’s Sparrow
Belted Kingfisher
Bewick’s Wren
Black-and-white Warbler
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Black-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Magpie
Black-capped Chickadee
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-headed Grosbeak
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black Phoebe
Black Rosy-Finch
Black Swift
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-throated Sparrow
Black Vulture
Blackpoll Warbler
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue Grosbeak
Blue Jay
Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Warbler
Boat-tailed Grackle
Bohemian Waxwing
Boreal Owl
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brewer’s Sparrow
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Broad-winged Hawk
Brown Creeper
Brown Pelican
Brown Thrasher
Brown-headed Cowbird
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Bullock’s Oriole
Burrowing Owl
Cactus Wren
California Condor
California Gnatcatcher
California Gull
California Quail
California Scrub-Jay
California Towhee
Calliope Hummingbird
Canada Goose
Canada Warbler
Canyon Towhee
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Cassia Crossbill
Cassin’s Finch
Cattle Egret
Cave Swallow
Cedar Waxwing
Cerulean Warbler
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chimney Swift
Chipping Sparrow
Clark’s Nutcracker
Clay-colored Sparrow
Cliff Swallow
Common Gallinule
Common Goldeneye
Common Grackle
Common Ground-Dove
Common Loon
Common Merganser
Common Nighthawk
Common Raven
Common Redpoll
Common Tern
Common Yellowthroat
Cooper’s Hawk
Costa’s Hummingbird
Crested Caracara
Dark-eyed Junco
Double-crested Cormorant
Downy Woodpecker
Eared Grebe
Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Screech-Owl
Eastern Towhee
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Elegant Trogon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
European Starling
Evening Grosbeak
Ferruginous Hawk
Field Sparrow
Fish Crow
Florida Scrub-Jay
Fox Sparrow
Gambel’s Quail
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden Eagle
Golden-winged Warbler
Gray Catbird
Gray Hawk
Gray Jay
Gray Partridge
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Blue Heron
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Egret
Great Gray Owl
Great Horned Owl
Great Kiskadee
Great-tailed Grackle
Greater Roadrunner
Greater Sage-Grouse
Greater Scaup
Greater White-fronted Goose
Green Heron
Green-tailed Towhee
Green-winged Teal
Gunnison Sage-Grouse
Hairy Woodpecker
Harris’s Hawk
Harris’s Sparrow
Hermit Thrush
Herring Gull
Hooded Merganser
Hooded Oriole
Hooded Warbler
Horned Lark
House Finch
House Sparrow
House Wren
Iceland Gull
Inca Dove
Indigo Bunting
Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Juniper Titmouse
Laughing Gull
Laysan Albatross
Lark Sparrow
Lazuli Bunting
Least Flycatcher
Least Sandpiper
Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Nighthawk
Lesser Scaup
Lewis’s Woodpecker
Little Blue Heron
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Loggerhead Shrike
Long-billed Curlew
Long-eared Owl
Long-tailed Jaeger
Magnificent Frigatebird
Lucifer Hummingbird
Magnolia Warbler
Marbled Godwit
Marsh Wren
Mississippi Kite
Monk Parakeet
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Chickadee
Mourning Dove
Muscovy Duck
Mute Swan
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Northern Bobwhite
Northern Cardinal
Northern Flicker
Northern Goshawk
Northern Harrier
Northern Hawk Owl
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Parula
Northern Pintail
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Shoveler
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Oak Titmouse
Olive Warbler
Orchard Oriole
Orange-crowned Warbler
Pacific Wren
Painted Bunting
Palm Warbler
Parasitic Jaeger
Peregrine Falcon
Pied-billed Grebe
Pileated Woodpecker
Pine Grosbeak
Pine Siskin
Pine Warbler
Pinyon Jay
Piping Plover
Pomarine Jaeger
Prairie Falcon
Prothonotary Warbler
Purple Finch
Purple Martin
Pygmy Nuthatch
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-naped Sapsucker
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-winged Blackbird
Ridgway’s Rail
Ring-billed Gull
Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Rock Pigeon
Roseate Spoonbill
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rough-legged Hawk
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruffed Grouse
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Rufous Hummingbird
Rusty Blackbird
Sagebrush Sparrow
Sage Thrasher
Sandhill Crane
Savannah Sparrow
Say’s Phoebe
Scarlet Tanager
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Short-eared Owl
Snow Bunting
Snow Goose
Snowy Egret
Snowy Owl
Song Sparrow
Spotted Owl
Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Towhee
Steller’s Jay
Summer Tanager
Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Thrush
Swallow-tailed Kite
Townsend’s Solitaire
Tree Swallow
Tricolored Blackbird
Tricolored Heron
Trumpeter Swan
Tufted Titmouse
Tundra Swan
Turkey Vulture
Varied Thrush
Vesper Sparrow
Virginia Rail
Virginia’s Warbler
Violet-green Swallow
Warbling Vireo
Western Bluebird
Western Kingbird
Western Meadowlark
Western Screech-Owl
Western Tanager
Western Wood-Pewee
White Ibis
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-crowned Sparrow
White-eyed Vireo
White-tailed Kite
White-throated Sparrow
White-winged Dove
Whooping Crane
Wild Turkey
Willow Flycatcher
Wilson’s Phalarope
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Warbler
Winter Wren
Wood Duck
Wood Stork
Wood Thrush
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-eyed Junco
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Yellow-throated Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Educators Share, Compare in BirdSleuth’s First Central American Teacher Exchange Workshops

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 15:49
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Since 2012, members of the Cornell Lab’s BirdSleuth project have been organizing workshops for educators throughout Latin America. Our goal is to introduce both formal and informal educators to an environmental education and science curriculum called BirdSleuth International, which engages elementary and middle-school students in hands-on learning about birds, habitat, citizen science, and conservation.

Along the way, many of our Latin American partners have shared stories about how the curriculum helped their students gain an appreciation for birds. That feedback was encouraging, but after 6 years we also wanted to gather some hard data about how well the materials and activities worked. A grant from National Geographic helped make this possible.

One step was to collaborate deeply with BirdSleuth International teachers to figure out how best to measure what the program is achieving. In spring 2018 we held two in-depth workshops that brought together teachers from Guatemala and Costa Rica: the first was held in Guatemala, followed by another with the same teachers in Costa Rica. These provided chances for the participants to meet colleagues from a different country, sharing differences in their cultures and classroom settings along with similarities in their goals and their relationships with students.

Are You an Educator?

Our BirdSleuth project has resources that can help you teach about science:

Once the workshops began, everyone contributed toward the overall research efforts, which focused on understanding how the BirdSleuth International curriculum contributes to the field of environmental education. How does it impact not just youth knowledge, but also harder-to-measure outcomes such as their attitudes and behaviors toward birds and the environment? How do teachers inspire kids to get excited about the birds around them, to consider them “the ornaments of the forest,” as one young indigenous woman in Guatemala put it. Or to relinquish the slingshots that some use to kill birds for fun? Answering such questions quantitatively was particularly challenging in the sociocultural context—it required far more than just taking surveys validated in the U.S. and translating them into another language.

While teacher exchange opportunities are fairly common for North American BirdSleuth educators (either through Cornell Lab events or at national conferences), these BirdSleuth International Teacher Exchanges were the first community-building events specifically involving BirdSleuth educators working in diverse Latin American contexts. This video showcases their experiences, and highlights the power of coming together in person to explore shared goals. As one educator from Costa Rica noted: “We have a common objective—that the children learn about birds and the environment. We are working here (in Costa Rica) or there (in Guatemala), but that’s what keeps us united despite the distance.”

Lilly Briggs is a postdoctoral associate in the Lab’s Education and Citizen Science programs. She has been involved in building the BirdSleuth International program since 2009, when she conducted the first field test of the curriculum in Costa Rica. Since 2012 she has been teaching workshops throughout Latin America.

Wildlife in Cities: Far From Being Pests, Wildlife Can Help Cities be More Habitable

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 13:26

The Value of Wildlife to Cities
Becca Rodomsky-Bish August 1, 2018
Humans are an increasingly urban species. By 2050, somewhere between 60-70% of people will live in cities open_in_new or other analysis suggests we may have already reached that number worldwide.open_in_new This provides an opportunity, and a responsibility, to examine the ecological role that expanding urban areas play in supporting biodiversity.

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Despite perceptions of urban areas as devoid of nature, where humans live, so, too, will wildlife. Some creatures lived where our cities were before our arrival, while others have adapted to be synanthropic‒residing alongside humans more frequently than others. Many of these species are tolerant of human disturbances or may even favor the built environments that dominate cities.open_in_new Yet, little attention is paid to the services these animals provide to city dwellers. Before viewing the scavenging coyotes (Canis latrans) in the abandoned lot or the American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) roosting in the park trees as nuisances, consider the value they could be providing the city.

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Urban areas carve up space with roads and development. We know that the resulting habitat fragmentation leads to all kinds of issues for birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals that are trying to navigate and breed. In some cases, fragmentation is linked to declines in a variety of wildlife.open_in_new Roads, in particular, kill many organisms each year. But because these roads create roadkill–an ample food source for scavengers–scavenging species seem to adapt to this fragmentation more easily than other species.open_in_new

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These scavengers provide a type of clean up service to the city, helping protect our waterways from roadkill runoff and the spread of disease. It remains unclear the degree to which roads then become ecological traps for scavenging species who expose themselves to the risk of injury or death by vehicle, but some researchers have noted that urban-dwelling scavenging species learn to successfully navigate roads–one of several skills urban animals exhibit that help them cope with life in the city and demonstrate the phenotypic plasticity common among successful urban dwellers.open_in_new

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One study from the UK found that gulls, foxes, magpies, and crows all contributed to cleaner streets by scavenging for roadkill.open_in_new Birds, active at dawn and through the day, were documented to be quick and efficient scavengers, while foxes and other small mammals were active at night, providing around-the-clock elimination of rotting roadkill from the roads and thru-ways of the city. This is an incredible sanitation service, as anyone who’s encountered decaying roadkill can attest.

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Humans produce waste. Scenes like the one depicted above are all too common. Some urban animals are using this litter as a food source. For example, one study in New York City, comparing food litter removal in medians vs. parks, found arthropods, namely ants, were able to remove 4–6.5 kg (8.8-14 lbs) of food per year in one median.open_in_new In the same study, vertebrates, such as birds and small mammals were also found to be effective at removing food waste, with a greater diversity of them in parks compared to medians. These animals are providing a critical sanitation service in our cities, while we wish it wasn’t a necessary act, it does keep streets cleaner.

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Urban areas are home to many feral or free-roaming cats (Felis catus). Outdoor, free-roaming cats injure or kill billions of smaller wildlife a year.open_in_new When free-roaming cat populations aren’t kept in check, the biodiversity of birds and other animals will suffer in the city. Citizen scientists were able to document that, where coyotes (Canis latrans) are present, outdoor cats populations were lower.open_in_new The presence of coyotes likely helps to maintain biodiversity in urban areas by minimizing the population of outdoor cats. Our recommendation for helping keep cats happy, healthy, and protected from predation is to consider building a catio.

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Research conducted over the last 19 years in the northeast shows lyme-infected ticks were high in areas with abundant food resources for white-footed mice.open_in_new White-footed mice are very successful living in suburban and urban communities, close to people. This provides some insight on why lyme-infected ticks can be more abundant in urban areas compared to contiguous forest in the same region. Research demonstrates contiguous forests support more mice predators such as foxes (pictured).open_in_new Next time a fox spooks you going out to empty the garbage, whisper a quiet thank you for all the mice they eliminated in your neighborhood.

Another undervalued animal that predates on rodents, even in urban areas, are snakes. The species of snake found in your city will be influenced by the ecoregion, but, in general, garter snakes (like the one pictured above) are a common genus of snakes that reside in urban spaces.open_in_new There is limited empirical evidence on the role snakes play in controlling rodent populations in cities. One study in Australia found that, contrary to what the researchers expected to find, urban snakes were not heavier or more well-fed than their rural counterparts.open_in_new Snakes’ roles in urban areas is a field ripe for more investigation.open_in_new

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Animals such as opossums and raccoons, while not direct hunters of mice, are aggressive groomers, killing thousands of attached ticks in a season.open_in_new Where these animals are present and abundant, tick populations are lower.open_in_new These mammals can be seen as problematic in urban areas, but their presence is a sign that tick numbers may be down in your community, thus the risk of acquiring tick-borne diseases, may too, be lower.

More than 200 volunteers turned out to the Conservancy’s “Connect with Nature” beach cleanup at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York City on April 18, 2015. The Conservancy is working with the National Park Service and Jamaica Bay–Rockaway Parks Cons
In addition to decreasing mouse, and thus tick, populations, small mammals like fox, coyotes, bats, and birds, help to control other pests. Rats are remarkably adept at living among humans, creating their own collection of problems.open_in_new Mosquitos, too, are common in urban areas, but their populations are dramatically reduced by bats and mosquito-eating birds like purple martins, swallows, swifts, and some songbirds. Inviting and supporting rat and mosquito predators into our urban areas not only provides pest management, but also may be beneficial to our health and well-being in cities.

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Cities can also provide valuable habitat for pollinators, such as the pictured Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago.open_in_new Efforts to attract more pollinators into our urban environments are underway around the world as communities invest in rooftop gardens, urban flower patches, community parks, and planters on patios and porches. In return, these pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, provide valuable pollination services. Every piece of habitat matters, no matter how big or small, no matter whether the piece is in the country or the city. If we create it, the wildlife will find it.

A Conservancy LEAF and Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program intern takes a break from monitoring trees impacted by Hurricane Sandy in New York City. The interns worked during the summer of 2015 to monitor the health of the city’s trees in the Bronx and
As it turns out, nature provides some rather intangible benefits to urban dwellers. Reflect back on the first time you connected with a wild animal. Depending on where you live, this could have been a squirrel scampering up a city park tree, a bird soaring overhead, or a bee nectaring on a flowering plant. As a child, these moments are magical. Countless opportunities to connect to the natural world, and to the benefits provided by these experiences, extends into adulthood.

Downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
Urban wildlife encounters are generally higher in cities with more green space. Green space is also proving beneficial to the health of city residents.open_in_new One study in Toronto examined city streets that were lined with trees. The streets that had more trees with larger canopies, had residents that self-reported a greater sense of well-being, fewer cardiovascular problems, and better mental health compared to those that lived on streets with fewer, and/or smaller, trees.open_in_new Researchers were even able to quantify the number of trees linked to these benefits–noting the cutoff at ten or more trees per city block.

