2018: The Year of the Bird

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
March 2018

“If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world,” stated Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity.  The National Audubon Society, National Geographic Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Life International, The Pelican Island Audubon Society and 150 other organizations heartily join together to proclaim 2018 The Year of the Bird, because it’s the centennial of passing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), our most powerful and important bird-protection law. The MBTA makes it illegal to kill birds except under certain circumstances such as hunting game birds. The MBTA was enacted in response to outcries against the continued plume hunting for women’s hats of bird feathers as well as just wanton killing of thousands of birds. Today the law holds industries accountable for such environmental catastrophes as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico estimated to have killed over a million birds and decimated beaches where birds could no longer nest.

Photo: Bob Montanaro

The importance of birds to our own quality of life is featured in the January 2018 issue of National Geographic in an article entitled “Why Birds Matter” by Jonathan Frazen. The National Geographic also publishes a Bird Guide that features profiles of 50 of North America’s most popular birds, and kids.nationalgeographic.com features Quiz Whiz, fun exercises with fascinating games about birds and other animals. In addition, every month this year they have special bird articles. “We’re not going to have very many birds unless we change things, are creative, and start making things happen. What’s important is getting back to nature and, culturally, that’s what we should do” -Jonathan Baillie, National Geographic Society.

PIAS began marking the Year of the Bird with it’s successful conference “Transforming landscapes for a Sustainable Nature” on January 19-20 with great speakers: Prof Doug Tallamy, (author of Bringing Nature Home-How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants), Dr. Edie Widder, Steve Turnipseed, Tod Winston, Tary Evans, Robin Pelensky, Nickie Munroe, Jacob Ensor and Dr. Juanita Baker. It celebrated the beauty and variety of birds and highlighted their dependence on native plants and insects that are important to our own health and well being, including functioning ecosystems, clean air and water.  Solution? Landscape with native species in our yard, garden, patio, or balcony to provide food and shelter for both migrating and our nesting resident birds. National Audubon has a great article “Grow These Native Plants So Your Backyard Birds Can Feast-Native plants beat even the best bird feeder. Here’s what to put in your garden to transform it into a year-round wonderland” http://www.audubon.org/news/grow-these-native-plants-so-your-backyard-birds-can-feast. There are two websites that can help you decide, which native plants are appropriate for our area using our zip codes: National Audubon Society Plants for Birds http://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds and the National Wildlife Federation https://nwf.org/NativePlantFinder

Speaking to the Annual Meeting of the Moorings Vero Property Owners’ Association, I provided a review of the January Transforming Landscapes conference. Vero Beach City Councilwomen Laura Moss, who attended the conference, had a meeting with the City Manager and others to discuss planting native plants around the city’s buildings.  Most ambitious is a new future project that PIAS and three other organizations (Environmental Learning Center, Indian River Land Trust, and the Ocean Research Conservation Association) are planning: planting 100,000 Live Oak Trees in Indian River County. We want everyone to plant at least one Live Oak Tree in their yard. Let’s all plant a forest in our backyards.

The world is hazardous for our birds.  They must navigate around wind turbines, cell towers, skyscrapers, walls of glass, escape invasive species (cats and boa constrictors), poisons contaminating their food sources, disappearing wetlands and native uplands, and climate change.  Bird Life featured “How alien plant invaders crowd out native birds. It’s not just cats and rats: invasive plant species can also uproot ecosystems and drive extinctions.” http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/invasive-plants

Let’s convince our elected officials that our love of nature and birds will drive our voting at election time.  We want habitat protection and clean energy for the good of birds and people alike. Our yards are important even for migratory species that stop here briefly to refuel on insects, caterpillars, spiders, and fruit before flying thousand of miles to nest or to winter.  At the same time, we’ll add native plants and nest boxes to our yards and our neighborhoods for resident species and advocate for bird-friendly practices at the community level.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosts the websites feederwatch.org and www.allaboutbirds.org that provides bird information and includes bird cams, tips on identifying birds and feeding them. They also say “A Yard Full of Native Plants Is a Yard Full of Well-Fed Birds- Native plants provide berries in winter and insects in summer and the more the merrier.” https://www.allaboutbirds.org/its-true-a-yard-full-of-native-plants-is-a-yard-full-of-well-fed-birds

The closest native plant sources are Butterfly Flowers, (321)626-73866, in West Melbourne which bring native plants on Saturdays to the Oceanside Farmer’s Market at Humiston Park, and Maple Street Native, (321)729-6857, also in West Melbourne.  Butterfly Flowers are planning to be at the Audubon House on the third Friday morning of the month for our Audubon Activist meeting.  Both nurseries consult, design, and install plantings.  Plant Native plants! Increase the demand for them, and they will be more available.

Finally, I would like to thank all who called or emailed Florida Representatives Erin Grall and Carlos Trujillo. The Senate and House have approved $100.8 million, which is less than the $300 million/year we had for over 20 years, but more than the allocations over the last seven years. We will do our best to work with Erin Grall to impress upon her the importance of protecting environmentally sensitive lands. With Florida’s current and growing population, we are losing our bird and fish habitats rapidly. We must protect our natural resources, which are the basis for our economy.

And of course, many, many thanks for supporting our effort to stop the Oslo boat ramp dredging and road paving! We are now working with others to have the area designated a fish sanctuary because it is a unique nursery area for four major game fishes in the Lagoon.

Let’s all work together to plant trees and other native plants in our yards this spring for Arbor Day.  Let’s “Bring Nature Home!”  

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