My travels this summer took me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology near Ithaca, New York, where I was able to bird in renowned Sapsucker Woods near the lab. I also took a behind-the-scenes tour of the research facility itself, technically known as the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity. The center houses classrooms, a DNA sequencing lab, and a library containing the world’s largest collection of recorded natural sounds, including the songs, sounds, and calls of more than 5,600 species of birds!
Scientists at the lab not only conduct some of the most cutting-edge research on birds and their habitats but also teach students and others about the threats that birds and other wildlife face in response to climate change and environmental destruction taking place throughout the world.
The bad news first. The conservation group BirdLife International’s latest report found that 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline. The good news is that many people are seeking to protect nature in a myriad of ways. They develop conservation programs to protect ecosystems and for various specific species. Some of this is done in the field, some through communication with policy makers, and some in the courts. It’s easy, but deceptive and disempowering, to think that we as individuals can’t make a difference. One of the most important things we can do now is to vote and let our representatives know that we value laws that protect species and habitats. Protective laws can work: 70 percent of the birds listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have populations that are now stable, increasing, or have recovered enough to be delisted.
Some of the many other things we can do as individuals to make a difference are listed below.
Ram Papish will explore changes in Bogoslof, a very actively volcanic Alaskan island north of the Aleutian Island chain in the Bering Sea ecosystem. Ram will present data on seabirds and seals from Bogoslof Island and the Pribilof Islands. The colonies are going in opposite directions. Wildlife thrives on Bogoslof, even as the same species decline over most of the Bering Sea. The presentation will include photographs from both islands as well as scientific information about the area’s wildlife. He has spent about 10 summers on Alaskan Islands assisting in seabird and seal research, and will share stories about camp life in these remote, seldom-visited areas. Other research locales in his past have included French Frigate Shoals, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Panama, Hawaii, and several more.
We co-sponsor a program each December with Eugene Natural History Society. This year Bruce Newhouse will share information about pollinators that will help us nurture them.
Did you ever wonder about all those flying and crawling critters on your flowers? Do you know how to tell a bee from a fly? Do you know that some flies are good pollinators? Do you know how to plant a garden that will be the best possible place for pollinators?
Bird couples may work together to decrease predation at their nest. In a behavior called “coordinated misdirection,” both adults will initially fly toward their nest but one will veer off while the other goes directly to the nest. Scientists believe that nest predators are distracted by the bird in flight. This means it’s less likely that the predator will discover the nest entrance itself. The behavior has been shown in at least 28 species of passerine birds, across 5 distinct families.
Eric R. Gulson-Castillo, Harold F. Greeney, and Benjamin G. Freeman (2018) Coordinated misdirection: a probable anti-nest predation behavior widespread in Neotropical birds. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology In Press
Evaluating Expected Outcomes
In a clever set of experiments, birds in the parrot family learned that they could exchange a token for food. Later, they were given a choice between a token or a piece of food.