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Other studies have found that parks, not just trees, can significantly improve the health of city residents. The more parks within walking distance to respondents’ homes improved a sense of well-being. The size of the parks was not significant–quantity and proximity to homes, were. Parks that provided space for recreational activities, also, were found to increase health. Thus, it isn’t just about having large expansive, semi-wild, green areas, even open, generic green space may promote better mental and physical wellbeing.open_in_new

Biodiversity matters, too, though. This recurring theme is popping up in various fields of study from crop-scienceopen_in_new to studies regarding the impacts of climate change.open_in_new The more biodiverse an ecosystem, the more resilient it is to change. Thus, the more biodiverse our cities are, the more resilient we may be to disturbances, like floods or increasing heat.

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An excellent example of how cities can learn from the importance of biodiversity is the loss of American elm trees (pictured) lining the street of Washington DC.open_in_new Huge, monumental elms use to be found at various historical sites in the city. They were a part of the Capitol’s appeal and aesthetic. This started to change in 1947 when signs of Dutch elm disease, a fungal infection, were reported in DC . One by one, the city lost many of its beloved elms. Thousands of dollars were spent on research, remediation, applications of insecticide (to prevent elm bark beetle infestations which spreads the disease), and eventual removal and replacement of lost trees. If the city had a more diverse urban forest, the impact of losing the elms would not have been as great as some large trees would have survived, retaining the services and appeal old trees bring to urban streets and parks.

LEAF intern Dondra Fergerson at Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia.
Cities are not separate from, but rather integral in, creating and maintaining healthy populations of plants and animals (including humansopen_in_new). Wildlife in our cities can be contentious, but overall, provides incredible benefits. Find the green spaces in your community, map them, observe what lives there, and consider changes or additions you may want to make to that space to invite more wildlife to share your neighborhood.

Wildlife Gardening and Homeowner Associations (HOAs)

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 10:45

Homeowner Associations (HOAs) & Wildlife Gardening
Becca Rodomsky-Bish July 18, 2018
Design Advice Healthy Ecosystems Homeowner Associations
Wildlife gardening as a resident in a Homeowner Association (HOA) can require a bit of finesse for success. We’ve heard from many Habitat Network users, who are enthusiastic gardeners, asking for guidance on how to engage in gardening for wildlife while residing in a HOA. This was an exciting challenge that we transformed into an opportunity. An opportunity to provide hope and inspiration for those of you working to transform your landscapes in an era of HOAs.

HOA comments
We hear you! Comments from Habitat Network Users regarding HOAs

HOAs are a growing phenomena in the United States. Almost 70 million people currently reside in a HOA community, which is about 20% of the total population. And, this number is growing. Virtually all new housing developments in the United States, whether apartments, single-family subdivisions, multi-family homes, and gated and non-gated communities are a part of a HOA.open_in_new

What sets HOAs a part from other private residential communities, aside from a monthly (or annual) membership fees used to maintain public spaces and infrastructure, is that they have specific rules and regulations that all residents are expected to follow. These rules, generally found in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCR), vary but often relate to the aesthetic quality of property from the permitted color(s) of the houses to the height of the grass. These regulations are put in place to increase and maintain property values. In fact, properties within HOAs often have 17% higher property value.open_in_new

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As a resident, or someone considering becoming a resident in a HOA, we encourage you to read the writing on the wall and get to know as much as possible about how your HOA operates, the rules you are expected to follow (CCR), and the processes you will have to undertake in order to engage in the types of landscaping projects you are interested in. Below are some success stories from those who have improved the habitat-quality in their HOA, despite the reputation such organizations have for pushing back against wildlife-friendly landscaping.

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It is important to recognize that HOAs can, and in many examples, do provide excellent and biodiverse habitat. Research conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, comparing HOA to non-HOA neighborhoods found that HOA communities had more plant diversity and could likewise support more biodiversity than non-HOA communities.open_in_new

We hope some of these case studies provide ideas and guidance for those interested in implementing changes in the landscape management and sustainability practices in their HOA.

Jim Kirby
Reston Association, in Reston, Virginia, was created in the 1960s and is home to over 60,000 residents. The community was created with the intention of preserving open space. The HOA has over 1,300 acres of parklands and a managerial department that oversees 800 acres of natural open spaces. We spoke with Patricia Greenberg, the Environmental Resource Supervisor, who works with a team to manage the wildlands at Reston. They do everything from guiding residents on what native plants to consider to dealing with wildlife encounters and removing invasive species.

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For those looking for examples of HOAs that preserve open, native, biodiverse spaces, Reston might be an excellent example to turn to. You might expect such well-run, high-quality 11 square miles of landscape to come with a hefty price tag, but the Reston membership fee of $682 ($56.83 a month) a year is lower than the average $100-400 a month common across HOAs.open_in_new This HOA demonstrates that higher fees may not always be associated with well-maintained green spaces.

1. Research HOAs before making a decision, there may be one that has a philosophy of open, natural space that resonates with your values.

2. Consider pushing back on HOAs that claim more money is required to create native, open landscape for wildlife.

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Using a backdoor approach for change may be an effective route in some HOAs. A great success story of this comes from Don Ireland, board president of Cherry Creek 3 HOA in Colorado.

Watch this 10 minute video to learn more about Cherry Creek 3 as a water-wise community.

In 2008, Don was a resident of Cherry Creek 3 in Denver, Colorado. He noticed that water & sewage bills were rising, eating up 42% of Cherry Creek 3’s budget, and causing increases in annual homeowner feesopen_in_new. He decided to do some research and made a proposal to the association board to consider a “toilet project”. Joining with local organization, Denver Water, a rebate was offered to replace old 3.5 gallon-per-flush model toilets in privately-owned condos with more efficient 1.28-gpf models. The first effort worked, 425 toilets were replaced and Cherry Creek 3 saved a couple million gallons of water in the first year, which substantially reduced HOA water-sewer costs.

Transformed landscape
This backdoor effort to save water led to wildlife gardening. Soon Don was voted in as the board president and he continued to advocate for lowering water bills. The dialog shifted to landscaping and the community began to transform private and public spaces, dominated by lava rocks and juniper shrubs (left), into water-wise xeriscape areas (right). The xeriscape project started in 2009 with a goal of transforming 50 homes a year over the next five years. By the 2014 fiscal year, Cherry Creek 3 had decreased water consumption from its 2008-09 peak of 36.7 million gallons annually to 20.8 million–a drop of 15+ million gallons.open_in_new

Improved community
By focusing on an economic issue of saving money through water conservation, Cherry Creek 3 is being transformed into a biodiverse HOA. Water-wise, pollinator-friendly gardens, instead of dying shrubs have replaced sections of common Kentucky bluegrass areas. Pictured above is a shade-providing native shrub garden outside the association’s pool just after planting (left) and once the shrubs have matured (right). Cherry Creek 3 has won awards from water-conservation and nature organizations, becoming the first Colorado HOA to receive awards from the State of Colorado, Audubon Rockies, Plant Select and Colorado WaterWise.

lawn contrast
In Colorado, the state legislature changed its laws in 2005, prohibiting HOAs from requiring homeowners to use only turf lawns in front of individual homes. The measure enables individuals and HOAs to use more water-conserving, nature-and-pollinator friendly plants.

1. Know your HOA budget and consider a backdoor approach relevant to your ecoregion, that will both save money and result in more sustainable practices.

2. Get involved with the board, Don was a resident and thru his efforts he became the association’s board president.

3. Network with other local organizations or companies that may be able to assist or incentivize projects. Cherry Creek 3 successfully partnered with their local water company, Denver Water.

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Sharon Park HOA partnered with Gachina Landscape Management, which specializes in sustainable landscaping to create public garden spaces that support birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing food, water, and shelter. This HOA is a certified Garden for Wildlife from the National Wildlife Federation.

Sharon Park 2
Led by HOA resident advocates, community parks and green public spaces were converted into water-wise gardens with bird baths, native flowers, shrubs, and trees. These improvements were seen not only as beneficiary to wildlife, but also to the residents who recreate and stroll through the life-filled gardens. The landscaping efforts of this HOA are seen as beneficial to all involved.

1. Partnerships are important. Efforts are sometimes taken more seriously when other organizations get involved.

2. Interest sometimes needs to bubble up from the current residents of the HOA. Become involved, attend meetings, and share your ideas!

3. Residents have a lot to gain and enjoy from creating more wildlife habitat.

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A final example comes from Benjamin Vogt, native landscape designer, who lives in a HOA in Nebraska and is an inspiration for anyone looking to transform their landscape into wildlife habitat despite a HOA that, at first, appears to disagree.

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Benjamin has been cited twice for wildlife landscaping. The most recent citation was in May of this year where he was told he needed to cut down the meadow in his backyard. This meadow, mind you, had been a work in progress since 2015 and was an intentional habitat space filled with native grasses and flowers–not worthless vegetation as implied by the citation.

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Thus, Benjamin submitted a plant list to the local weed superintendent explaining his intentional work. Soon thereafter, the superintendent arrived to inspect his yard. The inspectors major concern was that Benjamin’s yard was a fire risk and attracted rodents.

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After some initial tension, the superintendent and Benjamin were able to engage in a friendly exchange where both sides were able to share their insights. Benjamin learned how to navigate ordinances and how to make a valid argument for intentional wildlife landscaping and the superintendent learned that spaces some people may view as wild, messy, rodent/fire risk, are actually spaces that are incredibly valuable habitat with minimal risk of supporting rodents or fueling fires.

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Benjamin does a nice job summarizing his specific recommendations for people who are challenged by HOA restrictions in this article he wrote. Many of his landscaping recommendations we highlight in our Making ‘Messy’ Look Good article and the Wildlife Value of a Messy Garden.

1. There is power in creating relationships and talking to people. Moments of conflict can be turned into opportunities for official dialogue about what counts as valid landscaping if you are armed with some science.

2. Keep plant lists and practice Making Messy Look Good practices to signal that your landscape is intentional and managed.

3. Put-up signs, such as Garden for Wildlife or Monarch Watch, to communicate to others why you have wildlife habitat.

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As each of these case studies demonstrate, there is no single answer to how to create habitat in a HOA, instead there are MANY! It is easy to get stuck behind rules, regulations, and the expectations of our lawn-loving neighbors, but there are real and powerful ways we can work around these restrictions to provide green spaces that are economical, beautiful, well-kept, and beneficial to all life.

If you live in a HOA and want to implement change, consider starting to dig-deep into your Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR), to inform yourself. Once you are empowered with information, attend a meeting, talk to people, think creatively about how you can take your vision and work with your community, and its values and concerns, to enact change. There are numerous success stories. Can you make your HOA the next wildlife-friendly community?

Eight Great Reasons to Love the Migratory Bird Stamp

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 09:04
The 2018–2019 stamp features a Mallard pair and was painted by Bob Hautman. The 2017-2018 stamp features a trio of Canada Geese and was painted by James Hautman.Jennifer Miller's gorgeous painting of a pair of Ruddy Ducks is on the 2015-2016 stamp.The 2013 stamp featured a Common Goldeneye and was painted by Robert Steiner, who also won the contest in 1998-1999 with a picture of a Barrow's Goldeneye.Robert Steiner's 1998 stamp of a Barrow's Goldeneye, raised nearly $25 million for refuges in a single year.The very first duck stamp sold for $1 in 1934 and was designed by "Ding" Darling (who now has a refuge named for him).The 1950-51 stamp (Trumpeter Swans by Walter A. Weber) was the first to be chosen by competition.Sherrie Russell Meline won the 2005 contest with her Ross's Goose, becoming only the second woman to have won so far.In 1960, this Redheads stamp by John A. Ruthven was the first to top $5 million in sales.Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks by James Hautman (1990). In the movie "Fargo," a character named Hautman is a strong Duck Stamp contender.These Cinnamon Teal from 1971 remain the highest-selling stamp with almost 2.5 million sold. By Maynard Reece.For more on the history and future of the stamp, join the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp (see link below).PreviousNext

Among the U.S.’s many spectacular federal and state lands, it pays to remember the wildlife havens that are the National Wildlife Refuge system, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This system of more than 500 areas are managed primarily for the benefit of wildlife, and they are great places to see birds of all kinds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds.

One of the best ways to support National Wildlife Refuges is to buy a 2018–2019 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp,” every year. It’s a win-win-win: it proudly proclaims your support of public land, it funnels money directly to the refuge system, and it gets you free entry to the refuges all year.

Tip: You can buy the 2018–2019 stamp at many post offices, National Wildlife Refuge offices, and sporting-goods stores, as well as online from USPS and Amplex.

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Buying a Migratory Bird Stamp is a simple and direct way for people to contribute to grassland and wetland conservation. In 2013, the New York Times ran a piece on the annual stamp art competition; now here’s our own list of eight reasons to love the stamp:

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1. Over $900 million for conservation and counting. The first stamp was issued in 1934. It cost $1 (about $18 in today’s dollars) and sold 635,001 copies. By law, the funds raised go directly to habitat acquisition in the lower 48 states. By now, stamp sales have surpassed $900 million and helped to protect 6.5 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat.

2. A 79-year tradition of beautiful wildlife art. The Migratory Bird Stamp is a beautiful collectible and a great artistic tradition. Since 1949, the design of each year’s duck stamp has been chosen in an open art contest. The 2018 stamp, showing a pair of Mallards, was painted by Bob Hautman, a veteran of the contest who has won it twice before (see a gallery of all stamps back to 1934), who is only the third woman to win the contest.

3. A bargain at $25. Ninety-eight cents of each dollar spent on a stamp goes directly to land acquisition (and immediate related expenses) for the National Wildlife Refuge System. This $25 purchase is perhaps the single simplest thing you can do to support a legacy of wetland and grassland conservation for birds.

4. It’s much more than ducks. Waterfowl hunters have long been the main supporters for the program—the stamps are a requirement for anyone over 16 who wants to hunt. But the funds benefit scores of other bird species, including shorebirds, herons, raptors, and songbirds, not to mention reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, native plants, and more. (See a full history of how the Duck Stamp helped save North American waterfowl in this illustrated Bird Academy feature.)

5. Save wetlands; save grasslands. Since 1958, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used stamp revenues to protect “waterfowl production areas”—over 3 million acres—within the critical Prairie Pothole Region. The same program also protects declining prairie-nesting birds in the face of increasing loss of grasslands. As a result, refuges are among the best places to find grassland specialties such as Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, Sedge Wrens, and others.

6. The benefits are gorgeous. Some of the most diverse and wildlife-rich refuges across the Lower 48 have been acquired with stamp funds. Check out this map—chances are there’s a wildlife refuge near you that has benefited:

7. It’s your free pass to refuges. A migratory bird stamp is a free pass for an entire year to all refuges that charge for admission—so your $25 could even save you money.

8. As bird watchers, let’s get in on the secret. Though it’s long been a fixture in hunting circles, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp is one of the best-kept secrets in all of bird conservation. It’s time to buy and show your stamp!

The Cornell Lab is a strong supporter of the Migratory Bird Stamp, and we’ve often written about its value as a direct aid to conservation—for example, in this 2009 column by Lab director John Fitzpatrick. You can buy the stamp at many U.S. Post Offices, National Wildlife Refuges, and sporting-goods stores. You can also order the stamp online at the USPS store and from the stamp’s printer, Amplex (both stores add a charge for shipping).

