A Message From David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society

If your in-box looks like mine, you’ve received a lot of email about the administration’s first draft of a budget outline. There’s a lot of bold-faced or bright red type on those emails and they make it sound like the proposed budget cuts are a done deal. Audubon thinks you deserve a more thoughtful response. Those emails would also lead you to believe that an executive order to begin the long process of undoing the Clean Power Plan is the end of the line. In fact, the administration’s budget proposal was designed to generate headlines about living up to campaign promises, but it also divided Americans on core values like clean air and clean water. The executive orders are just the beginning of a years-long process that will test the Audubon network’s commitment to science, community and fairness.

Keep in mind a president’s budget proposal is just that: an opening bid. More details will emerge in the coming weeks. Those details will be debated for months in Congress. As we’ve seen in recent weeks on issues ranging from privatizing public lands to health care, you have a chance as constituents to influence how that budget gets shaped. As the voice of birds, Audubon will be by your side. We’ve worked to protect funding for the places birds need for 111 years—with Democrat and Republican presidents and across party lines in Congress. And in the coming weeks and months, we will work harder than ever with our elected representatives on both sides of the political aisle to make sure we continue to protect the clean air, clean water, and stable climate birds and people need to thrive.

It’s clear that this administration, left unchecked, will fundamentally step back from all of those protections in the name of reducing the role of government. While it’s the nature of bureaucracies to need an occasional pruning, other agendas are at work, serving special interests like big oil and coal as well as the super-wealthy.

Audubon’s leadership chooses to engage with this administration as we have with 28 that preceded it. We simply won’t stand aside while the future of the Arctic Wilderness or Endangered Species Act gets decided. But we’re under no illusions about how hard the fight will be in the face of many in the administration who equate caring conservation with economic hardship. That cynical and, some would say, blasphemous world view is a complete distortion of the values that drove Republicans from Teddy Roosevelt to Richard Nixon to create national parks and bedrock environmental protections.

At every step of the budget process, Audubon—with your continued help and support—will fight to protect funding that’s critical to advancing our conservation work.

How can we do it? We’re a credible voice for commonsense conservation, and that transcends party or politics. The Atlantic magazine recently described Audubon as “one of the oldest and most centrist of conservation-minded groups” in the country. In a polarized political climate, Audubon’s membership is unique, with members and donors from across the political spectrum,including Democrats, Republicans and independents. We are community builders, not community dividers because birds create common ground. When I meet with chapters, I see committed conservationists and I can’t readily tell R’s from I’s or D’s.

You, our diverse members, make us an effective organization—in the communities we call home and in Washington D.C. Your representatives need to hear why funding conservation work is so important to you and to Audubon’s efforts across the country. You can be confident that in the coming weeks and months we will offer you opportunities to raise your powerful voice at the crucial points when it matters most.

Remember, now more than ever, you’re what hope looks like to a bird. Get involved and take action today.

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Birds Get Down, and More, for Winter

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Male

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Male

On frosty winter mornings when just a few minutes outside has your cold fingers complaining and refusing nimbleness, think of the hummingbird. This creature no bigger than your pinky has perched outside all through the starry night, and before the frost is gone will be darting about lapping up nectar and snapping up insects. How do they do it?

Birds are wonderfully well adapted to dealing with cold. Most creatures become inactive when the temperature drops low. Insects may survive as hidden eggs or cocoons. Lizards lie motionless under a log. But like us mammals, birds are warm-blooded, and warm-bloodedness allows activity even in the cold. Of course, like any furnace, warm-bloodedness requires energy. Birds must eat!

Little birds especially, with their limited capacity for fat storage and the greater exposure of small things to the elements, seem almost constantly ravenous throughout the daylight hours. Tiny hummingbirds can devour up to three times their weight in a day. Kinglets flitter nonstop in their almost frantic hunt for winter insects. Rolling packs of chickadees glean over fir needles, green in their snowy mountain homes. A robin may be the size of your pet boa, but it must dine more, and more often.

Warm-bloodedness also needs insulation to be effective. Naked scales might work for our cold-blooded relatives, but mammals have fur and birds have feathers, nature’s finest insulation. Beneath their outer contour feathers, birds wear the thin but dense layer of down that traps still air, keeping their bodies at a comfortable 104 degrees even as winter chases less robust creatures, like grizzly bears, into protected hideaways. When the cold bites especially hard, birds can fluff their feathers to increase insulation, and pull their heads down on their shoulders, or tuck them under a wing.

