Birds – The Gateway Drug to Conservation

February 10, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

I spend a lot of time around birds, feeding them, researching them, traveling to see them, photographing them, writing and talking about them, and - when needed – getting injured or orphaned birds the help they need. I do this because I love doing it. I also do it because birds are a gateway to inspiring awareness, conservation, and protection of the habitats they need to survive. Conserving and protecting habitats that birds need also helps our species survive and thrive. Though birds can’t save us from ourselves, they can help.


When I’m out with my camera and binoculars, I regularly get powerful reminders of the conservation and protection work that so many have done and continue today. Whether it’s seeing waterfowl in a desert wetland or multiple pairs of successfully breeding bald eagles living along the shoreline of one of America’s -- former -- most polluted Great Lakes (Lake Erie).  


So many people naturally love or are intrigued by birds. Something I saw recently was another powerful reminder of how birds are truly a gateway to conservation. Across social media, I follow other photographers -- professionals, amateurs, and hobbyists alike. I also follow wildlife groups and bird groups. A photographer member of a Facebook group dedicated to photography from Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware recently posted a photograph he took of a banded Greater Snow Goose. Bird banding is a conservation tool that allows those with the proper permits to uniquely mark birds with specially issued bands. That way scientists and other interested parties can track individual birds over time learning about their movements, locations, and longevity.


This photographer did what everyone should do if they have a photo of a banded bird -- he reported it to the federal government’s bird banding laboratory. He got back a certificate with the details on when and where the Goose was banded, which is normally what happens when a band with sufficient and accurate information is reported. When I looked further into the information on his certificate, I learned that the Snow Goose was a female and she traveled over 2,300 hundred miles to Bombay Hook from the location she was banded. The Goose was banded in a high Artic Region of Canada and, likely, migrated along the Atlantic Flyway with a large flock of her fellow Snow Geese.  She may have made that trip a few times, because she was banded in 2019 as a young goose.


Besides being a jaw-dropping adventure completed by a 6-ish pound Greater Snow Goose, what’s the link to conservation?  Migrating birds like geese can travel very far distances in a single day. For example, Canada Geese can fly 1,500 miles in one day. However, all that flying requires a layover to rest and feed. Layover spots are often called a “stopover” in the bird world.  Stopovers along bird migration routes must be able to provide safe, protective, and healthy habitat for, sometimes, huge flocks of traveling birds. Birds like migrating Snow Geese, and others traveling along the Atlantic Flyway, have several choice habitats set aside and conserved for just these kinds of purposes. Some of these include Cape Cod National Seashore, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague Island National Seashore, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and others in the northern and southern Atlantic Flyway region. These places are vital for migratory bird survival and health – most birds simply would not survive their epic migrations without them. These undeveloped, protected and natural places also contribute to healthier habitats for us. Though birds can’t save us from ourselves, they can help.


If you spot a banded bird, whether dead or alive, from a safe and respectful distance, get the clearest photo you can of the numbers imprinted on the band and report it.  Read my other blogs about the banded bird I found and participating in a bird banding workshop.



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