Previous Bird Watch and Wonder Newsletters
This November issue of RCC Bird Watch and Wonder comes to you at Thanksgiving. That’s why it reflects thankfulness, gratitude, even celebration, that birds connect us to the wonders and beauty of life – even in these dark times for us humans.
We protect what we love, so we start off with twelve key ways to protect birds, including a few surprises, along with Ross Feldner’s joyous explanation and celebration of the awe and mystery of bird migration including, of course, more tips on how to help and protect our weary friends on their amazing and often dangerous journeys.
Then join Bryan Pfeiffer and his Chasing Nature blog to admire those hardy seabirds that manage to live happily along the cold and rocky shores of Maine. His stunning photo of the beautifully bedecked Harlequin Duck is just the beginning…
Like migrating fall birds, what we know about birds, birding, and those who care about such things is ever changing, always new. In this October issue of RCC Bird Watch and Wonder, for example, we welcome Andy Wood and his public media series CoastLine with a look at the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and its connection to longleaf pine. Among other things, Andy also leads Cape Fear Riverboat cruises sponsored by the Southern Forests Conservation Coalition (SFCC) and the Rachel Carson Council to learn about the effects on the ecology of the Cape Fear watershed of clear cutting North Carolina forests to manufacture wood pellets.
You’ll also find how birding continues to burgeon with new and more diverse folks attracted to bird watching, as well as how the spread of social media and apps for rare bird alerts can learn to mob scenes when a rarity like a Mourning Warbler hits New York’s Central Park. Birders also increasingly defy the prim stereotypes that used to fill New Yorker cartoons. Take Bryan Pfeiffer, for example, who, in his blog, Chasing Nature, offers a humorous and loving look at the marvels of sea gulls – including when they barf.
Fall is the season of migration – crisp air, confusing warblers, the gr-ronk of geese, shorebirds starting sensationally long journeys. But Emily Anthes reports that migrating birds are in decline and face increasing obstacles. But for birders, our disrupted seasons, wildfires and smoke, hurricanes, flooding, and other effects of global climate change offer some delights, even as we worry and work to save the planet.
One of my favorites is the increasing sightings of wandering flocks of flamingos which are rarely seen in the U.S., even in Florida. Now they have been spotted all along the East Coast, including North Carolina from where I have just returned. And my native New York City, long a rich visiting spot for birds and people, has growing numbers of unusual and rare species these days. How about a Brown Booby at Coney Island? Or Brown Pelicans on Long Island?
This July issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder is a love fest for birds. The loving interaction between species – between us humans and our feathered friends – gives me hope even as birds across the United States (and the world) continue to be threatened by manmade structures, products, poisons, dwindling habitats thanks to relentless development, and, of course, human-induced climate change that has now made our planet hotter than it has been in at least 125,000 years. You and I need to act, and quickly.
Rachel Carson and many other naturalists, ecologists, writers have believed that we are less likely to harm or kill what we love. That’s why my review of Jennifer Ackerman’s masterful, new narrative, What An Owl Knows, is called a love story. It is why Meena Miriam Yust’s look at how the oil-drilling Willow Project in Alaska threatens what she calls a “honeymoon haven” for 600,000 shorebirds who migrate to this “Paris of the avian world.”
As summer approaches, the outdoors beckons. Our pace slows. June is the ideal time to sit with a good book (and accompanying libation) whether in the backyard, on the beach, or on a cool mountain lake. When you do settle back, wherever you are, birds will begin to appear around you and, if you are very still, right next to you. That’s when you will begin to feel some indescribable sense of well-being, of tiny smiles, of rich contentment.
Yes. There is science to show that being with and watching the birds is actually good for your health. It produces those elusive states of peace, even joy. As you’ll see in this June issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder, RCC’s Ross Feldner’s feature, “The Joy of Birding,” recounts the evidence from Scientific Reports and elsewhere that bird watching, or merely listening to birds, can lead to a myriad of health benefits – including long-lasting stress relief.
Birds are on the move! May is peak migration month and in this issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder, we highlight movement in the avian world. Key bird species continue a decline that is an indicator of wider trouble. The whimbrel, that shorebird with the long, curved bill that was celebrated in Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind, is suffering a global decline. But these remarkably resilient birds are able to seek out new habitats and thrive in local ecosystems, as in South Carolina, where Scott Weidensaul reports that 20,000 whimbrels have found refuge on a small sandy island.
