Environmental Monitoring With the Help of Birds

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While climate change and global warming are an ongoing cause for concern, monitoring the environment is a costly and time consuming activity for conservationists to carry out without help from local experts – of the feathered variety. Birds are tremendously valuable in assisting conservationists and researchers to pick up changes in the environment and species diversity, enabling them to take action where possible to prevent a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe.

Science has come a long way since canaries were used to detect toxic gases in coalmines, but birds continue to be the most effective sentinel species on the planet. The reasons for this are many and include the fact that birds are found all over the world, in all types of habitats, both in the wild and in urban settings. They are sensitive and adaptive to environmental changes and are relatively easy to monitor as they are highly visible. Birds are among the most researched animals on the planet and with bird watching being a popular activity around the world, birders are often keen to participate as citizen scientists in research projects and organized bird counts. Birding clubs and Audubon societies all over the world get involved in the gathering of data, which can then be coordinated by scientists. Moreover, there exists a wealth of historical data on the activities of birds, providing a baseline against which to compare current data. As birds include species that feed on a wide variety of food sources, they are vulnerable to the accumulation of toxins in both plants and animals they eat, thereby providing an indicator on soil, air and water pollution levels.

As birds are acutely in tune with seasonal cycles, even subtle changes in behavior, feeding and breeding patterns can alert scientists to broader environmental changes. Changes in arrival and departure times of migratory bird species have been linked to changes in temperature, ocean currents and wind patterns. Feeding and breeding patterns of marine predators and seabirds offer scientists the opportunity to monitor the health of the world’s oceans and seas and with many species the timing and success of breeding is dependent on food availability.

When birds seemingly inexplicably fall out of the sky, as was reported in Arkansas and New Jersey earlier this year, scientists will try to solve the mystery, because when birds are in distress, it is very likely an indicator that something is very wrong in the environment.

Conservation Crossing Borders

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Climate change is an issue that has been discussed the world over and is of great concern. As climates begin to shift and weather patterns begin to change, so does nature. Wildlife are forced to adapt to conditions they are not used to, over and above the fact that their habitats are being encroached on. The first wildlife to have shown signs of adapting are birds. Migratory bird patterns have diversified and as the need grows, birds are moving to areas that are best suited to their survival, causing a cry out for cross border conservation efforts.

A team of researchers decided to conduct a study concentrating on the birds of Africa. The team consisted of Dr. Stephen Willis (School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences of the Durham University), as well as Professor Brian Huntley from the same department. They considered where the birds are located at present and how they would move due to climate change. Eight hundred and three Important Bird Areas (IBAs) were looked at.

Monitoring the birds will be the first way to detect signs of the effects of climate change, as they would be the first to move. The researchers have therefore written a guideline to governments on how to deal with the reshuffling of wildlife should this occur as predicted. According to their studies, at least one third of the Important Bird Areas will experience a noticeable change, as shrinking habitats will force birds to find more suitable areas for food supply. During their research project, the researchers were also able to identify areas that are not currently under protection but could become potential habitats for the birds.

Dr. Stephen Willis commented: “The bird map of Africa is set to change dramatically and we need conservation policies that see the bigger picture.” He went on to say: “There are large areas of Africa lacking protected status and many of these areas are predicted to be critically important for bird conservation in the future. We need to be ready to protect remnant populations of birds while also preparing for new colonists.” As co-author of the guideline paper he stressed the importance of cross border conservation, “We need to improve monitoring, communication and co-operation to make protected areas work across borders. Conservationists and policy makers will have to work together in new ways as networks become increasingly important in protecting species.”

Jekyll Island To Host National Bird Education Gathering

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Like flocks of gulls converging on a rocky point, more than a hundred bird educators and enthusiasts are due to flock to Jekyll Island for the 2009 Bird Education Network National Gathering from February 22, 2009. The various bird lovers will be coming from schools, bird refuges, national parks, bird clubs and nature centers especially for the event.