(Thanks to the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp for help in preparing this post.)

Katie Kozak, June 2018 eBirder of the Month

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 15:35

Katie Kozak, June 2018 eBirder of the Month
By Team eBird July 12, 2018

Katie with a fledgling Ovenbird

Please join us in congratulating Katie Kozak of Stevens Point, WI, winner of the June 2018 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Katie’s name was drawn randomly from the 2,136 eBirders who submitted at least 15 eligible checklists in June that had breeding & behavior codes. Katie will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for her eBirding efforts. Here’s Katie’s birding story:

My love of birds first took off when I was in the third grade back in 2003, when my parents bought a bird feeder to place outside of our living room window. I was fascinated by all the birds that visited. However, I wasn’t satisfied just simply calling all of them “birds”; I wanted to know their actual species names. Flipping through our one field guide at the time, I was amazed at the number and variety of birds that could be seen. Ever since identifying my first mystery bird as a Dark-eyed Junco, I was hooked on birding.

This female Mourning Warbler is one of the birds Katie found while atlasing—probable breeding! Photo ©Katie Kozak/Macaulay Library.

I was a casual eBirder until 2015, when the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II began its five year project. The goal of the atlas is to determine the distribution and abundance of Wisconsin’s breeding birds. The results will also be compared with the first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas (1995-2000), to see how bird populations have changed within the state. This summer I was hired as an atlas technician to conduct point counts and field surveys in areas that haven’t been well-covered by volunteer efforts. Bird behavior has always fascinated me, and when atlasing, it is important to slow down and observe how birds are reacting to your presence and how they are interacting with the environment around them. It feels so rewarding to catch a bird in the act of carrying nesting material or food for their young, or most exciting—finding an actual nest with eggs or young!

Now, whenever I go out birding, I fire up the handy eBird app, entering birds as I go and applying breeding codes whenever I can. Using eBird has made submitting and reviewing data so much easier. I can quickly go back to my submitted checklists for the areas I’m surveying and keep track of the number of species I have confirmed as breeding in an area, so the next time I go I can have a clear goal of unconfirmed birds that I can focus on. A lot of my free time is spent looking through species maps or utilizing the explore a region function on eBird; both extremely valuable tools. I look forward to spending the rest of my summer eBirding and submitting breeding codes that will be used in important research to help Wisconsin’s birds.

Thank you so much to the eBird team for all the wonderful work that you do, and to Zeiss for the amazing new binoculars!

Ana Maria Castaño Rivas, May 2018 eBirder of the Month

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 15:35

Ana Maria Castaño Rivas, May 2018 eBirder of the Month
By Team eBird July 12, 2018

Ana Maria birding on Global Big Day 2018
Please join us in congratulating Ana Maria Castaño Rivas of Envigado, Colombia, winner of the May 2018 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Ana Maria’s name was drawn randomly from the 8,383 eBirders who submitted at least 3 eligible checklists on Global Big Day. Ana Maria will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for her eBirding efforts. Here’s Ana Maria’s birding story:

I’m a huge fan of eBird, I have personal reasons for it: when I started birdwatching in Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitología – SAO, an organization I’ve belonged to for 24 years, they were very serious in keeping lists of every bird day. We used a system called DATAves that is no longer in use, this system was created in the late 80’s and remained in place for a long time in my country being used by most of the birdwatchers in RNOA (Red Nacional de Observadores de Aves).

Since I learned while still being young, the discipline remained in me but it all became way easier using eBird on my cell.

I have the privilege to be one of the national coordinators of GBD in Colombia, participating in GBD is a pleasure for me and we are taking data very seriously too. We talk a lot with all birdwatchers about the need of submitting good quality data, information that will not only serve as a reminder for the nice time spent in the field, but that can also be used by decision makers to help preserve our beloved bird species and their habitats.

Colombian Chachalaca, one of Ana Maria’s Global Big Day highlights

On May 5th during GBD I was the person in charge of entering data for my team, and we took the data entering super seriously! We made lists for periods as short as 5 minutes in a single spot! We managed to register 99 species in 14 lists in that day. Our goal was a key ecosystem: our tropical dry forests along Cauca River, we found species as interesting as the Antioquia Wren (an endemic and threatened species exclusive to such ecosystem), Colombia Chachalaca (also endemic), Apical Flycatcher and several other. Sadly I’m a poor photographer so the evidence of our lists was provided by some of our team members like Tom Friedel and Luis Guillermo Restrepo.

I want to thank Cornell Lab of Ornithology for making eBird possible, to the amazing team that works in making this easier every day for us all, and I want to encourage all eBird users to promote the platform among their friends and to provide high quality data. Of course, thanks to Zeiss for the amazing binoculars I’m receiving as the winner for May eBirder of the Month Challenge!

Backyard Butterfly Gardens: Nature’s Rest Stops

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 09:50

Backyard Butterfly Gardens: Nature’s Rest Stops
Becca Rodomsky-Bish July 10, 2018
Native Plants Other Wildlife Pollinators Butterflies
Butterflies are beautiful backyard visitors. Below, use Habitat Network’s resources to discover ways you can support butterflies and connect to other citizen scientists who are providing habitat for these important pollinators.

From left to right: Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton); cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae), Texas; red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) Illinois.
Butterfly collage 1
The following are a list of articles relevant to butterflies and creating habitat for them. Click on the titles of interest to read more.

Pollinator Garden Plants & Practices
The Wildlife Value of A Messy Garden
Removing Lawn to Make Way for More Habitat
Support Pollinators: A Goal for Your Site?
Native Landscaping Makes Sense
Native Flowerbeds
10 Cheap Ways to Source Native Seeds & Plants
Gardening to Support Seasonal Migrations of Insects
A Monarch Butterfly Overview
Habitat Feature: Milkweeds
Nativars (Native Cultivars): What We Know & Recommend
Effective and Safe Alternatives to Insecticides
Habitat Feature: Making Mud
Leaf “Litter”
Top Five Great Berries for the Great Birds of Your Region
Encouraging Beneficial Insects Pays Off
From left to right: orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme), Nebraska; eastern tailed blue (Cupido comyntas), Indiana; American painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis).
Butterfly collage2
Planning Tool: Once you create an account with Habitat Network and start mapping, our Planning Tool will analyze your map and help guide you in meeting goals (like Supporting Pollinators). The tool will tell you what you are already doing for pollinators and provide you with ideas of other actions to take, or habitat features to add to improve your efforts.

Local Resources: If you live in the United States, on the Local Resources Page, you can type in your zip code and receive immediate information on your ecoregion. The tool also presents you with a pollinator planting guide that has information on native plants to consider having in your landscape to support the butterflies that depend on them. If you live in Canada, go directly to the Pollinator Partnership Planting Guides and type in the first three digits of your zip code.

Engage with maps: Using our mapping tool, you can identify maps that have essential, regional, host plants for butterflies. Many butterflies have co-evolved with native plants and use only a certain species or family of plants for laying their eggs. For example, spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) requires a member of the Lindera genus, or spicebush shrub for reproduction. Pictured above is a map in Connecticut that has identified spicebush as one of the plants in their landscape, thus they are likely to receive a visit from beautiful spicebush swallowtails.

Pollinator Group on Habitat Network: Consider joining +100 other mappers from all over the United States and Canada who are interested in creating habitat for pollinators. This group will help answer questions and provide ideas for your pollinator gardens. You can also view the maps of others who have pollinator gardens. To join a group on Habitat Network, you must create a map first.
Join Pollinator Group

Pictured is a Habitat Network map that has Allegheny monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), which is a host plant for the caterpillar of the common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia).
Common Buckeye
Pollinator Group on Facebook: During the spring of 2018, Habitat Network ran a campaign to encourage people to create pollinator gardens. As a part of this campaign we created what has become a very active group (+1,200 members) on Facebook called Pitch in a Patch for Pollinators. If you are looking for inspiration, consider joining this Facebook group of people from all over the United States and Canada who are creating habitat for pollinators.
Join Facebook Group

Planting for butterflies is a FUN & REWARDING challenge!
Let Habitat Network help guide and inspire you on how to create habitat for these important pollinators.

Crows Have a Mob Mentality Toward Ravens

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 06:47
American Crows may not literally stack up against Common Ravens, but they do stack up in numbers before mobbing the larger bird. Illustration by Cornell Lab Bartels Science Illustrator Phillip Krzeminski. hbspt.cta.load(95627, 'a8fe3c9a-217b-40fd-b1ff-2bb76ebe2cf3', {}); --> hbspt.cta.load(95627, '394b2cc2-4447-4677-b18b-d2f2de5b57cd', {}); -->

When species come into conflict, as birds so often do, we learn a lot about the way the world works by studying where, when, and how these interactions play out in nature’s arena.

“In nature, when you look at aggressive interactions between species, usually the big guys beat up on the smaller guys,” notes Ben Freeman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and a former Cornell graduate student. “But I’ve personally witnessed 17 encounters between crows and ravens and in every case I saw multiple crows harassing a single raven, even though a raven is two to three times heavier than a crow.”

Freeman wondered if the flip-flop he witnessed in the crow-raven dynamic would hold true at a much larger geographical scale and if he could determine what motivated crows to take on the bigger bird. Freeman turned to a surprising source of untapped behavioral information—the voluntary species comments entered on checklists submitted to the Lab’s eBird program. The results from this analysis were published today in The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

First, Freeman downloaded all North American crow and raven reports to eBird from areas where both species occur (American and Northwestern Crows were lumped together for the study). Of those reports, more than 307,000 contained comments. Checklists that did not specifically name both species, did not describe an interaction, and did not clearly state which species was the aggressor and which the target of the aggression were filtered out. In the end, more than 2,000 observations remained for analysis. Statistical methods were used to “normalize” the data so it would not be affected by the fact that birders typically spend more time watching birds at certain times of the year, which would otherwise produce biased monthly sample sizes. The data showed that crows were nearly always the aggressors during encounters with ravens—but only if crows had the edge in numbers.

More than 2,000 eBird observations showed that crows were nearly always the aggressors during encounters with ravens—but only if crows had the edge in numbers. Listen to Mobbing Crows Media Player Error
Update your browser or Flash plugin Mobbing calls from a large flock of American Crows. From Cornell Guide to Bird Sounds: Master Set for North America by Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“In the comment descriptions we used, bird watchers noted that crows usually did not take on a raven one-to-one,” says study coauthor Eliot Miller, a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab. “Instead, multiple crows would gang up, cawing loudly, to harass a single raven, a familiar behavior called ‘mobbing.’ What’s new here is that our extracted eBird behavioral data show that when there are chases between crows and ravens, 97 percent of the time it is crows chasing ravens, not the other way around, a much higher rate than we expected.”

According to behavioral comments on eBird checklists, crows most commonly mobbed ravens during the crow breeding season (March–May), but also attacked ravens during all other months. The raw numbers of crow attacks on ravens are given above the bars. In their analysis, the researchers statistically offset the differing amounts of time people spend watching birds throughout the year. View larger.

Though previous behavioral studies have shown bigger birds usually have the upper hand during feeder interactions, it’s also clear that having a mob mentality can upend the size dominance hierarchy.

Crows may do the mobbing or be mobbed in turn by other smaller birds they prey upon. In this case, the fact that crows are very social and can join forces in a mob seems to work in their favor. Ravens are much more solitary. Mobbing is a common behavior among many species of birds because it levels the playing field just a bit for the little guys. There is usually no physical contact.

Five crows mob a Common Raven (far left). Photo by Kevin McGowan.

Freeman and Miller also found a seasonal spike in crows harassing ravens. Though the two species carry a grudge year-round, the data showed crows mobbed ravens more often during the crow breeding season from March through May—a bump in aggression that may also be influenced by changing hormone levels. During the 3 months of the crow breeding season, eBirders made note of nearly 1,200 crow mobs going after a raven as compared to just 124 such descriptions during July, August, and September—dropping from an average of 394 mobs per month to a low of 41 per month. Ravens raid crow nests to eat the eggs or young, clearly plenty of motivation for crows to gang up for a raven rout. Freeman and Miller also suggest that higher levels of mobbing during winter months could reflect increased competition for scarcer resources.

The findings raise an obvious question beyond the scope of this study: Do the ravens even care about all this mobbing or is it just a minor annoyance because they’re “too big to fail”? Cornell Lab researcher Kevin McGowan, though not involved with this analysis, has spent 30 years studying American Crows and has seen his fair share of crow-raven encounters.

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“Ravens do respond to the mobbing if the crows are diving at them in flight,” McGowan says. “In fact, the raven will actually do a barrel roll to get out of the way because there’s still a potential danger of being hurt by one of these smaller ‘punks’ diving on you. But if the raven is perched and the crows don’t get too close, the raven doesn’t have much to fear from them. Most of the time, a raven might be annoyed by mobbing crows but just keep on doing what it wants.”

It’s possible that the two species may be coming into contact more often. Ravens are no longer being indiscriminately shot by humans as they were in the past and that may be one reason the species is expanding its range. According to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State published in 2008, the Common Raven population increased fivefold during the previous 20 years. There have been similar increases in other Eastern states.

Given their continent-wide distributions, crows and ravens have many opportunities to encounter each other:

eBird reports of American Crow in North America, 2008-2018. See whole map.eBird reports of Common Raven in North America, 2008-2018. See whole map.

After testing this new source of behavioral information from eBird, Freeman and Miller would like to extract observations about other species interactions. For example, as Western Scrub-Jays have expanded northward in the Pacific Northwest, there are reports of very aggressive encounters between the scrub-jays and Steller’s Jays. “Citizen scientists can really tell us a lot about bird interactions and behavior,” says Miller. “We think there’s a lot of potential for future behavior studies on a larger scale.”


B. G. Freeman and E. T. Miller. 2018. Why do crows attack ravens? The roles of predation, resource competition, and social behavior. Auk: Ornithological Advances.

