Monday, March 31, 2008

Greater White-fronted Goose on the increase

As discussed on the Wisconsin Birding List this week, the Greater White-fronted Goose is most definitely on the increase. See the graphic above, which represents birds-per-party-hour for CBC records for this species over the past 30 years. White-fronts, like Snow Geese and Ross's Geese are sometimes collectively described as "light geese", and they all have been increasing due to a number of factors: increasing winter temperatures, good feeding conditions in the southern Great Plains and Gulf states due to changes in agricultural practices, increased number of refuges compared with a half-century ago --- all of which create the conditions for better over-winter survival. In turn, when birds in better body condition arrive on a warming low Arctic tundra habitat, they over-eat the vegetation there, and are in fact damaging their habitat due to their increasing numbers. Damage to their breeding grounds is in some cases so severe it can be seen from satellite images.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

more on lead and effects on birds

Lead bullet fragments found in the carcasses of lost game continue to threaten wildlife and humans - read more about this at the American Bird Conservancy site, here.

"Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?"

"Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?

March 30, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor - the New York Times


Woodbridge, Ontario

THOUGH a consumer may not be able to tell the difference, a striking red and blue Thomas the Tank Engine made in Wisconsin is not the same as one manufactured in China — the paint on the Chinese twin may contain dangerous levels of lead. In the same way, a plump red tomato from
Florida is often not the same as one grown in Mexico. The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in the United States.

In this case, the victims are North American songbirds. Bobolinks, called skunk blackbirds in some places, were once a common sight in the Eastern United States. In mating season, the male in his handsome tuxedo-like suit sings deliriously as he whirrs madly over the hayfields. Bobolink numbers have plummeted almost 50 percent in the last four decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The birds are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, captured bobolinks feeding in rice fields in Bolivia and took samples of their blood to test for pesticide exposure. She found
that about half of the birds had drastically reduced levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects brain and nerve cells — a sign of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by
the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous

In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson’s hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that
researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental
Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in
their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families.

What should you put on your bird-friendly grocery list? Organic coffee, for one thing. Most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields heavily treated with fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. In contrast, traditional small coffee farmers grow their beans under a canopy of tropical trees, which provide shade and essential nitrogen, and fertilize their soil naturally with leaf litter. Their organic, fair-trade coffee is now available in many coffee shops and supermarkets, and it is recommended by the Audubon Society, the American
Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Organic bananas should also be on your list. Bananas are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop. Although bananas present little risk of pesticide ingestion to the consumer, the environment where they are grown is heavily contaminated.

When it comes to nontraditional Latin American crops like melons, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries, it can be difficult to find any that are organically grown. We should buy these foods only if they are not imported from Latin America.

Now that spring is here, we take it for granted that the birds’ cheerful songs will fill the air when our apple trees blossom. But each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we ensure that fewer and fewer songbirds will return."

Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University in Toronto, is the author of “Silence of the Songbirds.”

Saturday, March 29, 2008

presentations from the Ass'n. of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conference - climate change & wildlife; more news

At the most recent (conference of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a series of excellent presentations were given on climate change and its effects on fish and wildlife. See the PowerPoint presentations online at this link.


The loss of CRP lands in North Dakota in 2007 was beyond expectations. The increase in acreage of land newly converted to crops was "astounding" - and this accompanies a prediction of more losses of CRP land, and consequently a negative effect for wildlife. See more at the Ducks Unlimited site, here.


Recent news from BirdLife International is here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

stop the clock on species extinction

Go to the Conservation International website to sign an online petition on preventing species extinction. The "Stop the Clock" page is here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What to do when you find a banded bird

You can now obtain information about a banded bird by submitting the information found on the band electronically to the Bird Banding Laboratory.

"We are pleased to announce that we are now providing basic banding information on the bird you are reporting, including the State or Province where the bird was banded, the date it was banded, and the species. Although 90% of band numbers will return data, in some cases, no information will be available. There are three possible reasons: 1. Due to limited space, we are only storing the last twenty years of data. 2. The band you have encountered was not yet reported by the bander. We will notify the bander of your encounter. 3. There is an error in reading or entering the band number."

