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Laura Erickson
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You're certainly right about human population being at the very heart of every issue. Audubon does get very involved, but the trick is, we all have areas of expertise in which our efforts are most effective. Audubon has sent people to Washington, taught them how to lobby effectively, and scheduled visits with their representatives. Every year, Journey North, an online learning site teaching children and adults about migration, has a big unit about population. (I write for JN, which is why I know they do this.) But really, how can ABC affect world population, except by supporting or at least not undermining the work of groups more effectively working on the situation? The one factor in getting ANY country's population growth under any control at all is ensuring that women have reproductive rights and access to birth control. When our own country is taking steps backward on that front, it's pretty hard for a small organization like ABA or ABC to do much at all about that. But yes, supporting efforts to control human population growth is critical for the future of birds, and also for everything and everyone else on this little planet.
Absolutely nothing is wrong with change. But publishing an updated AOU Checklist every single year seems arbitrary, especially at at time when so many changes are so quickly reversed, such as where the vultures are placed.
I think "intuition" as Steve used it implies being more informed than "what your gut tells you" seems to. He was hardly "railing against changes." Taxonomy is an inexact science. Conclusions are always changing, based on what specific morphological, physiological, behavioral, acoustic, and genetic data one is drawing those conclusions on. The AOU has kept up with new ideas in taxonomy, but producing a new Checklist every single year can seem counter-productive, especially since DNA-based taxonomy is developing so rapidly. It's important for those of us interested in taxonomy to keep up with current assessments of whether, say, vultures are more closely allied with storks or with diurnal raptors. But to constrain complex and on-going research into absolutes in checklist form every year, even as other researchers are reaching different conclusions, seems counter-productive. I've attended a few ornithological meetings, but I've shied away from taxonomy sessions since the first meeting I went to. After one scientist presented his paper, another taxonomist said during the Q&A, "You must have put that together during that messy divorce. You clearly were not thinking straight." When different scientists, using different kinds of data, reach different conclusions, emotions and ad hominems start taking over reasoned discussion. I hope that doesn't happen here.
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Laura Erickson finishes her trilogy on her attempt to stop the construction of a massive communications tower, and offers some thoughts on what ABA members can do to help birds. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2013 at ABA Blog
On or about October 4, 1987, I learned that my area’s “Baby Bell” telecommunications company, U.S. West, was proposing to build a 300-foot guyed, lighted cell phone tower on Moose Mountain, a hill over which a great many raptors and songbirds fly just before reaching Hawk Ridge, in Duluth, Minnesota.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2012 at ABA Blog
In 1988 and 1989, I fought against construction of what was to be a 300-foot, guyed, lighted cell-phone tower in view of and directly along the path of Duluth’s hawk and songbird migration flyway. This was six years before the American Bird Conservancy started, when cell phone technology was new,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2012 at ABA Blog
But like you said, a single unneutered male can impregnate any unspayed females he may encounter, and unneutered males are the ones who are involved in most of the fights outdoors.
Toggle Commented Mar 27, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
Bravo! Thanks for the information and the additional links, too.
Toggle Commented Mar 27, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
Excellent and very thoughtful post, Steve!
Toggle Commented Mar 26, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
Some farmers (not large-scale operations) are setting up Barn Owl and screech-owl nest boxes to help control rodents. A much wiser solution in many ways. The trick with so very many of these issues is how entrenched they are in our culture. It takes a major effort at education to get people to even acknowledge the problem, much less consider possible solutions. The TNR people have huge resources from various foundations and humane societies filled with well-meaning people who quite justifiably hate violence and cruelty toward cats, but don't see the validity of a bird's existence or its capacity to feel pain, much less the larger issue of natural populations at risk from cats. I was a licensed rehabber long enough to know how widespread the problem is. I've dearly loved cats and grieved when they died. But I've also held in my hands chickadees, Evening Grosbeaks, and other beautiful birds as the light was extinguished in their eyes. EVERY cat in the wild is a human-imposed problem to birds. But how to get humans to see that--sometimes it feels hopeless.