The 2009 Bird Education Network National Gathering is an open event that can be attended by pretty much anyone with an interest in birds, bird education and various bird conservation efforts. It is a five day event that is designed to encourage those in attendance to explore various wildlife viewing areas and grow in appreciation for birds and other animals. The Bird Education Network (BEN) Committee worked hand in hand with the Council for Environmental Education and Flying WILD when organizing the event. Jekyll Island was chosen especially for its truly exceptional birding and nature-based, tourist-orientated activities.

During the gathering, attendees will likely spent plenty of time exploring the wonderful and diverse facets of Jekyll Island. Guided field sessions will not only involve walking, but kayaking and canoeing. Birders will be able to travel through the inter-coastal waterways and the Okefenokee Swap during their many outdoor adventures. When they head indoors they will be presented with a vast array of events to choose from. They can enjoy listening to guest speakers or visit the many exhibitions that will be erected specifically for the event. As they make their way along they will be able to share their knowledge and experience with other birders as well as learn more from old and new friends. Topics for discussion at the event will include urban-based bird education, helping families to connect to nature and climate change and its effects on birds. Most of the indoor events are scheduled to take place at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

Jekyll Island is home to more than 250 different bird species and has been included in the Colonial Coat Birding and Nature Trail for this reason. Birders will be able to spot Roseate Spoonbills, Painted Buntings, Woodstorks and Bald Eagles, amongst other things, in this delightful wilderness area. If this sounds like your idea of a great week or weekend, make sure that you don’t miss out on the 2009 Bird Education Network National Gathering.

Bird Breeding Season: The Good News And The Bad News

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The RSPB has been particularly excited, and also perplexed, at the highs and lows in bird populations this breeding season. On the one hand, it appears that many of their conservation efforts have paid off with the organization enjoying one of the best bird breeding seasons on record. However, at the same time a number of more common bird species are clearly struggling to deal with climatic changes and their numbers are dwindling.

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Britain’s Bitterns Respond Positively to Conservation Efforts

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Considered to be on the brink of extinction in Britain just over a decade ago, the bittern has made a remarkable come-back, with the species enjoying its best recorded nesting season in the past 130 years. The loud “booming” mating call of the bittern assisted conservationists in tracking the birds, resulting in a count of 75 males, an astonishing 47 percent increase on last year’s numbers and nearly seven times as many as the 11 which were counted in 1997.

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Brown Pelican Numbers Hit Record High in the Farallones

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The Farallon Islands, located in the Gulf of the Farallones off the coast of San Francisco, California, around 32 kilometers south of Point Reyes, are home to a growing number of Brown Pelicans that at one time were facing extinction. Conservationists at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory have noted that the numbers of these fascinating birds have reached a forty-year peak, which is great news for all who have been keeping track of fluctuating Brown Pelican numbers since 1968.

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Climate Changes Affect Bird Populations in Europe

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Terms such as global warming, carbon footprint and climate change are becoming part of every day vocabulary as people become more aware of the far reaching consequences of mankind’s abuse of the planet. Researchers at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Durham University and Cambridge University have been monitoring the effect of climate change on bird populations in the United Kingdom and have reached some disturbing conclusions.

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One in Eight Birds in Danger of Extinction

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According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one in eight bird species is currently facing extinction. The most recent update of the Red List of threatened bird species listed 190 bird species as ‘critically endangered’. Eight of the birds on this list were added this year and a further sixteen species have been given a higher threat status. In sharp contrast, only two species were found to have improved prospects of survival. Clearly things are spiraling out of control.

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Experts Estimate Birds Will Be Grossly Affected By Global Warming

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According to recent research and data, as many as 20-30% of all animal species will be at an increased risk of extinction if temperatures continue to rise. Experts estimate that an increase of more than 2.5 °C in average temperatures across the globe could have a deadly impact on existing animal species as it will make survival more difficult. This is especially the case for many birds.

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