Of course, their feathers must be kept dry. Like us, most birds have natural body oil. They spread this oil from a gland at the base of their tails, keeping their feathers glistening, both beautiful and waterproof.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant Wings Spread

Most water birds produce plenty of this preening oil, but oddly one of our diving birds produces hardly any. Apparently the advantage of pursuing fish without the buoyancy of dry feathers can compensate for getting wet. Instead of preening, however, cormorants stand in the sun with their wings held out to dry, a performance visible all along the Sacramento River.

Birds are also vulnerable to cold through their unfeathered feet. Long-legged herons and egrets are particularly exposed. Handily, the birds have a built-in heat-exchanger. Arteries carrying warm blood from the feathered body are intertwined in the legs with veins carrying chilled blood from the feet. Heat naturally dissipates, warming the veins and cooling the arteries. The result is that some heat is quickly returned to the warm core, and, especially in icy habitats, the feet just live at much colder temperatures than the rest of the body. Birds handle this by keeping their heat-loving muscles in their warm bodies, with little more than bones and tendons nakedly exposed. Also, watch a heron or egret. They frequently stand on just one leg, tucking the other up into their feathers, warming their toes and reducing heat loss.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Different birds undertake a variety of other strategies to survive the cold. Watch a robin face the morning sun, catching that warmth full on. Little nuthatches huddle together in tree cavities. Hummingbirds can actually go into overnight torpor, a mini-hibernation in which their body temperature drops as much as 50 degrees and their heart-rate slows from 500 to 50 beats per minute, saving precious energy. Poorwills, the western cousins of the whip-poor-will, can enter that state of torpor for weeks at a time.

Migration, of course, is perhaps the grandest adaptation to cold. But with birds, so well suited to handling Earth’s normal chills, migration may reflect the pursuit of food more immediately than the temperature change. Birds cannot survive when seeds are covered by snow, or fish by ice, or when fruits are picked clean or insects have ceased to crawl and flutter. Without food, it’s time to go. But a chill morning? Pah! Put on your coat and watch them!

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Quail Live the Good Life

California Quail Male

If your True Love went local, and instead of offering an Old World “partridge in a pear tree” gave you their California native counterparts, be glad! A quail in a crab apple brings much to enjoy!

Quail, after all, are a lesson in living the good life!

For starters, they enjoy music. They sing to one another, a hello call that is usually rendered Chi-CA-go, although the North State dialect sounds more like Lake-SHAS-ta. Pairs sing together, duets in which the female maintains the hello refrain and the male fits high grace notes into the spaces of her song.

Quail are dedicated parents, too. They have large families, 10-16 eggs in a clutch, or more if a neighbor contributes. They help their children explore the world, watching dutifully as the young leave the nest within a day of hatching to start poking at the world, beak first. The parents are, of course, unable to produce milk, but their chicks, no more discerning than human infants, pick through the adults’ feces and, just as humans acquire valuable antibodies through nursing, they swallow protozoans that help in digestion.

Families of quail typically neighbor up to form a covey, a community for living and child-rearing that unsurprisingly increases adult life expectancy. The covey keeps together with an ongoing low pit-pit chatter: I’m right here – Don’t go away – We’re OK.

Sometimes a male will perch prominently on a bush, boulder, or fencepost , but he is not alone. He is watching for danger, and if he becomes alerted his calls grow louder and more urgent. Other males in the covey may join him to peck at a small predator, or the quail may all flee. Once the chicks can fly, which begins at about day ten, the covey’s wings create a burst of thunderous flutter as the birds explode into their short flights from peril.

The high-perched male is certainly watching for predators, but he might also be showing off a bit. Quail are stylish, and, while the female wears the muted tones common to avian patterns of nest camouflage, the male sports a striking attire of scaled grays, chestnut, cream, black and white, all under a burgundy crown decorated with a black plume that might inspire royalty, or punk rockers, or a praetorian guard.

Beyond sharing the cultural pleasures of music, family, community, and flair, quail take care of their individual physical needs, too. They eat a healthy diet, up to 30% lean meat, but mostly vegetables—seeds and such. They also get enough sleep. Particularly in winter, while hordes of daybreak sparrows flitter through yards and under feeders, quail become scarce, seeming content to sleep late through the cold hours of the season. Their coveys, numbering scores or hundreds of birds, provide plenty of eyes and ears to attend to safety in their brushy hideaways and protective trees.

This good life seems to be serving the quail well. In a time when many species are declining, California quail have slightly increased their population, even while sustaining a statewide shotgun harvest of a million birds per year.

If you have brush close by, California quail may troop to your backyard bird feeder. And if they pass an old crab apple tree that still struggles along the fenceline, perhaps you’ll hear them chuckle a low song of satisfaction.