Other species, like the fabled Peregrine Falcon, were brought back from the brink of disaster by the efforts of Rachel Carson and her friend and colleague Shirley Briggs, the first head of the Rachel Carson Council, who worked to ban DDT. Today, the peregrine continues to rebound. It can even be watched tending the chicks at its nest atop the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where in our April issue you were able to watch them as eggs being laid
Birds know more than we think. This month, a Peregrine Falcon laid her fourth egg on the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Pittsburgh. She clearly was thanking Rachel Carson for saving her ancestors by exposing the dangers of DDT. Carson reached huge audiences with Silent Spring, but back when she was writing it, bird watching was definitely confined to a small, educated, White, somewhat nerdy group of naturalists, ornithologists, and people in odd shoes and hats who could pass for eccentric scientists.
Now birding is cool. Rappers, fashionistas, millennials, are all heading outdoors with binoculars (and apps). In this April issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder, read just how birding became cool and what it is like for today’s young moderns to discover its joys
March is the start of spring bird migration and Women’s History Month. So, for bird beginners, we offer a free RCC Binoculars Basics PDF on how best to pick the right binoculars before you head out to peer into the trees and bushes. And for women’s history, we introduce you to Florence Merriam Bailey. She actually started the huge birdwatching craze with her 1889 book, Birds Through An Opera-Glass, the first real field guide to birds and binoculars.
And, despite the continuing decline and dangers for many bird species throughout the United States, there is much positive news to report this month as our fellow humans seek to protect, preserve, and understand the needs of our avian friends. There is, for instance, the amazing new bird habitat at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., a not-to-be-missed opportunity for bird lovers and tourists to look up close at birds in the natural habitats like a simulated coffee plantation.
It is officially winter, and the weather outside is frightful. Thanks to global climate change, it is disrupted and changeable, ranging from frigid and snowbound, to abnormally warm and early springlike.
But either way, birds are on the move and beginning to migrate. So, in this February issue of RCC Bird Watch and Wonder, we look at how birds survive the winter, what we can learn from their migration, and the amazing and amusing food hoarding methods of the fabled Acorn Woodpecker discovered during routine pest control at a house in Santa Rosa, California.
But birds are doing more than just moving around. They are escaping from aviaries like Flaco, the Eurasian Eagle-Owl, now evading capture in Central Park. Or, they are moving in, like a Spotted Owl who has decided to attend Agnes Scott College and, being wise, hangs out in the rafters of the library.
Perhaps the biggest recent bird story in this January issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder is about renewed reports of sightings of the legendary and long-thought extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Steve Latta of the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and others who say they have seen the “Lord God Bird” in the remote, swampy woods of Louisiana are trying to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove it from the list of extinct birds. They hope naming the Ivory-billed as a living, endangered bird will help protect and prevent the development and degradation of its habitat in hard-to-access woods.
But remote Louisiana woods are not the only places for birders that can be inaccessible. Check out Tara Lohan’s report, “Birding for All,” on the birder and accessibility champion, Freya McGregor, who watches birds from her wheelchair. McGregor is a consultant to refuges, parks, and other birding spots to help them make even simple changes like low guardrails that allow for good viewing while seated, ramps, benches, and accessible boardwalks. McGregor also helped, with the Audubon Society, to create the Birdability Map. It lets you check out in advance the accessibility of birding sites nationwide.
As much of the country bundles up for winter, the birding gets easier, whether indoors or out. That’s right. Indoor birding! In this December issue of Bird Watch and Wonder, we are rolling out a new RCC feature, “American Live Bird Cams” with our selections from Ross Feldner — our bird, photography, and computer maven — of the best bird cams around the nation. Whenever you need to be, or want to be, inside, you can bird watch without binoculars and with your favorite brew.
Of course, winter birding outside has its own joys, from the Christmas count, to finding Artic birds along the coast, to seeing backyard and woodland favorites through bare branches as easily as a Cooper’s Hawk snatching starlings from your feeder. And, as it turns out, studies now show that birding (outdoors) is actually good for you!
Perhaps November’s biggest surprise was the mid-term election that saw near record youth turnout and the best performance by a newly-elected President’s party (pro-environment and pro-bird Democrats) in an off-year since the days of JFK. A rare event!