Celebrate July 4th With Our All-“American” Slideshow

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 08:54
Let's kick things off with one of the most beautiful and graceful of all "American" birds. American Avocet by Ilsproat via Birdshare.The American Wigeon is a duck that doesn't quack; instead it has a soft whistling call with a hint of kazoo in it. Photo by Brian Kushner via Birdshare.Similar to a female Mallard but with a purplish wing patch and a greenish-yellow bill, this is our continent's very own American Black Duck. Photo by John Owen via Birdshare.The outrageous color of the American Flamingo makes its own statement. Photo by Jesse Kramer/Macaulay Library.Three cheers for the humble, dependable American Coot. Photo by Tony Clements via Birdshare.With a bill almost as bright as the stripes on the American flag, this is the American Oystercatcher. Photo by Ray Hennessey via Birdshare.This long-distance migrant breeds in Alaska and Canada, but can turn up almost anywhere in the U.S. during migration. American Golden-Plover by Eric Gofreed/Macaulay Library.The American Woodcock delights birders on chilly spring evenings with its peent call and flight display. Photo by Chris Wood/Macaulay Library.Americans are rumored to have voracious appetites, and this one—the American White Pelican—lives up to the hype. Photo by Rick Dunlap via Birdshare.American Bitterns prowl our continent's marshes, staying largely unseen despite being quite common. Photo by Roy DeLonga via Birdshare.This small woodpecker is one of the most powerful of all excavators, able to carve out nest holes in the hardest of trees. American Three-toed Woodpecker by Tim J. Hopwood via Birdshare.These tiny, fierce, colorful falcons are a common sight on telephone wires over much of the continent. American Kestrel by Ken Phenicie Jr. via Birdshare.A bird with prodigious smarts, strong family ties... and a nose for french fries. How much more American could the American Crow be? Photo by Keith Drevecky via Birdshare.A 2-ounce bird that dives into river rapids for its meals, the American Dipper has a unique way of making a living. Photo by Jason Kazuta via Birdshare. Almost as if auguring the outcome of the Revolutionary War, the feisty American Robin outweighs the dainty (and unrelated) European Robin by almost 4 to 1. Photo by B.N. Singh via Birdshare.The American Pipit's range covers all of North America, from the far north of Alaska and Canada in summer to the entire breadth of Mexico in the winter. Photo by David Stephens via Birdshare.This brilliant yellow bird with the "po-ta-to-chip" call is a fitting accompaniment to Fourth of July picnics. American Goldfinch by Linda Petersen via Birdshare.As a New World sparrow that breeds mainly in Canada, the American Tree Sparrow is a good reminder of the full geographic meaning of "America." American Tree Sparrow by Adam Bender via Birdshare.And finally, a bird that seems to be part warbler, part firecracker: the flashy American Redstart. Happy Fourth! Photo by Todd Fellenbaum via Birdshare.PreviousNext hbspt.cta.load(95627, 'a8fe3c9a-217b-40fd-b1ff-2bb76ebe2cf3', {}); --> hbspt.cta.load(95627, '394b2cc2-4447-4677-b18b-d2f2de5b57cd', {}); -->

Every Fourth of July here in the United States, the airwaves, newspapers, and social media channels get covered with Bald Eagles. And while we love that majestic bird and its inspirational conservation comeback, this year we wanted to share the spotlight with some other deserving birds.

It turns out that 19 species in the U.S. and Canada have “American” in their common names. That includes birds as flamboyant as the American Flamingo, as daring as the American Dipper, and as demure as the American Pipit. And of course, there’s the American Redstart, which is about as close to an exploding firecracker as any bird gets. We hope you enjoy this slideshow, and enjoy the Fourth!

Soldadinho-do-Araripe, o guardião das nascentes

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 13:37
More From Living Bird

Da revista Living Bird, edição de primavera 2018.

Para ver um dos achados ornitológicos mais interessantes dos últimos 20 anos, preciso ficar na fila. Na minha frente há um cara de camiseta regata e chinelos de dedo. Atrás, duas mulheres enroladas em toalhas de praia. Com elas, algumas crianças muito animadas, pulando para cima e para baixo, prestes a explodir de impaciência.

Eu estou animado, também, mas não pela mesma razão. Quando o parque aquático abre, às 10h da manhã, passamos pelas catracas e descemos pelo caminho principal. Depois de uma barraca que vende óculos de natação e golfinhos infláveis, a galera de chinelos segue à esquerda, em direção aos toboáguas. Eu quebro à direita, em um caminho vazio, calçado com pedras em meio à mata.

Quase imediatamente, começo a ouvir um chamado curioso vindo das árvores: piii riii, piri-piri. Alberto Campos, o biólogo que me acompanha, sussurra então uma palavra: Soldadinho!

Soldadinho-do-araripe é o nome comum de uma espécie descrita pela primeira vez em uma publicação científica há 20 anos. Rapidamente, entrou para a lista de aves mais procuradas pelos observadores do mundo todo que vêm ao Brasil. Endêmica e isolada, é uma conquista rara para qualquer life list: uma espécie que só pode ser encontrada em um fragmento de mata de 50 km de comprimento no interior do Ceará, no sopé da Chapada do Araripe. O principal atrativo da ave, no entanto, não é sua raridade, mas a sua beleza estonteante.

O macho do soldadinho-do-araripe tem um topete que "brilha como uma lâmpada vermelha".A fêmea do soldadinho exibe cores mais discretas e tem um topete menor.

Outro canto cheio de energia vem das árvores, e a silhueta de um passarinho emerge entre galhos secos. Foco o binóculo em uma ave de plumagem branca reluzente, com um topete de penas vermelho-sangue, lembrando um oficial dos Dragões da Independência em seu uniforme de gala. O soldadinho olha para a esquerda, depois para a direita, me dando a visão do seu perfil e do penacho carmim vivo. Olhar para esse passarinho brilhante é um pouco como mirar o sol: pontinhos vermelhos ficaram estampados em meus olhos mesmo depois da ave ter voado para longe.

Um riacho borbulhante passa ao lado do caminho de pedras. Cerca de 400 m mais à frente, um grotão esconde uma nascente, fonte de água do ecossistema úmido e também do parque aquático mais além. Aqui mora o perigo para o soldadinho e a razão para que ele esteja na lista vermelha de espécies criticamente ameaçadas da IUCN  (União Internacional para a Conservação da Natureza). Tanto o passarinho como as pessoas precisam da água. Os soldadinhos fazem ninho perto dos riachos e vivem em florestas úmidas; pessoas contam com a água para todas as suas atividades – agricultura, saneamento urbano, parques aquáticos.

Mas o sodadinho e as pessoas aqui não são inimigos. Na verdade, o povo local celebra a sua existência: o passarinho pode representar a melhor chance de manter a água fluindo para a população.

As encostas da Chapada do Araripe abrigam um trecho de 50 km de floresta úmida – o único hábitat no planeta para o soldadinho.Listen Ave com crista de fogo

Alberto Campos teve sua própria experiência luminosa com o soldadinho em 2003. Ele dirigiu cerca de oito horas desde Fortaleza, capital do Ceará, para investigar os relatos de que havia sido descoberta uma nova ave na Chapada do Araripe. “A primeira vez que bati os olhos nele… ele brilha, sabe? A crista brilha como uma lâmpada vermelha”, ele lembra. “É uma experiência incrível e inesquecível”.

A primeira vez que bati os olhos nele… ele brilha, sabe? A crista brilha como uma lâmpada vermelha.
~ Alberto Campos

Naquela época, o biólogo havia acabado de fundar, com outros colegas, uma ONG chamada Aquasis, dedicada a proteger animais marinhos, como o peixe-boi e os golfinhos no Nordeste. Agora, uma década e meia depois, Campos me guiava numa incursão de seu grupo de conservação na Chapada do Araripe, a quase 500 km do litoral. Pode parecer estranho que uma ONG marinha tenha se tornado uma das mais ardentes defensoras de um passarinho florestal. Mas a explicação está na biologia da espécie – a ave conta com a água tanto quanto um peixe-boi.

Este video mostra um raro registro do ninho de soldadinho-do-araripe, com a fêmea, toda camuflada, alimentando a prole.

“Nós encontramos ninhos não exatamente na superfície da corrente, mas muito, muito perto, logo acima dela”, diz Campos. Segundo ele, ao longo dos riachos cercados de mata ciliar, o soldadinho constroi os ninhos em forma de uma pequena tigela entre os galhos que pendem à flor d’água.
Além disso, a ave de florestas úmidas vive no bioma da caatinga, uma região semi-árida sete graus ao sul do Equador. Para ser mais preciso, o soldadinho-do-araripe vive num oásis de floresta verde em meio a uma paisagem de arbustos secos e retorcidos na maior parte do ano, em uma região peculiar que se parece com uma floresta úmida de altitude nascendo no meio do sertão.

A água da chuva cai no topo da Chapada do Araripe, se infiltra no solo e se acumula no lençol freático. Então alcança as bordas e ressurge em nascentes nos lados da chapada - um processo que pode levar milhares de anos. Ilustração por Phillip Krzeminski, Bartels Science Illustration. Veja imagem em tamanho maior.

Essa mistura é uma cortesia da chapada, palavra do português ancestral para planalto. O topo da Chapada do Araripe age como um receptor de água de chuva com 1 milhão de hectares: ela se infiltra no chão do planalto é armazenada no lençol freático abaixo. A água então ressurge em centenas de nascentes nos sopés da chapada, permitindo a formação de florestas úmidas. Pode levar milhares de anos para que uma gota de chuva percorra esse caminho, da poeirenta vegetação do topo até as fontes cristalinas nas matas de galeria abaixo.

O soldadinho ocorre apenas nestas florestas úmidas no sopé da Chapada do Araripe, numa área total pouco menor que a do Parque Nacional da Tijuca, na cidade do Rio de Janeiro. Como vive escondido em uma pequena porção de floresta na América do Sul, a espécie só foi descrita para a ciência no apagar das luzes do século XX, embora quase tenha sido descoberta duas vezes antes disso. Em 1860, um zoólogo do Museu Nacional (RJ) coletou 4 mil espécimes de diversos animais numa pesquisa científica na Chapada do Araripe. Esta coleção quase certamente incluía uma pele do soldadinho-do-araripe. Mas hoje esse exemplar descansa no leito do oceano: o barco da expedição sofreu um naufrágio no retorno ao Rio. Muito depois, em 1930, uma equipe alemã de geólogos, entomologistas e ornitólogos fez uma série de coletas pela área. Mas a coleção, depositada na Universidade de Friburgo, na Alemanha, desapareceu após um bombardeio na Segunda Guerra.

Eles alertavam o jovem Francisco … nem deixar o passarinho irritado, pois ele era o dono das águas.

Como costuma ocorrer, o povo local conhecia o passarinho muito antes dos cientistas o descreverem. Um antigo morador do Crato, aos pés da chapada, ainda se lembra dos avisos que recebia quando era um garoto que percorria as florestas com seu facão, na década de 1950. Agora com 77 anos, Francisco Xavier Rodrigues diz que na época os moradores falavam de um passarinho de cabeça vermelha que vivia nos riachos, o galo da nascente. Eles alertavam o jovem Francisco a não atirar na ave com seu bodoque, nem deixar o passarinho irritado, pois ele era o dono das águas. Se o bicho fosse perturbado, eles diziam, as águas parariam de correr.

Os rumores locais sobre um estranho passarinho de topete vermelho atraíram um estudante de biologia chamado Weber de Girão e Silva para a região da chapada em 1996. Ele foi convidado pelo seu professor na Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Galileu Miranda Coelho, a observar aves nos grotões da floresta. Não havia o parque aquático na época, nem outras contruções ou rodovias, apenas uma trilha de terra ao longo do riacho.

O ornitólogo Weber de Girão Silva mostra o lugar onde descobriu o soldadinho-do-araripe em 1996. Vinte anos atrás a região era toda coberta por mata, mas hoje há um parque aquático no local da descoberta. Na pequena reserva particular em um canto do parque alguns soldadinhos ainda resistem.

“Vamos para o ponto exato”, disse Weber quando me encontra no parque aquático – hoje ele é um ornitólogo de meia idade com os cabelos já ficando grisalhos. Ele pula uma cerca e sobe correndo pela encosta uns 100 metros, até apoiar-se em uma árvore. Um emaranhado de cipós desce em cascata pela rocha atrás dele, em direção ao riacho. Quando ele se apoiou na mesma árvore, duas décadas antes, fez o primeiro avistamento oficial do soldadinho para a ciência – justo o que entrou para a história.

“Nós vimos um passarinho branco voar entre as copas”, Weber se lembra, sobre o dia que mudaria sua vida. “Naquele momento o sol estava atrás da ave e a luz refletida no topete era como uma lâmpada, ou como o fogo. “O Galileu me perguntou: que diabos é isso? E eu respondi: não é um passarinho comum.” Então Weber lançou um olhar para o seu braço: “Eu fico assim, arrepiado, quando conto essa história!”

A notícia da descoberta foi destaque no jornal da cidade, mas a reportagem terminava com uma nota sinistra:

Embora desconhecido da ciência, a espécie já se encontra ameaçada. O lugar onde ela foi encontrada será transformado em um parque aquático, lamenta Galileu.

Lamentar era tudo o que eles podiam fazer. O parque aquático era um projeto do poderoso prefeito local. Ele foi construído em 2000, com a nascente do grotão fornecendo a água para as piscinas e toboáguas.

Weber ainda hoje fica perturbado ao lembrar de como tudo aconteceu, com a construção do parque aquático logo após a descoberta de uma nova espécie de ave. Ele se sentiu impotente para impedir os acontecimentos.

“Eu tinha apenas 20 anos de idade”, ele diz com pesar. “Era uma aposta perdida”.

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Foi Weber quem procurou Alberto Campos na ONG Aquasis e o convidou a incluir o soldadinho-do-araripe no programa de espécies ameaçadas. Depois de ver a ave, Alberto concordou e contratou Weber como ornitólogo-chefe do projeto para salvar a espécie.

Uma grande parte do projeto é a atuação local. A Aquasis realizou diversas consultas públicas sobre a conservação do soldadinho – reuniões que tiveram a participação de representantes do Arajara Park, o parque aquático que surgiu onde o passarinho foi descoberto.

O Arajara é o único de cinco parques aquáticos da região que se envolveu no trabalho com o soldadinho, transformando a trilha para a nascente numa reserva privada e mantendo a vegetação nativa de árvores frutíferas e arbustos, que são vitais na dieta da ave. O parque também adotou o soldadinho como uma de suas atrações, recebendo grupos de observadores e vendendo camisetas com a imagem do passarinho nas lojas de suvenires.

“Se podemos colocar as pessoas em contato com o passarinho, com a natureza, queremos dar a elas essa experiência”, diz Caroline Sambaio Saraiva, filha do falecido criador do parque. Ela atualmente ajuda sua mãe na gestão do Arajara. “Há muitos parques aquáticos no mundo, mas você não pode copiar esta floresta. Penso que os dois podem conviver: o parque aquático e a conservação ambiental”.

“Os ninhos que encontramos não estão exatamente na superfície da corrente, mas muito, muito perto, logo acima dela”, dis o biólogo da Aquasis Alberto Campos. Ele notou que o soldadinho-do-araripe prefere construir o pequeno ninho em forma de cesta entre as folhas e galhos que pendem bem acima dos riachos.As fêmeas chocam e cuidam dos filhotes, enquanto o macho dedica seu tempo a vocalizar para demarcar território - cantando mais de 500 vezes por hora.