Toggle Commented Mar 25, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
Climate change may be part of it, but their numbers throughout Canada have dropped significantly, too, and much more rapidly than those of other plants and animals impacted by warming. I think climate issues for Evening Grosbeaks are more long-term, related to the possible recoveries of their numbers, than impacting what the numbers are right now. But yes, it's just one more of several things that may have contributed to this devastating decline.
Toggle Commented Mar 25, 2012 on What is happening to Evening Grosbeaks? at ABA Blog
Farm cats are implicated in the losses of meadowlarks, bobolinks, and other birds, though pesticides and dramatic changes in how large farms manage their fencerows and mowing compound and complicate the issue.
Toggle Commented Mar 25, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
Back in the '80s, a single cat in my neighborhood killed something like 18 or 20 Yellow-rumped Warblers in a single day, during a migration fall-out. I picked up the little bodies and piled them up on the cat owner's porch with a note saying if I found the cat outdoors ever again, it was headed for the animal shelter. That was one of my breaking points regarding cats outdoors.
Toggle Commented Mar 25, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
I completely agree, Ann. These ridiculous on-line voting popularity contests to determine funding of projects are nothing more than PR for the sponsoring corporation--they generate a whole lot of free publicity to determine who gets the amount of money they were going to donate anyway. Corporate foundations used to actually research the organizations they gave grants to, and often picked the most worthy, something that isn't part of this ridiculous new system.
Toggle Commented Mar 25, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
I must add, though, that when neighbors trap cats that are on their own property, this is not just within their rights, but a reasonable thing to do when those cats are causing problems. Cats that toy with birds are the ones most likely to carry toxoplasmosis in their feces, and outdoor cats use children's sandboxes and well-tilled garden soil as their preferred places to deposit those feces. Babies, small children, and the elderly are extremely prone to serious health issues after exposure to toxoplasmosis. In my city, Duluth, Minnesota, we have a cat leash ordinance which was approved by our city council not because they really cared about the bird population but because our county health department testified so strenuously about the problems outdoor cats pose to human health.
Toggle Commented Mar 24, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
Every cat I've ever had was brought in as a bird-killing stray. One of my two cats right now was from a TNR program, and was feeding on birds in my daughter's back yard in Ohio. This past fall I spent a LOT of money bringing in and getting veterinarian care for a stray cat that had been eating birds at my mother-in-laws, and spent weeks searching out a home for him, and driving 1200 miles round trip to bring him to a new home. Obviously, I love cats. And I will never, ever own a gun. But I'd rather see an outdoor cat euthanized, by shotgun if necessary, than that it kill a single wild, native bird. There. That's my stand on the issue.
Toggle Commented Mar 24, 2012 on The Cat-Bird Conflict at ABA Blog
The article Ted links to is based on a study of Project FeederWatch. That's really valuable, but the data analysis is limited to two recent periods rather than the longer view afforded by the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey. Either way, we just don't have enough data to figure out whether the species really does have huge cyclic population swings or not. This is important, because there is always a huge push to keep any species from getting protection as a threatened or endangered species, and the obvious argument opponents would latch onto is that the Evening Grosbeak's population can't be shown to have declined lower than before the big surge in the 60s. I'm hoping we could figure out a way of establishing what their numbers were historically, but it's going to be very tricky. I think the precipitous decline makes the bird worthy of special research and protection, but the Sage Grouse declined just as dramatically between the 60s and the 80s, has never rebounded, and they're still not getting the level of protection they have been proven to need. So I'm not hopeful of any real concerted effort on behalf of Evening Grosbeaks. I like that the article considered climate change as one of the issues, but I don't think anyone has established any current effects from it.
