Technology, Purchase Power Can Help Save Migratory Birds

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Saturday is International Migratory Bird Day, and both experienced and novice birdwatchers will be stepping out around the world to observe and celebrate these winged wonders. In conjunction with Global Science and Technology Week, May 6-12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is highlighting some high-tech ways to study and appreciate birds.

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is the hallmark event of Partners in Flight, an international coalition created in 1990 that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), other federal and state wildlife agencies, conservation groups, academic institutions, corporations, and private citizens dedicated to reversing declines in migratory bird populations.


In March, biologists began relocating a population of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers from southern pine beetle infested habitat on the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky (Photo courtesy USFWS)
IMBD is celebrated annually on the second Saturday in May, and has grown to become the premier celebration of birds and their habitat in the Western hemisphere. More than 500 public and private events are held each year, and on May 12, 2001, IMBD will celebrate its 9th anniversary.

Many of these events can be found in a registry on the IMBD website at:

Through festivals, bird walks, seminars and other activities, IMBD works to increase public awareness of the value of migratory birds and the ways in which humans can help protect birds and create safe areas for them to nest and feed.

This year, the USFWS is focusing on the ways that modern technology is helping to protect and study migratory birds.


California condors made news this year when the first egg in almost 15 years was laid in the wild (Photo by Scott Frier, courtesy USFWS)
For example, the Environment Ministry of Japan and the USFWS have joined forces with plans to benevolently spy on the short tailed albatross from outer space. The short tailed albatross is one of the three North Pacific species listed as endangered by both the U. S. and Japan, and listed as vulnerable under the World Conservation Union.

Researchers from the two countries will use satellites and electronic tagging to track the birds' flight patterns and routes as they fly over the Pacific. The satellite will follow their movements as they make their way from their breeding colony on Toroshima Island, an active volcanic island south of Tokyo, north to the Bering Sea, south throughout the North Pacific Ocean and then back to Toroshima.

The satellite data will assist both countries to determine the migratory movements of the albatross over time.

Another wildlife meets technology adventure came about when a flock of sandhill cranes returned on their own to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin last month. The crane's radio transmitter signals were simultaneously picked up by a crane biologist and a volunteer around 1:30 pm on Friday, April 27th.


Last fall, the nonprofit group Operation Migration brought a flock of captive bred, nonendangered sandhill cranes through a successful first migration (Photo courtesy Operation Migration)
The return of the cranes confirms the success of last fall's longest human led migration, in which the cranes followed ultralight aircraft to wintering grounds in Florida. This success could pave the way for a similar experiment with the endangered whooping crane, a close cousin to the common sandhill crane, following the same ultralight aircraft on migration route.

Adapting computer software developed for a totally different application is another way the USFWS takes advantage of scientific and technical advances. Computer software originally designed to recognize and calculate numbers of specific blood cells on a glass slide is now being used by wildlife biologists in the field.

Aerial photographs of great flocks of migratory birds and waterfowl are taken in their natural habitats. The computer software then scans the photograph and accurately differentiates and counts the various species in the image far more effectively than the human eye could ever detect.

High-tech devices are not the only way to appreciate and aid migratory birds. The USFWS and other organizations are also using International Migratory Bird Day to highlight ways that consumers and citizens can help protect birds in their everyday lives.

The USFWS is promoting purchases of shade grown coffee, grown on farms or plantations that leave a canopy of shading trees, which benefit migratory birds by providing habitat on their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.


Wintering in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, the endangered golden-cheeked warbler may migrate across numerous borders to get to its breeding grounds in Texas (Photo courtesy USFWS)
The Wilson's warbler, scarlet tanager, northern oriole, indigo bunting, and wood thrush are among the dozens of migratory birds that spend part of their lives in the U.S. and that winter in the coffee growing regions of Latin America.

"The concept of shade grown coffee reinforces the central tenet behind International Migratory Bird Day - that each of us can make a difference," said acting USFWS Director Marshall Jones. "What we pour into our cups every morning has an impact on many of the birds we see in our backyard, and on hundreds of other species across the hemisphere."

Jones noted that homeowners can also make a difference for bird conservation by reducing and carefully monitoring the pesticides they apply to lawns and shrubs, by planting trees and bushes that provide habitat and natural food, and by supporting community land use decisions that consider the needs of wildlife.

Another easy way to aid backyard birds is by keeping cats indoors - and away from birds - whenever possible. Saturday is also the third annual National Keep Your Cat Indoors Day in the United States.


The winning poster, drawn by 10 year old Molly Whitney of Oregon (Photo courtesy American Bird Conservancy)
The American Bird Conservancy and Wild Bird Centers of America sponsored a poster competition that invited children to draw pictures to publicize the importance of keeping cats from killing native birds. From more than 340 entries representing 23 states and Canada, the groups selected 10 year old Molly Whitney of Philomath, Oregon, as the overall winner.

Molly, who makes wood duck nest boxes with her family and enjoys birding, said, "I think making the poster was very important and worthwhile because we need to make sure we always have birds around."