Hoje o soldadinho-do-araripe persiste no parque e seu canto alegre é uma prova da capacidade da espécie de se adaptar, desde que as condições do hábitat sejam mantidas. E mesmo Alberto admite que o parque é um bom lugar para ver o passarinho.

“Em outros locais da floresta, o soldadinho fica muito alto, na copa das árvores”, ele diz. “Mas aqui, como as trilhas são elevadas, ele pode ser visto no nível dos olhos. É perfeito para fotos”.

Eu passei a tarde toda me deliciando com os soldadinhos por toda a trilha – até pude ver um deles num galho abaixo da passarela, permitindo observar como o topete vermelho-vivo desce pelas costas – e ouvindo o canto enérgico vindo do topo das árvores. Finalmente vou com Alberto para o restaurante do parque, tomar uma cerveja e comer salgadinhos de queijo. A música alta sacode o lugar, pontuada às vezes pelos gritos felizes das crianças no toboágua.

“Algumas pessoas a favor da conservação queriam remover o parque daqui, mas isso não funciona”, Alberto diz, franzindo a testa. “Mas, se pudéssemos parar a construção de novos parques aquáticos… Uma interdição, nenhum parque a mais, gerenciando os que existem de forma sustentável – poderíamos viver com isso”.

Alberto toma um gole da cerveja e aponta para um garoto descendo um toboágua e saindo pela boca de uma estátua em forma de dinossauro. Ele sorri: “esse parque faz as pessoas felizes”.

Batateiras um dia foi um ribeirão de águas corrente. Hoje é um emaranhado de canos de PVC saindo de velhas cisternas de concreto."As pessoas pegam a água na nascente, pois têm medo de que outros lancem mão", diz o biólogo Alberto Campos, da Aquasis.A área tem um histórico de disputas pela água. Alguns canos são protegidos com arame farpado, para evitar roubos. A água das nascentes é usada tanto para atividades essenciais quanto para a recreação. Aqui uma tubulação traz água para abastecer uma piscina particular.PreviousNext O General diz ao povo, ‘Protejam as águas!’”

Os parques aquáticos não são a maior ameaça ao soldadinho-do-araripe.

Para mostrar o que está drenando a floresta úmida que serve de hábitat para a ave, Alberto me leva ao lugar onde antes ficava a maior fonte de água de toda a chapada, a nascente Batateiras.

Nos anos 1850, Batateiras era um rio pujante. Hoje se transformou em um emaranhado de tubulações de PVC saindo de cisternas de concreto envelhecidas. Alguns canos são marrons, outros azuis, outros pretos. Juntos, eles percorrem um leito seco em direção à cidade do Crato.

A população da cidade do Crato cresceu mais de 30% nas duas últimas décadas. A procura por novas casas incentiva a abertura de novos bairros residenciais na direção da Chapada do Araripe—invadindo o hábitat do soldadinho.

Parece uma instalação em ruínas. Muitos dos canos têm vazamentos; fontes de água em miniatura jorram de pequenos buracos. Muitas das torneiras das cisternas estão travadas com correntes e cadeados.

“Cinquenta anos atrás, havia muitas disputas por água aqui”, diz Alberto. “Pessoas se matavam quando alguém desligava as torneiras”.

Ele caminha entre os canos e se abaixa para um olhar mais atento à maior tubulação, com o diâmetro aproximado de uma bola de sinuca. Depois franze a testa e ajeita o boné branco, que usou durante toda a semana que passamos juntos. Eu sigo outro cano de PVC com os olhos, um bem fino, de cor azul, que se desvia do aglomerado e segue por baixo do portão de uma casa murada ali perto. O muro tem arame farpado e cacos de vidro no topo.

Por trás do muro eu posso ouvir vozes de crianças contando: um, dois três…

Provavelmente são garotos brincando de pique-esconde, talvez com os pais, que só querem garantir água para a família.

Você pode saber quem recebe a água pelo tamanho do cano de PVC. Os tubos maiores vão para os grandes proprietários de terras. Você pode identificar todos os estratos sociais aqui.
~Alberto Campos

“Você pode saber quem recebe a água pelo tamanho do cano de PVC”, diz Alberto, ficando de pé depois de inspecionar o aglomerado. “Os tubos maiores vão para os grandes proprietários de terras e os pequenos seguem para as casas pobres. Você pode identificar todos os estratos sociais aqui”.

Este é o principal adversário de Alberto Campos no trabalho de salvar o soldadinho-do-araripe. E não é tão simples como combater uma única empresa petrolífera, como a que ele derrotou na justiça para proteger o peixe-boi. Em Batateiras e outras nascentes da região da chapada, Alberto e a Aquasis enfrentam questões sociais.

A agricultura usa a maior parte da água disponível na região. Cerca de 70% da demanda por água vem das fazendas, principalmente para irrigação das plantações de banana. O uso doméstico é de cerca de 20% e os 10% restantes vão para empresas, incluindo os parques aquáticos.

Por lei, 20% da água que vem das nascentes deveriam estar fora do alcance da influência humana, correndo livres para permitir benefícios ambientais, como a formação de florestas úmidas e hábitats para a vida selvagem. Mas isso não acontece em muitas das nascentes da Chapada do Araripe – e certamente não é o caso de Batateiras.

José Yarley Brito é o encarregado da água de Batateiras e de outras nascentes da Chapada. Ele é presidente da Sociedade Anônima de Água e Esgoto do Crato, a agência que gerencia o saneamento na cidade. Mas ele prontamente admite que seu papel é proteger a água para o uso das pessoas, não para as florestas ou para as aves.

O co-fundador da Aquasis, Alberto Campos, mostra a nascente Batateiras, cercada de tubulações que levam água até a cidade do Crato. Foto por Gustave Axelson.

“Pela lei, minha prioridade é o fornecimento de água para as pessoas”, diz Yarley. “O passarinho não é prioritário, mas eu me preocupo com ele também”.

O dilema de Yarley é que sua agência foi criada depois que estes emaranhados de canos já tinham raízes nas nascentes de Crato. E, diz Alberto, a agência carece de recursos para regular a aplicação da água.

Ano após ano, há mais e mais pessoas que querem esse recurso. A população de Crato cresceu 34 % nas últimas duas décadas. Yarley encolhe os ombros para o que sua agência pode fazer em face desta crescente base de consumidores de água: “se mais pessoas estão se mudando para novas casas, isso não pode ser interrompido. A única pessoa que pode parar o crescimento populacional no Crato é Deus”.

Através da Chapada do Araripe, as fontes de água não abastecem apenas a cidade do Crato, mas também duas outras cidades vizinhas, a metrópole Fortaleza (a 500 km de distância), e o estado vizinho de Pernambuco (cortesia de empresas privadas que usam caminhões-pipa).

A Aquasis estima que mais de 2 milhões de pessoas dependem das fontes do Araripe para subsistir. E uma crise pode estar surgindo, porque a água está desaparecendo. Ao longo dos últimos 100 anos, centenas de fontes de água da região perderam uma média de 75% da vazão. Batateiras perdeu 36% de seu fluxo de água apenas nos últimos 12 anos.

E, no entanto, Yarley sinceramente acredita que há água suficiente para todos. O problema, diz ele, é que o uso da água não é sustentável. Banana é uma plantação muito exigente, diz Yarley. Ele pensa que se os agricultores mudassem para outras culturas não iriam utilizar tanta água. E mesmo se houver mais e mais pessoas, podemos aprender a ser mais sábios com o recurso.

Neste ponto, Yarley espera que o passarinho que não é sua prioridade possa fazer um favor à agência. Ele espera que a história do soldadinho, um pássaro em extinção totalmente dependente de água corrente, possa mover as pessoas a reconsiderar o uso da água, e abrir suas mentes para uma melhor gestão.

Yarley é um chefe de torcida organizada quanto aos esforços de Aquasis para a conservação do soldadinho.

“Para nós, o passarinho é um mensageiro das nascentes”, diz. “Ele é chamado de soldadinho, mas podemos dar um posto mais alto. Vamos dizer, um general. E o general está dizendo ao povo: ‘Proteja a água!’”.

A Reserva Oásis, mantida pela Aquasis, abriga uma floresta rica em biodiversidade.Apesar da reserva ter sido criada para proteção do soldadinho, seus benefícios para o ecossistema vão além. A reserva abriga mais de 130 espécies de aves, além de mamíferos e répteis. Um sagui-de-tufo-branco na Reserva Oásis. A jararaca - uma das mais conhecidas serpentes dos Neotropicos - fica quase invisível no chão da mata.Uma das diversas espécies de plantas com flores na Reserva Oásis, da Aquasis.Uma samambaia na reserva da Aquasis. PreviousNext Um novo modelo de uso da água traz esperança ao ecossistema

Para que eu tivesse uma experiência mais imersiva com o soldadinho – e mais próxima do mundo real do que a conveniência de um parque de diversões – Alberto organizou uma visita à Reserva Oasis Araripe.

A reserva tem 135 hectares, adquiridos com a ajuda da American Bird Consevancy, entidade norte-americana baseada em Washington. O terreno foi comprado em duas etapas: uma, em 2014, para proteger uma área de reprodução do soldadinho e outra, em 2016, que dobrou o tamanho da reserva. A ONG também cedeu fundos para a substituição do antigo canavial que havia no lugar, com o plantio de 10 mil mudas de árvores nativas. Mais do que uma simples reserva, a Oasis também é um tipo de experimento florestal.

Para um marinheiro de primeira viagem vindo do Hemisfério Norte, a selva dá a sensação de querer matá-lo a todo momento. Jiboias tomam sol na estrada toda esburacada que corta a mata, serpenteando morro acima  em direção à reserva. Uma vez dentro da floresta escura, há diversas árvores com espinhos crescendo no tronco. E mais cobras: ao longo da trilha, uma jararaca – uma das mais venenosas serpentes da América do Sul – estava tão camuflada encolhida entre as raízes de uma árvore que eu nunca a teria visto, até que fosse tarde demais.

Ainda bem que George a viu. George Leandro Barbosa é outro membro da Aquasis que serviu como meu guia durante a visita à Reserva Oasis. É um guia experimentado, que passou algum tempo entre tribos indígenas na Amazônia. E ele também vestia um chapéu branco, desta vez um de tecido, como o usado por pescadores. Quando cheguei à reserva ele checou se as minhas perneiras contra serpentes estavam ajustadas. Então entramos na floresta espessa, com cipós que pendiam da copa das árvores até o chão.

Seguimos por trilhas que correm ao lado das levadas, pequenas valas de irrigação que remontam às plantações de açúcar do século XIX. Um crash do mercado nos anos 80 fez diminuírem muito as plantações de cana na região, mas as levadas ainda conduzem água para os fazendeiros locais.

O biólogo da Aquasis Weber Silva estudou em detalhes o comportamento reprodutivo dos soldadinhos em seu hábitat, a floresta úmida. Ele diz que o topete vermelho do soldadinho macho vem dos pigmentos encontrados nos frutos vermelhos que a ave consome. A plumagem vermelha da cabeça tem um papel importante na seleção sexual. O macho se exibe em poleiros nas aberturas da vegetação, onde raios de sol incidem e "acendem" o topete vermelho-vivo.

Em duas horas de trilha pelas levadas, pude escutar o canto amigável do soldadinho em todos os lugares acima de mim – piii riiii… piri piri! Mas os meus olhos não podiam vê-lo, exceto por pequenos relances de algo branco voando ao longe. A floresta estava repleta de outras aves, no entanto, e muitas surpresas surgiam após uma investigação mais aprofundada. Um olhar atento para uma silhueta que lembrava uma pomba empoleirada revelou um surucuá-de-barriga-vermelha, com sua cabeça de plumagem azul iridescente. O som que vinha da água batendo nas pedras do córrego de repente tomou a forma de um rabo-branco-acanelado, um beija-flor de tamanho grande que mergulhava no ribeirão, subia e parava no ar como um helicóptero gotejante e depois mergulhava de novo, espirrando água para os lados.

Finalmente, vejo um flash branco vindo da ponte suspensa de cipós entre duas árvores. Foco o binóculo rápido o suficiente para ver o topete vermelho de dragão no alto da cabeça de um soldadinho.  Ele vira o corpo no cipoal, ficando de frente para mim e, então – piii riii – outro flash branco vindo de suas asas batendo e ele desaparece. O encontro inteiro não durou mais que cinco segundos.

Não por coincidência, estávamos ao lado de uma pequena elevação ao lado da levada, com arbustos e cipós pendendo sobre ela. Cerca de metade da água que vem das nascentes dentro da reserva segue pela levada para os fazendeiros vizinhos. A outra metade é canalizada.

O plano da Aquasis para a restauração do hábitat do soldadinho inclui plantar árvores ao longo da levada para permitir o aumento do fluxo de água, tornando assim a vegetação mais espessa. Isso pode aumentar a área propícia para o soldadinho em mais de 20 vezes. A ONG também planeja uma reengenharia nas cisternas próximas às nascentes, com um desenho mais moderno e eficiente. “Não teremos mais vazamentos, como em Batateiras”, diz Alberto.

Nós compramos a área para que ela sirva de modelo.
~ Alberto Campos

Ele prevê que o modelo da reserva Oasis, com um melhor gerenciamento das nascentes, irá melhorar o fluxo de água para os habitantes locais. “Podemos ter dispositivos de coleta de água e dispositivos de gestão da água. Acho que vai ser mais eficiente, e eu realmente acredito que podemos ter mais água ao pé da chapada do que temos agora. Isso é algo que iremos provar em talvez três ou quatro anos”.

Em vez de proteger o soldadinho-do-araripe cercando os hábitats da espécie na região, a Aquasis aposta em usar a reserva como um modelo de conservação da água – e por consequência também da conservação da ave.

“Nós não queremos comprar todas as áreas de ocorrência do soldadinho, todas as nascentes, isso seria loucura”, diz Alberto. “Nós compramos a área para que ela sirva de modelo”.

Yarley, da companhia municipal de saneamento, forneceu as licenças para a Aquasis reestuturar as nascentes da reserva Oasis. Ele está ansioso para ver o modelo ter sucesso, com a esperança de que possa levá-lo a outras fontes de água em toda chapada.

O modelo pode ser amplamente adotado,  diz Alberto. Além de ajudar na conservação da água, outro benefício é permitir que o soldadinho e outras aves que comem frutas retomem seus papéis do ecossistema (como a dispersão de sementes) e colaborem a manter as florestas úmidas. Mais matas de galeria melhorariam a retenção de água em todo o planalto, ajudando também a manter o fluxo nas nascentes.

É por isso que as pessoas que há décadas alertavam os meninos a não atirar nos passarinhos de cabeça vermelha estavam certas. O soldadinho-do-araripe é o guardião da água.