Toggle Commented Mar 23, 2012 on What is happening to Evening Grosbeaks? at ABA Blog
I think iPod sound use has two different components for other birders. 1) Some are irritated when someone nearby is playing the sound, taking them out of the moment. But maybe worse is 2) Someone not quite so nearby doesn't even know someone is playing an iPod and thinks they're actually hearing a cool bird.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2012 on iEtiquette at ABA Blog
And depending on the corporation selling the seed, bird feed can be dangerous for birds' health. (See the news stories and GrrlScientist's excellent discussion of Scotts Miracle-Gro company selling bird seed laced with bird-killing pesticides this week, linked on my personal blog.) I think the joys of bird feeding (when we can be sure our offerings are healthful) are important and time-honored. Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau both engaged in it, and Wisconsin studies have shown that chickadees are more likely to survive severe winters where bird feeders are available. Really, though, getting into issues like this in the depth they deserve is pretty hard in a comments section. I suspect that the extraordinary evenhandedness in Diana's article explains why there haven't been more comments. I posted a link to the story on facebook, and the only comments other than "great article" were about my own parenthetical comment that I don't approve of using "dialog" as a verb.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2012 on iEtiquette at ABA Blog
To be fair, you did indeed mention fish oil in the article. I just wanted to point out that some chumming is worse than other chumming. Of course, some people think feeding birds itself is automatically a bad thing, so that can go either way.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2012 on iEtiquette at ABA Blog
This was an extraordinarily well-balanced article. But I disagree with one point: She claims that chumming for tubenoses is one of "these human interventions [that] have the same effect: They interrupt bird activity and draw the birds closer, causing them to expend unproductive energy." Chumming for gulls and seabirds does indeed draw the birds closer, but if the activity they were engaged in was searching for food, and if the food provided is reasonably healthy fare, I don't see how the interaction falls into the same category as playback.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2012 on iEtiquette at ABA Blog
Yes. When we moved here in 1981, we had Tree Swallows, Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow Warblers, a pair of Ovenbirds, and Brown Thrashers nesting in my yard or adjacent ones (there's a small tract of woods right behind my yard). Those have vanished. But we have a few pairs of Mourning Doves nesting here.
Toggle Commented Mar 21, 2012 on What is happening to Evening Grosbeaks? at ABA Blog
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Evening Grosbeak feeding on box elder seeds. In the summer of 1981, when my husband and I moved into our house in Duluth, Minnesota, Evening Grosbeaks instantly became woven into the fabric of my daily life. They were the first birds I heard calling in the trees as we lugged... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2012 at ABA Blog
I agree with much of what you said, and deal with people much as you recommend. The trick is that many of the people being photographed and videotaped getting too close to Snowy Owls already know that this behavior is frowned upon by many birders, and know that their approaching is somewhere on the continuum of being a minor irritant to a major stressor for the bird. And again, I think it's exaggerating things to think that everyone flushes "many" birds while taking a picture of a bird. I simply cannot be the only birder/photographer who is very conscious of the birds in my surroundings as I focus on one particular one. As I said, I've often walked or stood in place while several birds continued to sing on the same perch they were on when I arrived. That is something I aspire to do--to enter and leave an area while minimizing my impact on the activities on all the local birds. Obviously I've flushed birds, but part of ethical and moral codes does involve sincere effort and mindfulness.
Toggle Commented Feb 14, 2012 on We Love The Jerk? at ABA Blog
The role of play is very important in all higher animals, including humans. But play plays a more pivotal role in survival of wild animals than it does for the humans of today--indeed, a lot of young people have squandered away opportunities for careers by being too consumed with video or role-playing games. And a lot of desert, dunes, and other habitat has been destroyed by people on off-road vehicles and other such play. Every moral and ethical code has its underpinnings in that "recent veneer" imposed by human societies. Thus, any discussion imposing moral or ethical values on animals makes no sense to me.
Toggle Commented Feb 14, 2012 on We Love The Jerk? at ABA Blog