Rare birding opportunities are also a feature of November which is known as “rarity season” since the opportunity during migration to see unusual birds when they are blown off course increases. Such potential lifers who have gotten off track may show up in your area, so keep a keen watch, making use of this cool period to get outside. Not only will you have fun, but birding, it turns out, is actually good for your mental health. Check out our “Action and Advocacy” section to find out just how birding benefits your mental health and get some tips on how to start!
That should help as you also review in “Action and Advocacy,” a new U.S. State of the Birds report. It details the declining populations of many bird species, and outlines what needs to be done to help. Part of the decline is related to climate change such as unprecedented droughts occurring throughout the country, particularly in Kansas, where bird migration is being hindered. You can learn more about it in the “Bird Ecology” section. Fortunately, many birds live for a very long time. Discover why birds can live such long lives and how they survive their tumultuous lifestyles in “Bird Findings.”
Welcome to the October edition of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder! This month, we have added a special section dedicated to Hurricane Ian and its impact on birds, as well as resources for those affected, or who want to help. Hurricane Ian has been the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935 and caused significant damage to Cuba and the eastern United States. During this environmental disaster, residents banded together to help save parrots from a sanctuary on Pine Island that had been cut off from all resources and aid. Volunteers stayed behind to ensure the safety of zoo animals, including an array of different bird species.
Climate change is also affecting bird songs, as you will see in our “Bird Findings” section. For more information on climate change and how it is affecting your favorite birds, also check out “Bird Lore” featuring an article written by RCC Presidential Fellow Maggie Dees. But there is good news as well. The Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act has been introduced in the House of Representative. If passed, it will aid in the conservation of over 300 neotropical bird species. The Clean Water Act is also turning 50 and, in celebration, the “Bird Ecology” section shows how it has benefited birds throughout its existence. As bird migration season continues, your can also track hawk migration and interact with bird migration in “Birds and our World.”
Then be sure to read the latest from bird raconteur Ross Feldner and his close encounters with Whooping Cranes. And, if you ever wondered what one of those old, fine-print vintage bird guides would have looked like had it been able to include colorful bird paintings, head to the end of our October issue of Bird Watch and Wonder. Then savor stunning works of art that highlight the beauty of birds.
September brings the beginning of fall, which means fall migration for birds is underway! To prepare for their lengthy travels, birds are stocking up on food, so make sure to leave plenty of bird seed and food out to attract and help them. You will also attract birds passing through by giving them a place to rest and fill up on food. Also, be careful when pruning your yard, because there could be new migratory birds using it for shelter while they rest. Some birds will also start molting in the fall, so enjoy their beautiful summer plumage before they become darker and more muted to blend in with the season.
n this edition of Bird Watch and Wonder, our birding maven, Ross Feldner, reflects on the beauty of hummingbirds in the “Bird Lore” section. Then, learn more about bird migration and how birds formed their routes in the “Bird Findings” section that also includes the incredible journey of the Bar-tailed godwit. This section also features a piece on how intensifying hurricane seasons are hurting birds, an incredibly important topic even as we see the devastating effects on humans of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico.
As you enjoy summer gardens, or your own plantings, keep in mind that like bees and butterflies, birds prefer certain plants over others. While you’re gardening, think about some new, unusual flowers, like bachelor buttons, to attract birds you’ve never seen in your neighborhood before. In this August issue of Bird Watch and Wonder, also check out all the tips we’ve provided on how to attract even more birds!
Birds need all the help we can give them these days since their overall populations continue mostly to decline. Even the iconic sounds of loons on lakes so loved by vacationers may be fading according to recent studies in this issue.
That’s why you’ll also find a number of action steps you can take in our “Action and Advocacy” section. Let your representatives know that birds and the ecosystems that support them, as well as an end to climate change, are absolutely critical issues for yo
Birds may be feeling scarce this July, but not to worry, they are just trying to escape the heat. In July birds are molting and no longer breeding, so they tend to sing less which is why you might not be hearing your usual bird choruses. Check out the “Bird Lore” section to get tips on how to bird in these conditions! Meanwhile, new advances are being made in bird conservation ranging from stopping pesticide use to birds being reintroduced to their natural habitats to studying bird poop!
Speaking of amazing birds! All of us have wondered how they do it when even big NFL players can’t. Learn more about how woodpeckers can pound their heads without causing brain damage in our “Bird Findings” section. And you’ll be even more in awe when you read Ross Feldner’s latest lively piece on the even more incredible feats of the indefatigable Acorn Woodpecker.