“O que fazer quando a sua área de estudo é inteiramente queimada?”, perguntou a pesquisadora Milene Gaiotti, após um incêndio florestal em 2015. Pequenas vitórias, grandes contratempos

Milene Gaiotti não compartilha o entusiasmo e o otimismo de Alberto Campos e o pessoal da Aquasis. Pesquisadora da Universidade de Brasília que estudou a genética e as estratégias de conservação do soldadinho-do-araripe por mais de sete anos, Milena tem visto tantos locais de pesquisa destruídos que fica difícil ter muita esperança com relação ao futuro da espécie.

Em novembro de 2015, ela chegou à sua melhor área de pesquisa – uma nascente onde ela havia anilhado mais de 200 soldadinhos – e encontrou a mata pegando fogo.

“Os soldadinhos adoravam tomar banho por lá”, ela diz.

Um fazendeiro vizinho havia posto fogo para “limpar” uma área, mas o incêndio saiu de controle e atingiu boa parte da encosta. Milena não pôde fazer nada a não ser veu seu campo de pesquisa queimando. Ela desabafou em um post no facebook aquela noite:

É com lágrimas nos olhos que escrevo isso… eu encontrei os brigadistas agora, e são apenas seis. SEIS pessoas com baldes para controlar um grande incêndio… eu estou devastada!

Em toda a área de ocorrência do soldadinho-do-araripe – ao longo de apenas 50 km de encosta da chapada, onde a maioria da cobertura de floresta está sendo desmatada ou secando – a população total da espécie é estimada em menos de 800 indivíduos. Os dados se baseiam em pesquisas do Programa de Prevenção às Extinções da Birdlife International, conduzidas por Weber Silva, da Aquasis, entre em 2015 e 2016. A pesquisa apontou uma diminuição de 12% na população de soldadinhos na comparação com pesquisas realizadas apenas dois anos antes.

Indo fundo na pesquisa de Weber, o declínio de cada nascente onde o soldadinho se reproduz é uma conta no rosário de ameaças à espécie. O número de aves em um dos locais estudados caiu de 27 para 20 graças ao fogo, outro foi de 21 para 15 após a abertura de um condomínio e um terceiro caiu de cinco para apenas dois indivíduos após a instalação de novas tubulações que drenam a nascente.

O desmatamento para a agricultura é uma das várias ameaças ao hábitat do soldadinho. Muitas vezes o desmatamento é feito através de queimadas que saem do controle, atingindo uma área muito maior do que a prevista para a criação de gado ou plantações.

A ameaça mais imediata ao soldadinho hoje, de acordo com Milena e Weber, é o vazio que está se formando bem no meio da área de ocorrência da espécie. Há quatro nascentes neste espaço, mas a área foi degradada pela abertura de pasto para o gado e pela coleta de água para abastecimento. Apenas uma população de soldadinhos vive nesta faixa de 8 km de extensão. Se este grupo desaparecer, a distribuição comtígua na área será cortada em duas, com as populações das extremidades correndo o risco de ficar geneticamente isoladas – o que acelera a possibilidade de extinção.

A Aquasis está respondendo a essas ameaças da maneira que pode e consegue. Contratou brigadistas para ajudar os bombeiros locais. Realiza campanhas de conscientização em comunidades próximas à Chapada do Araripe e consulta com proprietários de terras para conquistar áreas de proteção para os soldadinhos. Quase todas as semanas, Alberto e Weber se reúnem com algum funcionário de governo (em várias esferas de poder) sobre a situação de conservação do soldadinho, um lobby contínuo para conseguir ajuda, mesmo que às vezes isso pareça não trazer grandes avanços.

Houve pequenas vitórias na relação com os governos, embora seguidas de grandes contratempos. Em 2007 a Aquasis realizou pesquisas de hábitat em toda a Chapada do Araripe e apresentou mapas e uma proposta aos líderes governamentais para proteger totalmente as encostas. O plano obteve rapida aprovação nos níveis local e estadual e parecia que iria resultar na criação de uma área totalmente protegida pelo Ministério do Meio Ambiente naquela época. Mas então sobreveio uma crise econômica, seguida pela troca de governo e o plano da Aquasis foi por água abaixo.

Foi essa experiência desanimadora que levou a ONG a mudar de estratégia e criar a Reserva Oasis como um modelo. Mas alguns vizinhos são resistentes à mudança

O lugar pode ser perigoso, violento. Masé por isso que estamos aqui.
~Weber Silva

Após a compra da reserva, Weber traçou um plano de renovar as cisternas nas nascentes e distribuir de modo mais eficiente a água através das levadas. Ele começou o trabalho construindo um pequeno projeto piloto, um novo sistema de tubos para alimentar apenas uma das levadas. Depois de pronto, não demorou para que o sistema fosse destruído e os canos, arrancados.

Silva procurou nas fazendas vizinhas por alguém que pudesse empregar para ajudar com o projeto-piloto. Com isso, se espalhou a notícia de que a Aquasis estava tentando mudar o sistema de abastecimento de água por ali. Seja quem for o responsável por destruir os canos, nem mesmo deu chance de ver se o projeto iria funcionar, para o bem o para o mal. Destruíram a ideia antes dela ter tempo de prosperar.

Enquanto Weber verificava os canos arrebentados, o trabalhador contratado disse que ele era um homem de sorte. E contou que, quando criança, ele viu o pai recuar sob a mira de uma arma durante uma disputa pela água.

“O lugar pode ser perigoso, violento”, Silva diz com um suspiro desanimado, enquanto me conta essa experiência. “Mas…”, falou, cravando os olhos em mim, “é por isso que estamos aqui”.

Grafite que homenageia o soldadnho-do-araripe em um muro da periferia, na cidade do Crato. Um espírito com cabeça de fogo se torna uma celebridade local

Em minha última tarde no Crato, vou à cidade provar uma feijoada. Enquanto cruzo a praça central em busca do restaurante, percebo que há soldadinhos-do-araripe por toda parte.

Uma ave de cerâmica como enfeite na porta da sorveteria. Um adesivo com o soldadinho colado no vidro de um táxi parado no ponto. Uma pintura mural como tributo à espécie na fachada de uma lanchonete.

Dez anos atrás a Aquasis lançou uma campanha de relações públicas para estimular o orgulho local pelo soldadinho. A secretaria de turismo da cidade encampou a ideia e tornou a ave um símbolo oficial da cultura do Crato. Agora o espírito das nascentes de água da chapada, com seu topete de fogo, voa nas canções que se ouvem nas ruas e na arte urbana dos muros da cidade. Uma fotografia do soldadinho foi pirateada e apareceu até mesmo em um outdoor que anunciava a construção de um condomínio – justamente o tipo de empreendimento que ameaça o hábitat da ave.

A rua Soldadinho-do-Araripe é outra referência à espécie que virou símbolo da cidade. Foto por Helio Filho.The Soldadinho do Araripe is a muO soldadinho-do-araripe é hoje um símbolo para a cultura caririense, uma inspiração para os artistas que valorizam a região do Crato. Foto por Helio Filho.O soldadinho pode ser visto por toda a cidade, em adesivos nos táxis e na arte popular exposta nos muros e paredes. Foto por Helio Filho.O proprietário de uma das casas decorou o número de sua residência com o mosaico de um soldadinho. Foto por Helio Filho.PreviousNext

Alberto Campos reconhece que há um descompasso entre o conhecimento sobre o soldadinho e as ações práticas da população para preservá-lo.

“Há dez anos, ninguém sabia o que era o soldadinho-do-araripe. Agora é uma celebridade local”, ele diz. Mas se levou dez anos para as pessoas conhecerem a ave, serão mais dez anos para convencê-las a mudar o comportamento e a preservar de verdade as nascentes e a floresta”.

E assim a vida segue para Campos, que conclui: “Eu era um biólogo, depois virei um biólogo conservacionista. Agora eu me sinto como um cientista político”.

Seu colega Weber Silva já participou de 10 comissões de planejamento, em diversas jurisdições. Ele continua a viajar a Brasília regularmente, desde que recomeçou as conversas sobre a criação de um parque nacional na Chapada do Araripe.

À esquerda do soldadinho, as palavras escritas com spray fazem uma defesa da conservação. Foto por Helio Filho.

Na cidade do Crato, há um novo prefeito. A Aquasis, junto com Yarley Brito, da companhia de saneamento, trabalha junto com o novo Secretário de Meio-Ambiente da cidade para criar uma área municipal de proteção, que incluiria 40% da população atual de soldadinhos. O secretário também concordou em aumentar a brigada de incêndio e reavaliar a política da cidade para o uso de cisternas e tubulações nas nascentes.

Alberto é cauteloso: “eu não acredito muito nas promessas dos políticos”.

Weber ainda não está contente: “Tudo o que fizemos até agora eu considero um grande trabalho, mas ainda não é o suficiente para livrar a espécie da extinção nos próximos 15 anos. Acredito que é possível salvá-la, mas vai ser necessário trabalhar o dobro.

Em dezembro de 2017, Weber comemorou o vigésimo-primeiro aniversário do dia em que ele descobriu o soldadinho-do-araripe para a ciência. Ele completou 42 anos e tem trabalhado todos os dias para salvar o soldadinho desde o primeiro dia em que viu o topete de fogo brilhante voando, o que significa metade de sua vida. Ele é um homem assombrado pelo passado, que se sente compelido a fazer um futuro melhor para o soldadinho.

“Uma vez me perguntaram se eu me sentia especial ou predestinado por ter descoberto uma nova espécie”, ele diz. “É bem o oposto. Eu tenho perguntado a mim mesmo: ‘O que eu tenho de fazer para fazer valer esta honra, para merecer ter descoberto o soldadinho?’”.

Perspective: Let’s Start Teaching Ornithology in High School

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 11:02
Public high school students in Jeff R. Manker’s yearlong ornithology class study American Robins near the top of a redwood tree. Photo by Jeff R. Manker.

Note: This article first appeared in Birding, the magazine of the American Birding Association. It’s reprinted here with permission.

It is the oft-stated goal of the American Birding Association to bring more birders into the ranks. The purpose is ultimately to find more people to advocate for conservation, which saves more birds, which in turn leaves us with more birds to watch. This is a goal I support as well.

Birders of a certain age may remember the Uncle Sam “I Want You for U.S. Army” posters. That campaign effectively brought shy recruits out of the shadows and into the induction centers. Instead of going directly to the average man or woman on the street with posters to enlist birders, I believe there is another way: education.

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I believe ornithology should be taught in U.S. high schools because I believe high school ornithology can save the world. (I do not mean to exclude ABA educators and students from Canada; I am simply limiting my comments to my own country, the one I know best.) I have been teaching the subject in my own high school for the past five years. I created the class myself, and I believe there are thousands of other biology and life science teachers out there, birders like me, who could do the same in their schools.

As far as I know, I teach the only year-long high school ornithology class in California and possibly the U.S. (I would love to hear from you if you teach it, too). I want to change that. I want to see more schools expand their repertoire to include ornithology.

I think ornithology can save the world because I interact with young people who are on the cusp of figuring out who they are and what they want to do. They can become conservation-minded citizens. I am convinced that high school ornithology is an excellent way to achieve that goal.

Get Started

The problem is that almost no one teaches it. Most schools focus on biology, chemistry, and physics for their science offerings. But if there is room in the curriculum for electives, then why not ornithology?

Ornithology is an elective class at our school. Students have to first pass biology, but most come in knowing next to nothing about birds except that they can fly, that they have feathers, and that they lay eggs. The majority are not taking advanced physics or chemistry. They have a casual interest in science and need something to fill out their graduation requirements, so they take the unpronounceable elective with the teacher they heard wasn’t too hard. In the end, the class reignites their curiosity for nature and may even put them on a path for a science major in college.

Illustration by Sally Ingraham. Catching the Birding Bug

I am continually amazed by the diversity of students who catch the birding bug. Athletes, cheerleaders, stoners, wannabe gang members, special education kids, African-Americans, indigenous Americans, Euro-Americans, Asian-Americans, rich kids, poor kids, quiet kids and loud kids, fashionistas, drama queens, hunters, vegetarians, LGBTQs. I have seen birds take over the lives of every kind of student.

Most of what they know of science when they enter my class is cold, hard laboratory facts about atoms, macromolecules, DNA, and genetics. I turn this around and get them outside looking at birds. On Tuesdays, we are out the door by 8:05 a.m. with binoculars, field notebooks, smartphones, and field guides—and we’re looking for birds. The rest of the week we are learning about the mechanics of flight, how dinosaurs developed feathers, metabolism, digestion, nest building, egg production, and more.

Students learn critical thinking. And grit. Much of what they discover in the classroom they can see in the birds all around them. When they leave my class, most will be birders for life. They have picked up a hobby—in some, a full-on passion—that makes them look up from their phones, pull over to the side of the road, and stop in mid-sentence at lunch when they notice a silhouette overhead, hear a song, or see a flash of color in the bushes.

I did some long-range planning with the fine people who run the BirdSleuth K–12 program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology a few months ago, and an idea that kept recurring is that birding is a natural gateway to conservation. If you love birds, you pay attention to what is going on with the environment, and you are more likely to become involved.

Illustration by Sally Ingraham. Birding Can—and Should—Appeal to the Young

When I go to birding festivals, bird walks, and bird talks, I see mostly gray heads—mine included. That worries me. We are not engaging kids in outdoor pursuits like we used to. Our recruitment rate, to use the biological term, is below the threshold needed to sustain the population of engaged and conservation-minded citizens. So what do we do? My suggestion is to go to where young people are: high school. College may be too late. It is well known that many people form their opinions of the world at a young age; if Americans dismiss or are unaware of the natural world by the end of their teens, they may never change. If we get them interested in birding in their teenage years, they will probably continue with it. I have a number of students from my first year of teaching ornithology, five years ago, who still let me know about the cool birds they saw or ask for help with identification.

High-school ornithology teachers are as rare as a Spix’s Macaw. I wish we were more like European Starlings.

Resources from Bird Academy

I recently found out about another high school teacher clear across the country in Massachusetts who teaches an 18-week ornithology course. He and I are as rare as a Spix’s Macaw. I wish we were more like European Starlings. I think more teachers who are birders would pick up teaching this class if they knew it was already being taught by someone. I threw caution to the wind and created the class, but I would hate for it to go extinct when I retire later this year.

Can you imagine if every high school across the country taught ornithology? Think about it for a minute. High school graduates would not only know birds, but would also be more aware of the native plants, insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that inhabit the woodlots, grassy fields, sea cliffs, and other habitats around their homes. They would know the local streams, lakes, and marshes. They would care about land-use decisions involving urban sprawl, agriculture, transportation, waste disposal, pollution, deforestation, desertification, invasive species, climate change, and even population control.

How do we get there? My class is a start, but we need more teachers to join in. We need an appropriate curriculum and textbooks. We need districts and parents asking for ornithology in their schools. You can help make this happen by calling your local school or district office; tell them about the school in California that is teaching ornithology and ask why your school doesn’t have it. Biology teachers could be especially valuable in this effort. All I did was ask, and the ball started rolling. Now my principal brags about this class.