For more information, go to the BBL website reporting page.

conservation and related news

Canadian forestry company challenges constitutionality of bird protection law

"New Brunswick forestry giant J.D. Irving Ltd. is
challenging Canada's laws protecting migratory birds at a time when
experts warn that some bird populations are in free fall.

Arguments began Tuesday in New Brunswick provincial court on an application by Irving to have the Migratory Birds Convention Act declared unconstitutional.

The company filed the application after it was charged under the federal act as a result of the destruction of several great blue heron nests during a logging operation in Cambridge Narrows, N.B., in 2006.

Irving has pleaded not guilty to the charge, but in advance of the trial, it introduced a motion challenging the constitutionality of the act, which has been on the books since 1917.

Irving is claiming that the Migratory Birds Act violates the Charter of Rights.

"As well, we say it is unconstitutional because it really is provincial jurisdiction, not federal jurisdiction," said Irving lawyer Christopher Wayland of Toronto.

Prosecution witness Steve Wendt, a former director with the Canadian Wildlife Service, told court that protection of migratory birds is just as important now as it was 90 years ago, when the convention was enacted by the United States and Britain, on behalf of Canada.

"When the migratory bird convention came into being, people had observed several extinctions," Wendt told the court, using the disappearance of the passenger pigeon as an example.

"There was a lot of concern then and we have similar concerns now."

Wendt says a number of migratory birds, including such insect-eating species as the common nighthawk and the swallow, are vanishing from the Canadian landscape, making the protection of remaining habitat critical.

The Audubon Society recently published a list of songbirds that are disappearing at alarming rates from North America, including such once-common species as the evening grosbeak and the field sparrow.

"All naturalists know the history of what happened to migratory birds at the turn of the century, when there was unlimited hunting and taking of birds, and the federal law effectively helped bring back some species," said Roland Chiasson of Nature New Brunswick, who attended court
proceedings in Burton.

"If this act is struck down, what is going to happen the day after? That really concerns us. This law has worked."

Albert Koehl, a lawyer with Ecojustice, formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, said forestry companies across Canada are closely watching the Irving case.

He said logging companies are worried the charge against Irving may signal a change in policy at Environment Canada, which has largely left the forestry industry alone when it comes to enforcing bird protection.

"What's new is that a logging company was actually charged with not complying with the Migratory Birds Convention Act," Koehl said.

"We know logging companies are worried about the provisions because the provisions are clear - you cannot destroy a migratory bird nest. But the federal government has not been taking action against logging companies."

Koehl said environmentalists want the federal government to do more to protect birds and their habitat.

Environment Canada's wildlife enforcement division has accused the Irving company and one of its foremen of cutting a logging road through a great blue heron nesting site in the Cambridge Narrows area, destroying at least six nests and disturbing several others.

Herons are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Violating the act carries severe penalties, including fines of up to $1 million, three years in prison or both.

Arguments are expected to continue until later in the week."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

conservation news & activism

If you want to do something that could REALLY help bird populations in the boreal forest, see this link to join a campaign working to eliminate and limit junk mail.

On a related note, this pdf explains the benefits of recycled paper. Far too much virgin forest is cut each year when recycled paper could fill many paper needs. These trees come from parts of the boreal forest where many of our songbird species' populations are concentrated.


A new mosquito policy may help cut back on pesticide use in the National Wildlife Refuges. See information here.


Four California Condors were due to be released yesterday in the Vermilion Cliffs Monument in northern AZ. Read more about it here.


The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has an excellent page detailing the effects of climate change on birds. These same factors influence North American species, so it's a great summarization of key topics. See it here.


News from the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network is here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

some news, conservation and otherwise


"The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Field Station conducts a series of Natural History Workshops. These workshops offer an opportunity to study focused topics at college-level instruction under the guidance of noted authorities. Most workshops present two full days of instruction, and housing and meals are available at the Station. Enrollment is limited to
20, the atmosphere is informal and instruction is individualized. Workshops may also be taken for graduate or undergraduate credit by enrolling in UWM, Topics in Field Biology. Fees vary. Please contact the Field Station for more information and a registration form, or visit the website at for full descriptions of each course, fee information, and a downloadable Registration Form. The 2008 workshop schedule includes seven courses:

Field Herpetology: Identification of Wisconsin Amphibians and Reptiles
Instructor: Dr. Josh Kapfer
May 30 & 31 (Friday & Saturday), June 1 (Sunday) optional

Vegetation of Wisconsin
Instructors: Dr. James Reinartz and Marc White
June 9-14 (Monday-Saturday)

Sedges: Identification and Ecology
Instructor: Dr. Anton Reznicek
June 20 & 21 (Fri-Sat)

Ecological Geology
Instructor: Dr. Roger Kuhns
July 7-11 (Monday-Friday)

Fishes of Wisconsin: Identification and Ecology
Instructor: Dr. Michael Pauers
July 18 & 19 (Friday & Saturday)

Common and Nuisance Algae
Instructor: Dr. Craig Sandgren
July 25 & 26 (Friday & Saturday)

Wetland Delineation
Instructor: Dr. Don Reed
Sept. 12 & 13 (Friday & Saturday)

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Field Station
3095 Blue Goose Rd.
Saukville, WI 53080
Phone: 262 675-6844
Fax: 262 675-0337


Recent posts about birds and climate change can be found at the blog by that name, here.


What's Laura Erickson up to, lately? Find out, here

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Last weekend, the Milwaukee County Avian Migration Monitoring Partnership (MCAMMP) held its annual volunteer workshop at Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center. MCAMMP is at the start of its third year of operation. To learn more about our objectives, our partners, and the work done by our volunteers and college interns, go to the MCAMMP webpage. If you live in southeastern Wisconsin, and would like to participate or simply ask questions about the project, go the webpage to find contact information for members of the research team. In about six weeks, the new field season will begin. Over 120 volunteers and interns have participated thus far.

Friday, March 7, 2008

winter is wearing on me


Don't get me wrong; I actually like winter. But this winter is getting to be a bit much. Like many people I've talked with lately, I'm looking forward to some signs of spring. So, these leaves will have to do for now (Witch hazel; Hamamelis virginiana).

Monday, March 3, 2008

more bird conservation-related news

Common insectivorous birds face major declines

See this link for information on declines of Purple Martin, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, etc. in Canada.

Bill Passed to Halt Illegal Logging

In December 2007, an amendment was successfully attached to the Senate Farm Bill to stem the rise of illegal logging around the world. The provision adds plants harvested or taken illegally in areas outside the United States to the list of items prohibited by the Lacey Act, a 1900 law barring trade in illegally taken fish and wildlife. To comply with the Lacey Act, companies will have to demonstrate they “took due care” to ensure they are not using illegally harvested timber species imported into the United States. The Senate Farm Bill’s expansion of the Lacey Act establishes a legal structure to prosecute parties who import and trade wood found in violation of other countries’ forest laws.
Much of the world’s illegal logging occurs in countries such as Burma, Indonesia, Peru, Brazil, Russia, and Papua New Guinea, but the raw materials are often processed and manufactured into finished products in China, where they enter the marketplace. In Peru, illegal cutting of mahogany in the Amazon region often takes place in protected areas using cut-and-run logging practices that cause severe damage to forests and wildlife. Species such as the Harpy Eagle, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Great Potoo, Pavonine Quetzal, and Paradise Tanager are being threatened.
Expanding the Lacey Act to help address the issue of illegal timber imports has garnered the support of the Administration and industry, who have said existing laws are insufficient to stop the problem and prosecute offenders. In testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee, the American Forest & Paper Association estimated illegally harvested wood products cost U.S. companies about $460 million annually, and suppress wood prices between 7-16%. In late December, the United States and China discussed illegal logging at a trade summit to determine how the two countries can better coordinate their customs and police officials to prevent this illegal activity. Contact Darin Schroeder, ABC,