Summer has officially started. Along with a new season comes some exciting bird news. New legislation, such as the SHORRE Act and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (Click here to take action), is being introduced in the Senate as a promising step forward for bird conservation. Locally, awareness of the importance of bird habitat has been growing. In Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, even 4th of July fireworks have been postponed in order not to disturb the nests of endangered Piping plovers.
May is the month for big-time bird migration! As our avian aviators head north, they have at least one thing on their minds — breeding. Yes. Sex. As in “the birds and the bees.” Singing their heads off, marking territory, building and repairing nests, bringing bugs and worms to the kiddies — keeping their species going amidst a warming planet and shrinking habitat.
In this month’s RCC Bird Watch and Wonder, we document the decline of North American bird species and why it matters. But you and the birds deserve some good news, too. Among our favorite stories is the story of an adorable pair of Piping Plovers, Nish and Nellie. They are noodling and nesting in Ohio at Maumee Bay State Park where Piping Plovers have been absent for 83 years. These little birds who nest on beaches are beginning to rebound along our coasts thanks to concerted conservation efforts and the protections of the 1985 Endangered Species Act.
Welcome to the April edition of the Rachel Carson Council’s Bird Watch and Wonder. In the midst of spring migration, we are ready to share some of the most important, interesting, and sometimes distressing bird and birding stories from the last month. But, as the illegal and horrifying Russian invasion of Ukraine grinds on with its huge human toll, we also look, in a special section, at the effects of war on the environment, including a powerful original essay by Bob Musil. In the “Books” section, you’ll also find Musil’s review essay on the latest writer to lay claim to the legacy of Rachel Carson – David George Haskell and his Sounds Wild and Broken. And in the “Bird Lore” section, you’ll also find Ross Feldner with his latest, a fresh take on the astounding variety and diversity of birds, Flight of Fancy.
Spring 2022 officially began in the United States on March 20th. Flowers are blooming, the weather is warming, and birds will soon be on the move again. Keep an eye out for the bird species who migrated South in the winter, because many of them will return in April!
As well as being a month to mark the beginning of migration, March is women’s history month, and there is no better way to celebrate this overlap than sharing news about women who have improved the world for people and birds. Read about Rachel Carson and 6 other women whose activism has left a mark on the world here. Also, read about a woman who is advocating for changes in birding communities now, Corina Newsome. Corina is the co-organizer of Black Birders Week and her goal is to change the perception of who belongs in nature.
This month, the news overflowed with stories about birds! The Great Backyard Bird Count, a grassroots science event that uses eBird to compile data on birds around the world, occurred between February 18th and the 21st. Stories about the successes of this count were shared around the country, from Chicago to Monterey County, and around the world, from Canada to India. In fact, you can see how expansive this bird count is in real-time here. These community-run bird counting events allow scientists to conduct important research on bird populations and on how to best conserve these beloved species.
Despite the continuing pandemic and political turmoil, we hope the beginning of your 2022 has been restful and filled with birds! January is full of interesting waterfowl and other birds who visit only during the winter, so bundle up, head outside, and greet some of these visitors.
Over the last two months, headlines have also announced impressive new birding records, action, and advocacy. In Mission, Texas, Tiffany Kersten broke the U.S. record for most birds spotted in one year, seeing 726 species across 48 states! But, that’s not all she did. Tiffany spent her Big Year shedding light on the dangers that women face when birding, especially when alone. She explained it’s vital that safety is prioritized for women and other marginalized groups in outdoor settings so they are able to do what they love.
This December, as winter sets in and we reflect on 2021, remember all the bird news throughout the year the RCC has brought to your inbox. In April, we shared the first steps in the federal process to reinstate and strengthen the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Now, eight months later, that reinstatement has become official. We brought you bird art from poems to paintings and now photographic portraits. We followed movements like Birdability, reporting on its origin story in July and Birdability Week 2021 in October, and ones focused on anti-racism like Black Birders Week in May.
In October and early November, climate change and climate policy flooded the news. Bird’s fall migrations slowed, but the headlines picked up as more news was released about our changing climate and birds. From stories about birds and wind energy to film and book recommendations, this issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder will update you about our feathery friends.
In late October, we witnessed the first Birdability Week, a week dedicated to making birding accessible to everyone. Bird enthusiasts celebrated inclusive birding and the work of birders with disabilities through social media blasts, webinars, and, of course, birding! If you missed Birdability Week 2021, you can still catch up by watching the recordings included under the link above.