A big component of my class is taking students birding one day every week. The rest is biology: evolution, flight, feathers, taxonomy, ecology, cardiovascular, digestive, musculoskeletal, and reproductive systems. Throw in some conservation, and you have a class.

Ornithology students birding along Uvas Creek, within walking distance of Gilroy High School, stop to watch Acorn Woodpeckers in a tree across the creek. Photo by Jeff R. Manker. Turning Young Students Into Environmentalists

During my whole career as a teacher, I have had the partly hidden agenda of turning my students into environmentalists. Because I teach science, it has been easy to mention deforestation, overfishing, and pollution in the context of a regular life science or biology class. But as instructional standards and frameworks became more standardized and centralized, biology became more about medicine, microbiology, and genetic engineering. I fought to retain the last shreds of botany, ecology, and life forms and conservation, but bigger forces were at work. As our state standards for high school biology have changed, we have lost the common connection to nature that would benefit all high school graduates.

As high school instruction shifted into the laboratory, science students lost the thread that connected biology to the world outside their door.

Birders alert scientists to population fluctuations that may signal disruptive changes in the environment. Students in my class learn how their observations are part of a worldwide upsurge in “citizen science” that has become the eyes and ears of environmental scientists all over the globe.

This ornithology class is real science that follows the newest educational standards. It fills a gap in K–12 science for students who are interested in more than microbiology or medicine.

While this class focuses on birds, students also pick up some botany, geology, hydrology, forestry, fisheries, meteorology, and wildlife management. They learn the names, habits, and importance of local animals and plants. There are thousands of careers that study, manage, and utilize organisms from the natural world, and this class provides an overview of such careers.

Over the years, as high school instruction shifted away from natural science and into the laboratory, science students lost the thread that connected biology to the world outside their door. I found myself increasingly uninspired to teach. Luckily, along came a fellow teacher who proposed teaching a marine science class and wanted my help to get it off the ground. It was an instant hit with students, and we co-taught it for many years.

Seven years ago, this colleague transferred to another school and left me as the sole teacher of this course at our school. When you teach one thing five periods a day, year after year, even if it is a great and engaging subject, it can get stale. Honestly, I needed a new challenge. That is when I decided to try to create my dream class: ornithology!

Illustration by Sally Ingraham. My Dream Class: Ornithology

I have been a birder for more than 50 years, and, early on in my teaching career I thought ornithology would be a great high school class. The only problem was that, for the first 15 years, I could not get a high school job. I taught a combination of middle school and junior high school. I did the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s FeederWatch program with my students. I wrote a grant proposal and got binoculars and field guides for birding with my students in inner-city Oakland. But there still was no ornithology class.

A "yellow-butt" (Yellow-rumped) warbler. Illustration by Sally Ingraham.

After helping to create marine science, I was ready to tackle ornithology. The first step was convincing my principal. It was surprisingly easy. We already had many popular science electives at our school. With his permission, I began the research to see if anyone else had taught the subject. I found one private school in San Francisco that had a semester class which had previously received state permission, known in California as “UC approval,” referring to the University of California’s recognition of a class as sufficiently rigorous to qualify as “college prep.” When I contacted the school, I found out the teacher had retired and the class was no longer offered. Undeterred, I tracked down the teacher and got his syllabus and some lessons.

My district required science classes to be year-long. After working out the extended curriculum, I sought approval from the University of California, and was “UC-approved” on the first try!

Next was the school board. Lucky for me, the superintendent and one of the board members were birders. Another board member was sympathetic. I only had to convince one more to tip the balance on the seven-member panel. With the unflagging support of my principal against the opposition (one board member called it “just a subset of a subset of biology”), the class was approved.

Getting binoculars was a hurdle, but I got over it. Textbooks do not exist for high school ornithology, so I cobbled together lessons and references from multiple sources, especially from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology—a great partner in helping me get this fledgling off the ground.

Students enroll in ornithology with little prior knowledge of the world of birds—although all are required to have completed a year of biology. Here they are on the campus of Gilroy High School, looking at a pair of Red-tailed Hawks roosting on the stadium lights above the football field. Photo by Jeff R. Manker. We Can Do This

Birding biology teachers out there: I Want You! We can do this. Teaching this class is a blast. The students are curious. They connect to the real world. They are engaged in lifelong learning. This class has critical thinking, grit, citizen science, Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core State Standards all rolled into one package.

Birders who are parents: I Want You! Lobby your local school and school board to get this class in your high school. Let administrators and officials know that birding is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the country—and that the chances of success are high.

We can’t save the world without awareness of the world’s problems. High school ornithology can reach a huge audience and create a connection to the natural world perhaps unlike any other class.

Can we work together to spread the word?

Jeff Manker is an ornithology and marine science teacher at a public high school in Gilroy, California. He currently holds board positions with the Bird School Project and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdSleuth K-12 program. He has birded on every continent save one. Plans for Australia are in progress. This article first appeared in Birding, the magazine of the American Birding Association. Reprinted with permission. The ABA offers a PDF of this article in its original magazine layout.

Living Bird Magazine—Latest Issue

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 10:39
Common Loon by Roberta Olenick. More From Living Bird hbspt.cta.load(95627, '096b8ce3-0e2d-46c5-bbf7-12de3323c8da', {}); Feature ArticlesLead Fishing Tackle Is Still a Problem for Common LoonsBy Lauren Chambliss Common Loon by Bill Wynneck via Birdshare.A Galaxy of Falcons: Witnessing the Amur Falcon’s Massive Migration FlocksBy Scott Weidensaul Background photo by Ramki Sreenivasan, Amur Falcon by Kevin Loughlin.Who Lives and Who Dies? Endangered Species Funding and Conservation “Triage”By Sarah Gilman Northern Spotted Owl by Alexander Clark.Analysis: Failing To Invest In Endangered Species Is A Tragedy Of The CommonsBy John W. FitzpatrickKeeping Hope Alive For Hawaii’s IiwiBy Kim RogersAmong Ruffs, Some “Fight-Loving Fighters” Don’t Like to FightBy Leonardo Campagna; Photos by Gerrit Vyn Columns & DepartmentsView From Sapsucker Woods: The Inspiring Optimism of Imogene Powers JohnsonBy John W. FitzpatrickRecovering America’s Wildlife Act: Bill Would Boost Bird FundingBy Gustave AxelsonTake a Child Into Nature: 5 Tips for Fun Field TripsBy Hugh PowellThe People Behind the Birds Named for People: Georg Wilhelm StellerBy Alison HaighNew Vogelkop Superb Bird-Of-Paradise Changes Up the Old Song and DanceBy Marc DevokaitisBrainpower Wins Over Brawn When Male “Hermit” Hummingbirds Display for MatesBy Hugh PowellClimate Change Could Reduce Critical Food Supplies for Migratory BirdsBy V.M. CampbellWhat Does A Dawn Chorus of Bird Song “Look” Like?By Gustave Axelson2018 Global Report: 40% Of World’s Birds Are In DeclineBy Marc DevokaitisGallery: Page From An Artist’s SketchbookBy Catherine Hamilton

July 2018 eBirder of the Month Challenge

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 09:08

July eBirder of the month challenge
By Team eBird June 30, 2018
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
© Evan Lipton
Macaulay Library
This month’s eBirder of the Month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, encourages you to get out birding every day in one of the least-eBirded months of the year. The eBirder of the Month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 31 eligible checklists during July. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month. July is an interesting time in much of the world, when the boreal breeding season is winding town and spring is around the corner in to the southern reaches of our planet. Many birds are wandering from their normal habitats, and there’s a lot for us to learn about where and when birds occur. Let’s get out and see what we can find in July!

One of the most interesting phenomena of July, yet something that often goes undetected, is post-breeding dispersal. You may have seen us write about post-breeding dispersal before, and that’s because it’s so cool! Many species that are habitat-specific in the breeding season become more generalist, moving out to areas that they wouldn’t normally occur in during the breeding season. For a great example of this, check out our Indigo Bunting eBird abundance model.

During the breeding season, you’ll see that that many of the major metropolitan areas in the eastern United States appear as darker: fewer buntings breeding there. However, as July rolls around, these dark patches disappear, as the buntings move across the landscape after breeding. These fine-scale population shifts are detectable thanks to your eBird checklists. Learn more about the Indigo Bunting abundance model here.

These subtle movements can be really important to document, as the use of these additional habitats after the breeding season can be critically important for conservation. If you have a forest-breeding bird, conserving the forest will help during that season, but what if the majority of the population relies on a specific type of scrubby habitat for young juveniles and molting adults? Understanding the full annual cycle and habitat use of a species is essential for most effective conservation. Your checklists this July, wherever you are in the world, will help make a difference in our shared understanding.

Each month we will feature a new eBird challenge and set of selection criteria. The monthly winners will each receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular. In addition, don’t forget about the 2018 Checklist-a-day Challenge—can you submit 365 eligible checklists this year?

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and support the vital scientific data being collected by dedicated eBirders.” – Richard Moncrief, Birding and Nature Observation Segment Manager at Carl Zeiss SBE.

Gray Jays Get Their Old Name Back: Hello Canada Jay!

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 16:44
Gray Jay by Tim Harding via Birdshare.

Perisoreus canadensis was known as the Canada Jay from the 19th century until 1957—when the American Ornithologists’ Union changed the bird’s common name to Gray Jay.

The name change was considered a double slight by many Canadian ornithologists and birders: the loss of a national moniker compounded by an Americanized spelling of gray (not grey). [See Canada’s Gray Jay Debate, Winter 2018]

But now, the bird is the Canada Jay again, after a 9-to-1 vote by a committee of the American Ornithological Society (as the AOU is now called) to restore the species’s official common name.

Retired Algonquin Provincial Park naturalist Dan Strickland, who has studied the jays in the field for decades and pioneered research into their unique winter survival strategies, made the proposal to the AOS for the name change.

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“I am pleased that the AOS has accepted our findings, corrected the mistake made by their predecessors, and restored ‘Canada Jay’ to its original and rightful place as the official English name of this quintessentially Canadian bird,” Strickland said.

Strickland and other Canadian ornithologists hoped that the name change would add momentum to a two-year campaign to get the Canada Jay recognized as the country’s official national bird. But the federal Department of Canadian Heritage seemed unmoved by news of the Canada Jay’s restoration, reiterating the response it has given repeatedly that the government is not currently considering the adoption of a bird as a national symbol.

Shea Tiller, April 2018 eBirder of the month

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 11:22

Please join us in congratulating Shea Tiller of Charlottesville, Virginia, winner of the April 2018 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Shea’s name was drawn randomly from the 2,543 eBirders who submitted at least 15 eligible checklists in April that had eBird Mobile ‘tracks’ shorter than 8km (5mi). Shea will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for his eBirding efforts. Here’s Shea’s birding story:

I first became interested in birding at my house in central Virginia. Seven or eight years ago, I was flipping through a field guide trying to identify some black-and-white birds visiting a feeder that my mom put up. All of a sudden, I thought I’d found what they were: Black-capped Chickadees! But then I flipped another page, and saw the nearly identical Carolina Chickadees. Realizing that I couldn’t tell them apart by basic appearance or by the tiny, whole-country range maps in the book, I wanted to learn more, so I began to research common backyard birds. Soon, I found myself attending a local birdwalk, where I saw my first non-backyard bird: a Hermit Thrush. I also joined the Blue Ridge Young Birders Club. For multiple years, I went on club field trips and found my life list steadily growing. However, because my schoolwork limited my participation in club outings, I developed a desire to find birds for myself on my own time.

An American Oystercatcher photographed at Chincoteague NWR by Shea Tiller/Macaulay Library

I began using eBird in 2016 to look at data in order to know where to find certain birds when I traveled to other states. in 2017, with encouragement from other birders, I made my own eBird account and started creating checklists in order to keep track of my own sightings and give back to the birding community. At that time, I still relied on existing data on eBird to tell me where to find species even within my home state of Virginia, but I found such data sorely lacking in my home county of Fluvanna. I also noticed another young birder in a different underbirded part of the state who went out and found his own new hotspots and 1st county records. Inspired by this example and many others, I took up the task of county listing at the end of October, 2017. I was fortunate that during my first winter of county listing, a bomb cyclone pushed into my neighborhood some great birds including Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swan, and Common Merganser.

In the spring, I made a point to log breeding codes for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas whenever I went birding, because many of the blocks in Fluvanna haven’t even been started, let alone completed. The combination of county listing and local atlasing took me to a number of interesting places this past April. These sites included a small swamp along the James River, where I found a bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler on territory and my lifer Northern Waterthrush; a bridge over the James River, under which a colony of Cliff Swallows have been nesting; and a local park containing sprawling scrub and riparian forest, where I found Yellow-throated and Prairie Warblers in abundance.

A Purple Martin from Shea’s local colony. Photo by Shea Tiller/Macaulay Library.

I also birded a lot right around my own neighborhood. While observing a Purple Martin colony at a pond just down the road from my house, I stumbled upon a Solitary Sandpiper foraging around the muddy, flooded edge. Near the beginning of April, I witnessed a late-season push of waterfowl on my neighborhood lake, which included Common Loons and a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers.

I also birded some around the state, including in the mountains where I photographed some early warblers before the leaves came out, and a one-night trip to coastal Virginia highlighted by a visit to Chincoteague NWR. On this trip, I found my lifer Piping Plover; enjoyed an extended close study of my lifer Marbled Godwits; and saw many other nice birds, including a slightly early Whimbrel, a flock of Northern Gannets, and a group of Brown-headed Nuthatches.

Despite the fact that I have had to work to find good hotspots and birds in my underbirded county, I greatly appreciate that eBird lets birders see each other’s data and therefore get an idea of both the specific locations and general types of places to look.

Bird Cams: Live American Kestrel Cam

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 15:02

About the Kestrels
In general, the kestrels return to their box in February or March. Egg-laying begins in April or May, and eggs hatch roughly 26 to 32 days after they are laid. The young fledge between 28 and 31 days of age. Like peregrine falcons and bald eagles, American kestrel fledglings remain near the nest before dispersing in late summer. They eat invertebrates, small rodents, and birds including grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles, dragonflies, spiders, butterflies and moths, voles, mice, shrews, small songbirds, small snakes, lizards, and frogs. Learn more about American Kestrels in our species guide.

About the Site
The kestrels are nesting on private property near Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. Their nest box, located on the side of a traditional limestone-footed barn, overlooks a rolling grassland that slopes away into the folded hills and forests of the driftless. A nearby stream cuts through deeply incised limestone to join the Mississippi river roughly four miles west of the nest. This wonderful combination of grassland, forest, and water has supported kestrels for over 25 years, and is an excellent example of the habitat that kestrels need to survive and thrive.

