From Our President: Birds on the Move

One reason I love spending time in my garden is just to be outdoors. Gardening is a great excuse to be in the yard and watch birds at the same time. If I had not been checking the fruit trees the morning of August 31, I would not have seen the dark bird in the lower field sallying out from the bird boxes and flying back to perch, catching insects. It gradually made its way from box to box, up toward my garden area. I grabbed the binoculars (I keep them nearby) and saw it was a Black Phoebe! This was the first sighting for the species on our property, and it made my morning! Its plumage was not the bright black of an adult, so I assume it was a first-year bird exploring the area. It spent about 15 minutes in my view, then flew up and over some trees to the north.

Black Phoebes are one of the species that have become predictably present in the Willamette Valley over the past decade. They have moved their range north, taking advantage of the warmer temperatures. They are now tallied on the Eugene Christmas Bird Count each year, and their numbers are gradually increasing:

  • 2004..........2
  • 2005..........3
  • 2006..........3
  • 2007..........8
  • 2008..........6
  • 2009..........6
  • 2010..........10
  • 2011..........22

The bird list for our yard now includes Black Phoebe! It would be great if this bird became a regular visitor. The less optimistic part of the story is that the effects of climate change are demonstrated by this specific observation. While I am happy to see this particular bird in my yard, I am well aware that 15 years ago this species was a rarity in the Willamette Valley. Bird populations are reacting to the climatic changes humans continue to discuss and study. My Black Phoebe sighting provides a reminder that our passion for bird watching adds to the citizen science database, through both casual observations and the Christmas Bird Counts. Observing nature, like gardening, can be a balance of the good with the less good, and we are participants in the bigger picture.

Note: National Audubon plans to release a new report showing the effects of climate change on bird populations with modeling for the future decades. We will share this on our website and Facebook page as soon as it is available.