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Conservation Group Seeks Protection Of Rare Western Sparrow

Conservation Group Seeks Protection Of Rare Western Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow with Nestlings by Suzanne Beauchesne

Calls for Oregon Vesper Sparrow to be Listed under the Endangered Species Act

(Washington, D.C., Dec. 21, 2016) American Bird Conservancy has petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Oregon Vesper Sparrow as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In a letter sent to Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, ABC describes this subspecies of the Vesper Sparrow as highly imperiled and threatened with extinction throughout its range.

The petition makes the case that the species warrants listing because of significant population declines and ongoing habitat loss and degradation, among other threats, and because it lacks adequate protection under existing regulatory mechanisms.

Without ESA listing, the sparrows’ future looks grim. The current estimated population of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow is fewer than 3,000 birds, and Breeding Bird Survey data indicates a statistically significant population decline of more than five percent every year over the last 45 years.

This migratory species has a restricted breeding range that historically included southwestern British Columbia, western Washington and Oregon, and northwestern California. Now, breeding populations have disappeared from British Columbia and California, along with numerous local breeding populations throughout the range.

The species overwinters in California west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and south of San Francisco Bay, and historically it ranged into northwestern Baja California, Mexico. But wintering populations in Baja and southern parts of California have now disappeared.

“We are deeply concerned about the future of this bird,” said Bob Altman, ABC’s Pacific Northwest Conservation Officer. “With so few birds remaining, many in small and isolated populations, the Oregon Vesper Sparrow needs the immediate protection and conservation focus made possible through ESA listing.”

Several primary threats are driving the sparrow’s decline:

  1. The continuing loss and degradation of its grassland and savannah habitats because of development, conversion of those habitats to intensive agriculture, and the encroachment of invasive shrubs, trees, and exotic grasses;
  2. Harmful or poorly timed land-use activities such as mowing, overgrazing, military training, and recreational use; and
  3. The vulnerability of small, isolated breeding groups of birds.

“Every year, more populations are being lost, and we are not seeing the establishment of new populations where habitat restoration has occurred,” Altman said.

Existing regulatory mechanisms do not provide the protection needed to prevent the Oregon Vesper Sparrow from continuing on its trajectory toward extinction. There are no Federal or State programs dedicated to its conservation, and only about 20 percent of the birds’ range-wide population occurs on public lands. Without ESA listing, this vulnerable species will continue to decline and is likely to disappear forever.

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American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere’s bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.

Contact: Bob Altman, ABC’s Pacific Northwest Conservation Officer, 541-760-9520

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Invasive Mammals Are Pushing Native Birds To The Brink

Cat with Bird

Cats Among Biggest Threats to Global Biodiversity

(Washington, D.C., Dec. 13, 2016) Invasive mammalian predators are killing endangered species around the world at much higher rates than previously known and are “arguably the most damaging group of alien animal species for global biodiversity,” according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The findings are the latest evidence that cats and other invasive species pose a major threat to birds and other wildlife worldwide.

Non-native mammalian predators have contributed to the extinction of 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile species, and have helped put another 596 species at risk of extinction, according to the study by Dr. Tim S. Doherty and colleagues, most of whom are researchers affiliated with Australian universities. Chief among these predators are cats, which have negatively affected 430 species of threatened or now-extinct birds, mammals, or reptiles.

The researchers estimate that cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species, including 40 bird species—approximately double the number of extinctions previously attributed to these non-native predators. Combined with introduced rodents, such as Norway rats, “cats are major agents of extinction, collectively being listed as causal factors in 44 percent of modern bird, mammal, and reptile species extinctions,” Doherty et al. write. Both cats and rodents negatively affect the most bird species.

“This comprehensive study confirms yet again just how dramatic an impact cats and other invasive predators are having on bird and other wildlife populations,” said Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Programs at American Bird Conservancy. “Its findings are striking evidence that the problem is even bigger than previously recognized.”

ABC remains dedicated to confronting the challenge of outdoor cats. “Cats are popular pets, and many of us at ABC have pet cats. Once introduced into the environment by people, however, these cats cause extensive negative impacts,” Sizemore said. “Native species are ill-equipped to defend against such effective predators.” Not only do these cats kill birds and other native species, they also spread diseases such as rabies and toxoplasmosis that put human and wildlife health directly at risk. “The only realistic long-term solution is to contain cats, which simultaneously protects cats, wildlife, and people,” said Sizemore.

Learn more about ABC’s commitment to combating the threat of invasive species and our campaign to keep cats indoors. A recent Q&A on ABC’s Bird Calls blog has more on why cats represent such a serious threat to our irreplaceable wildlife.

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American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere’s bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.

Contact: Grant Sizemore, 202-888-7480

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