Debate Rages Over Last Roadless National Forests
The Forest Service is initiating rulemakings to weaken protection of roadless areas in the National Forests of Idaho and Colorado. National Forests contain much of the undeveloped or roadless forest left in the United States, and provide habitat for one-quarter of all U.S. threatened and endangered species.The Idaho proposal would open up 6 million of the state’s 8.7 million acres of National Forest roadless areas to development, which could negatively impact Northern Goshawk and Flammulated Owl. The Colorado plan eliminates protection for 300,000 roadless acres, and opens the door to old growth logging and extensive energy developments on the state’s remaining 4.1 million roadless acres.
These plans stem from an Administration policy of allowing state governments to petition for creation of new management plans for roadless areas on National Forests in that state. The Administration’s approach ignores strong scientific backing and public support for the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001, a national policy protecting all National Forest roadless areas, precipitated by the ongoing loss of roadless lands to development. The 2001 Roadless Rule is still the subject of court battles.
Meanwhile, legislation to codify the 2001 Rule and permanently protect National Forest roadless areas has garnered 148 cosponsors in the House and 19 in the Senate. The Forest Service is currently planning logging and mining projects that would impact roadless areas in Alaska, Idaho, and Wyoming.
For maps of all roadless areas in the lower 48 states, see or

David Sibley editorial on "Green Buildings" from the Bird Conservation Alliance newletter

GUEST EDITORIAL - David Sibley: “Green Buildings” Should Save Energy and Migratory Birds

It becomes clearer every day that relatively small changes to building designs can be good for the environment and for the bottom line. The Greenbuild International Conference and Expo recently brought the revolution of “green buildings” to Chicago. The gathering of 18,000 industry experts hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council is another indication of the growing environmental movement within the architectural and construction constituencies. One thing that is largely missing from the green building debate, however, is the impact that buildings can have on migratory birds. Most home owners have experienced the shock of a bird colliding with their living room window at one point or another. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 900 million birds are killed each year when they collide with glass windows on homes, offices, and other buildings across the country. Many of these birds are killed immediately in collisions with the building structures. Others fall to the ground where they subsequently succumb to their injuries, or are too weak or dazed to escape gulls, cats, and other predators. The cumulative toll of these collisions on birds is significant, and when combined with habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and a host of other human-induced threats, they can exacerbate population declines already being experienced by many migratory songbirds.

There are three critical problems at play in bird/building collisions that can be addressed by architects and building managers. Firstly, birds often see vegetation or sky reflected in windows, and simply try to fly through the glass. In other cases, birds can see right through a building and try to fly through one window into the habitat they can see on the other side. Thirdly, while migrating at night, birds can become confused by the nighttime illuminations on buildings, and can crash into the structures, or get caught in “death spirals”, unable to escape the pull of the lights.This bird mortality has not escaped the notice of birders, and local “Lights Out” campaigns are starting to catch on in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Toronto, where large, illuminated buildings attract migrating birds that are especially concentrated along shorelines. Many thousands of birds have already been saved as a result. A study in 2000 and 2001 by ornithologist Mary Hennen and other researchers from the Field Museum of Chicago found that turning off lights during migration season reduced bird deaths by 83%.Building owners and managers also save money, and contribute to energy conservation at the same time. It’s a win-win-win for the environment.

Design can make a huge difference too. For example, as reported in The New York Times on September 22, the Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution Center recently retrofitted 440 decorative, reflective glass panels with black vinyl to prevent the reflection of trees in Chelsea Park. The vinyl appears to have virtually eliminated bird collisions there. The New York Times’ own headquarters building is also a model for bird safe construction, using ceramic tubing to reduce the reflective properties of the building exterior.

Ultimately, the development of affordable glass that has a less reflective exterior surface could be the best long-term solution to the problem. Already, bird conservation organizations, as well as architects, planners, scientists, and glass engineers are working under the banner of the Bird-Safe Glass Working Group to promote the use of bird-safe glass products already available on the market, and to develop even more effective products in the future.

American Bird Conservancy is taking a national approach to preventing collisions, and aims to encourage “green building” designers to incorporate bird-safe designs. The New York Audubon Society has published a booklet, Bird-Safe Building Guidelines (, addressing new building construction as well as the retrofitting of old buildings to be bird safe. Other groups, such as the Bird Conservation Network ( and Fatal Light Awareness Program (, are at work on efforts in Chicago and Toronto.

Ultimately, everyone from homeowners and office workers, to builders, architects, and city and building managers, has a stake and can make a difference in this issue. To my mind though, the only truly green building is one that is designed to reduce energy consumption and protect neighboring wildlife such as migratory birds.

David Sibley is the author of the Sibley Guide to Birds and Sibley’s Birding Basics.