About the Host
Founded in 1988 by the late Bob Anderson, the non-profit Raptor Resource Project specializes in the preservation of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks, and owls. They create, improve, and directly maintain over 50 nests and nest sites, provide training in nest site creation and management, and develop innovations in nest site management and viewing that bring people closer to the natural world. Their mission is to preserve and strengthen raptor populations, expand participation in raptor preservation, and help foster the next generation of preservationists.

Living Bird Summer 2018—Table Of Contents

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 10:21
Common Loon by Roberta Olenick. More From Living Bird hbspt.cta.load(95627, '096b8ce3-0e2d-46c5-bbf7-12de3323c8da', {}); Feature ArticlesLead Fishing Tackle Is Still a Problem for Common LoonsBy Lauren Chambliss Common Loon by Bill Wynneck via Birdshare.A Galaxy of Falcons: Witnessing the Amur Falcon’s Massive Migration FlocksBy Scott Weidensaul Background photo by Ramki Sreenivasan, Amur Falcon by Kevin Loughlin.Who Lives and Who Dies? Endangered Species Funding and Conservation “Triage”By Sarah Gilman Northern Spotted Owl by Kathy Adams Clark.Analysis: Failing To Invest In Endangered Species Is A Tragedy Of The CommonsBy John W. FitzpatrickKeeping Hope Alive For Hawaii’s IiwiBy Kim RogersAmong Ruffs, Some “Fight-Loving Fighters” Don’t Like to FightBy Leonardo Campagna; Photos by Gerrit Vyn Columns & DepartmentsView From Sapsucker Woods: The Inspiring Optimism of Imogene Powers JohnsonBy John W. FitzpatrickRecovering America’s Wildlife Act: Bill Would Boost Bird FundingBy Gustave AxelsonTake a Child Into Nature: 5 Tips for Fun Field TripsBy Hugh PowellThe People Behind the Birds Named for People: Georg Wilhelm StellerBy Alison HaighNew Vogelkop Superb Bird-Of-Paradise Changes Up the Old Song and DanceBy Marc DevokaitisBrainpower Wins Over Brawn When Male “Hermit” Hummingbirds Display for MatesBy Hugh PowellClimate Change Could Reduce Critical Food Supplies for Migratory BirdsBy V.M. CampbellWhat Does A Dawn Chorus of Bird Song “Look” Like?By Gustave Axelson2018 Global Report: 40% Of World’s Birds Are In DeclineBy Marc DevokaitisGallery: Page From An Artist’s SketchbookBy Catherine Hamilton

Learn These Plants and Practices to Create a Successful Pollinator Garden

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 21:49

Pollinator Garden Plants and Practices
Jacob Johnston June 18, 2018
Bees Birds Native Plants Pollinators
For millions of years, flowering plants have engaged in an intricate ecological dance, evolving to protect themselves from predators and pathogens while, at the same time, developing ways to attract potential pollinators–both important parts of the plant’s life cycle. Pollinators, too, have been tied up in this tango, a back and forth of creating and overcoming attraction and resistance, access and exclusion, which, over time, has pushed each other to be perfect partners in their biological ballet. Here, we explore the intimate connections plants and pollinators depend on for survival and how this understanding can enhance our own efforts when gardening for wildlife.

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A pollinator garden can be more than a name designating a patch of flowers. It’s value can be maximized with attention to colors and patterns and specific shapes and sizes, all orchestrated to play host to a bouquet of chemical cues, impeccably timed to provide the nectar, shelter, and other resources pollinators need as they grow, pupate, and nest throughout the season. By making your pollinator patch a safe and predictable place, pollinators can expect to complete their own life cycles and continue their evolutionary dance with angiosperms.

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The plants and practices we choose to use in pollinator gardens can help to diversify the pollinators visiting our gardensopen_in_new. If we want to plant flowers to attract birds and butterflies, we also have to provide for bees and caterpillars, both different, but intimately related parts of the food webs and life cycles that influence the birds and butterflies we see. Managing for the entirety of the life cycle of a diversity of organisms often requires attending to sometimes unfamiliar plant characteristics, like flower color, morphology, and leaf texture, as well as recognizing the impacts of our management practices. For instance, how susceptible are different organisms, say caterpillars, or ground-nesting bees, to any treatments that may be used on the flowers or plant materials.

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There are hundreds of thousands of plants in nature, many of which depend on animal pollination and act as important resources for pollinating wildlifeopen_in_new. A small but wonderful selection of those, fortunately, are suitable, even desirable, for home gardens and landscaping. The qualities that attract pollinators to plants are similar to those we appreciate in our own botanicals. Vibrant colors, unique shapes, and pleasant odors make blooming gardens standout against the background of greens and browns, in nature and in our neighborhoods. These features are even more important to the pollinators who are looking for food and to the plants attempting to attract them for pollination services.


In the Great Plains, leaf cutter bees like lavender and legumes, while sweat bees seek out sunflowers, violets, and saxifrages. Curious about the plant-pollinator relationships in your area? Start with your local eco-region Pollinator Guide.
Plan on planting for pollinators in full sun, or as much sun as possible. Bees and butterflies require the heat on sunny days to get their wings up to speed and nectar producing flowers are more productive in the sun.
In typically shady areas, like forested regions, there are going to be native options available for shade gardens–something showy from the surrounding landscape- that will attract hummingbirds and bumble bees, both busy workers in much cooler and darker conditions.
Select the plants that you love too. It is your garden, create something both you and pollinators will enjoy all year.
The colors we see in our gardens may be attractive but they are not necessarily the same colors pollinators perceive. Many bees, butterflies, and other nectivorous insects have eyes sensitive to ultraviolet light and many of the flowers they pollinate reflect and absorb ultraviolet light in patterns on the petals, called nectar guides, that we cannot see. Visible color is initially used as a long distance attractant for pollinators but ultraviolet patterns on the petalsopen_in_new and flower centers act as bullseyes, or targetsopen_in_new, leading hungry bees and butterflies to the copious nectar.

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Colors acting as attractants can also be associated with attracting different types of pollinators. Hummingbirds are generally drawn to reds and oranges while bees and flies are attracted more to blues and yellows. Moths are nocturnal nectivors and white or pale flowers in the dark are more likely to be seen and visited. Butterflies prefer purples and oranges but will nectar on pastel petals like pinks and periwinkle. A diversity of colors and color patterns is important to attract a diversity of pollinators.


Choose a selection of colors to display across the garden and throughout the season that attracts the types of pollinators you want to see more of. Our simple downloadable, printable, planting palette can help get you started. (or, donate to our project and, as a thank you gift, we’ll send you a reusable planting palette along with a few other goodies).
Select straight species, those unmodified from the original native variety, whenever possible. Nativars are cultivars created from native plants with a variety of unique colors or patterns but may not be as attractive to pollinators as they are to the plant breedersopen_in_new.
Stage your plantings according to height with taller plants in the back or middle and shorter plants at the edges to improve color visibility from multiple and further distances.
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Flower sizes, petal shapes, and even the position or angle the flowers are presented can select for, or limit, access to the stamen and nectaries by certain pollinators. Composite flowers, like black-eyed Susan and sunflower, have a flat, disk-shaped flower which acts as a convenient landing pad and offers hundreds of tiny, shallow florets which are easily accessed by most bees, flies, and butterflies. Umbelliferous flowers, like milkweeds and Joe-pye, shown above with a Tiger Swallowtail, offer similar landing platforms and easy access to long and short-tongued pollinators.

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More complex flower shapes limit some pollinators’ abilities to gain access to pollen or nectar–this reduces competition for the resource and offers greater reward for the few specialists that can put in the effort. Tubular flowers, like lobelia and beardtongue, are inaccessible to short-tongued bees and most flies unless they have a large flat bottom petal to act as a small landing pad for pollinators who then crawl inside to find their sweet treat. Large carpenter bees have powerful mouthparts and will often just poke or chew a hole through the tubular flower from the outside to reach the nectaries. Hummingbirds and clearwing moths (shown above), are excellent at accessing the tubular flowers of monarda with their very long proboscis.

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Nodding flowers, like harebell and the columbine shown above, hang down and are even more difficult to access. Bumble bees, however, can easily reach these deep nectaries with their long tongue and small bees will often crawl up inside, clinging to the floral structures, and perform buzz pollination to collect the protein-rich pollen.


Increase the variety of flower shapes and sizes available to pollinators when adding flowers to your gardens (look for composite, tubular, nodding, and umbelliferous flower shapes). This can improve the diversity of specialists and may reduce competition for daily pollen and nectar resources among visiting pollinatorsopen_in_new.
In dense clusters, position the flat, composite, and umbelliferous flowers in the center, with tubular and nodding flowers towards the outsides and edges. This allows for improved access to flowers that are approached from the side or from underneath.
Again, when acquiring native plants, choose straight species–those unmodified from the original native variety–whenever possible. Cultivar varieties of native plants may have unique sizes and shapes, like double petals, but may not be familiar or even accessible to native pollinatorsopen_in_new.
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Plants, especially their flowers, produce varying cocktails of volatile organic compounds giving them specific odors or fragrance, that are picked up by sensilla, small hairs located on many insect’s antennae and mouthparts. These olfactory cues guide pollinators to their source and produce the pleasant aroma gardeners and passers by may stop to enjoy. Butterflies are generally drawn to sweet and spicy scents, while bees are more often found chasing a fruity or flowery fragrance. Flies, on the other hand, are often attracted to flowers smelling of dung, or rotting carrion, but can be found pursuing a host of other odoriferous emanations.

Plants also emit chemical signatures which can be picked up by the sensitive sensilla on pollinators searching for, or avoiding, specific plant qualities. Secondary metabolic compounds produced within plants, such as the pictured pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), can act as either toxins or medicines depending on the pollinator and the plant. Pollinators suffering from parasites or pathogens seek out certain, often native, plants with higher concentrations of important metabolites in hopes of medicating themselves against afflictions.

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The secondary compounds in plants are especially important to reproducing moths and butterflies which can be very selective about the species of host plants they lay their eggs on. Plants produce these compounds to protect themselves from being eaten. Some of the secondary metabolites produced by plants taste bad to common herbivores, while others are outright toxic. In order to eat enough to survive, insects have had to overcome some of these defenses. As there are thousands of plant defenses out there, insects specialize in getting around at least a few of these obstacles, so they can safely eat a few kinds of plants. Moths and butterflies who detect a certain secondary compound, like this Painted lady on her common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) host plant, can lay eggs knowing their offspring will be able to eat when they hatch. Plants that are not native to the same range of the insect do not emit the same familiar signatures and will not attract the insects looking for them.

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While some arthropods are generalists who can access, consume, and nest in a large variety of suitable habitat conditions, most–around 90%–are specialistsopen_in_new and require specific plants to complete their life cycle. Specializations can be morphological, like shapes and lengths of mouthparts or body sizes. They can be physiological, like resistance to toxins, or they can be behavioral, as in the habits, timing, and preferences that are synchronous with the habits and timing of flowering plants. This monarch caterpillar eating very toxic and sticky milkweed (pictured), can do so because it has a digestive system that allows it to–a physiological trait–and because it first chews a hole in the midvein of the leaf–a behavioral adaptation–to stop the milky sap from flowing to the ends where it eats, preventing damage to its mouthparts.


Include plants of different species as well as those from different genera and families. A garden with a couple of kinds of milkweed will be greatly enhanced by the addition of a few aster species. Include shrubs and grasses to provide host plants for hundreds of moth species, as well.
Skip the chemicals. Holes in leaves are usually a sign of success as hungry growing caterpillars are consuming their host plant. Pest species may be less likely to take over in diverse native gardens because they are controlled by predators like birds and other insects.
Consider letting a few “weeds” grow in. These may be native varieties of local wildflowers and can attract beneficial insects that may prey on any pest species, keeping them under control. You can remove seed heads as they form to keep from spreading.
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Pollinators rely on plants for a myriad of materials as they progress through their lifecycleopen_in_new. Beyond pollen and nectar, some bees collect oils and resins from flowers to line their nests with, which offers waterproofing and antimicrobial benefits to developing larvae. Wool carder bees, shown above, collect pubescence, or plant fuzz, from the leaves and stems of plants like mullein and lambs ear. They too use this to line their nests, which they make in the hollow stems of previous year’s flowers.

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Many native bees and other important insects nest in hollow stems and branches; leafcutter bees use little bits of plant leaves to line them and make cocoons, while mason bees use mud to create partitions in the stems and seal up the ends. Numerous moths and butterflies will also depend on the plant leaves and stems to lay eggs, make cocoons, or cozy up for the winter. This, in turn, provides excellent and abundant food sources for nesting birds in the spring and other ravenous wildlife emerginging from their winter slumber.

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Since plants provide the necessary materials for foraging, nesting, and overwintering we must take a serious look at the practices we employ when managing that plant material in our yards and gardens. Weeds invade in the spring and herbivores snack all summer. Perennial and annual wildflowers leave behind stems and dried seed heads and shrubs and trees leave leaves in the fall. Winter brings few challenges for gardening but offers opportunities for planning and improving connections.

Include a variety of textures and leaf types in your native plant selections to appeal to a variety of pollinators looking for nesting materials.
Avoid nativars (native cultivars) with altered leaf color, like bronzed or variegated patterns. This is shown to be the plant breeding quality with the biggest effect on native pollinators’ useopen_in_new.
Avoid “cleaning-up” pollinator gardens in the fall and allow the leaf litter and dried stems to persist until late in the spring.
When spring cleaning before temperatures are consistently above 50˚F, place garden debris–the dried leaves and hollow stems, etc–in a sunny place for a couple more weeks to allow pupating bees and other insects time to finish their development and emerge–just in case.
To help annual plants, like black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), to reseed, allow a thin layer of broken down leaf litter to collect around the base of plants, instead of thick bark mulch. This will help prevent a few weeds and retain moisture like mulch but will also allow newly germinated plants to make it through.
Leave some bare ground for bumble bees, collettes, and others ground nesting bees to dig in for their nests.
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Mutualism between plants and insects is regional. Below are some suggestions for pollinator gardens that will work for almost any location. They are a diverse selection of sun-loving native plants pollinators are known to prefer. Together these picks offer host plants to locally important butterflies or moths, they provide a sequential array of blooms, colors, shapes, and structures both gardeners and pollinators will appreciate, and they supply some of the required resources for nesting bees and overwintering wildlife.

Northeast Southeast Mountain Southwest
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It may seem like complicated lists of dos and don’ts but maintaining a pollinator garden simply comes down to one question; in short, what does nature do? From there you can decide how much planning and organizing to do, how much you want to let go and enjoy, and how much should be taken care of to suit your own preferences. Many people find the challenge of assembling a diversity of plants tailored for their region and regional pollinators a delightful and satisfying hobby.


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