In September, birds took flight! The start of fall migration was packed with the ups and downs of bird news. From the sad news of multiple bird species announced as extinct to the uplifting reinstatement of important bird protections, this issue of Bird Watch and Wonder will help you catch up with our feathery friends.
On Wednesday, September 29th, we received the disturbing news that 23 species of birds, fish, and other wildlife are now officially presumed extinct. Nearly half of these 23 species are birds ranging from the beloved Ivory-billed woodpecker to the Large Kauai thrush. Eight of the extinct bird species come from Hawai’i alone with the remaining three from the U.S. Southeast and Guam. With changing climates, degrading habitats, and a variety of human threats, it is no surprise that birds are in danger, and that we are seeing extinctions increase.
This August, after a spring and early summer packed with migrating and breeding, birds and bird news quieted down. However, while parents were busy raising their young, the RCC found some important headlines for you.
Bird populations continue to be battered by worsening environmental dangers. August is an important month for baby birds, but, this year, their health was threatened by extreme heatand pesticides. On August 9th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published their AR6 report, in which scientists announced more unequivocal evidence of the danger that humans and birds face as a result of human-caused climate change and its consequences. However, with the bad news comes some good. At the very end of July, Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and 46 other co-sponsors introduced the Migratory Bird Protection Act (MBPA) in the House to restore and strengthen bird protections. Keep an eye out for RCC action alerts about this bill!
From late June through mid-July, climate change caused an extreme heat wave in the United States with areas in the Pacific Northwest experiencing record breaking temperatures in the 110’s. This heat wave endangered houseless people, fieldworkers and laborers, and individuals without air conditioning. In fact, the heatwave in Oregon and Washington State alone killed 200 people and heat-related deaths increased overall. As humans faced this climate disaster, so did birds.Hawk chicks and other birds of prey were found injured or dead beneath trees after leaping from their nests to escape the heat.Across the world, other bird populations suffered through other climate-related crises such as migrating birds and the drought in California and shorebirds and severe red tides across Florida’s coasts.
June Bustled With Bird News.
From newly-published research on bird behavior to state-of-the-art birding technology, this issue of the RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder is packed.
In early June, the RCC joined others in observing Black Birders Week, a celebration of Black birders that works to make birding inclusive. However, there is still a long way to go before the activity is truly welcoming to everyone. In June, birders, activists, and journalists spoke up about the racist legacy that many birds carry. Rather than having names based on appearance, behavior, or song, bird species often carry the names of those who discovered them. Some of these have racist and violent histories of terrorizing indigenous and black communities.
The American Ornithological Society is creating a committee charged with developing guidelines to identify and reform harmful English bird names in response to suggestions fromactivist groups, including Bird Names for Birds.
May marked a month of migration for bird species across the United States. As they escaped the cold winter months and completed their journeys to breeding grounds in early June, stories of lively birds, birders, and activism flooded the news. One prevalent theme in these stories was the diversification of birding. As you read through this issue of the RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder newsletter, look out for stories about historically unnamed women receiving the recognition they deserve, the creations of young people as they enter the world of birding, and events for Black birderswho are fighting for equal access to nature and beloved species. Learn about birding events that are for everybody and every body and about the connection between bird and human migration.
Birds are on the move! In most parts of the country, so are those of us who think its fun to get a sore neck looking up into the trees for warblers. But along with spectacular migrations, the decline of birds and their habitat continues. So, in this May issue of RCC’s Bird Watch and Wonder, we offer actions you can take to protect our avian friends, as well as victories achieved such as Virginia’s new regulation to stop the deaths of migrating birds by “incidental take.”
There is also growing interest nationwide to improve the habitat of birds as in North Carolina’s famous barrier islands where Rachel Carson roamed and wrote. Urban and suburban environmentalists, too, are planting more and more pollinator and rain gardens to help butterflies and bees. But we are reminded that putting in shade trees like themighty oak is not only good for butterflies, bees, and climate change, but for birds and other animals as well.
With Silent Spring (1962), Rachel Carson alerted Americans to the threat of a time, in the words of Keats, when “no birds sing.” The beloved American Robin, the harbinger of spring, was dying on lawns, on campus quadrangles, on the front porch of families. The majestic bald eagle, soaring ospreys, and the spectacularly swift Peregrine Falcon were endangered, too.
Carson aroused the public, stirred an environmental movement. The Rachel Carson Council, many, many other organizations, writers, scientists, and ordinary citizens were moved to action.