As bird lovers, there are easy things we can do to lend a hand to our feathered friends, of course the bird feeder is the place most of us start. Feeders help more birds survive winter and in summer, have larger, healthier broods, but that's just the beginning. For some, protecting birds and their habitat has become a life long campaign that benefits all wildlife, including us. I don't just mean by having cleaner water and air, although that is a nice by product, I'm thinking of the economic spinoff from ecotoursim, I wonder how many rooms would get booked in the Inns and B and Bs on Mary's Point Road if not for the Sandpipers and just how big of a boost was the Eco-Centre at La dune de Bouctouche is to the local economy.
So when you're out birding remember to tell as many people as possible why you're in their community spending money, you don't need to carry a soap box, just carry your binoculars...everywhere you go, like a badge of honor. I'm guilty of slipping my binoculars off when I go into a store or restaurant, now I try to remember to leave them around my neck, they're safer there anyway. How many binoculars have been stolen off the seat of a car, only left unattended for a minute while you pay for your gas and visit the little birder's room. They're also less likely to be broken if you wear them, this happens a lot, you'd be surprised....you take your binoculars off to go into a business, then you drive down the road a bit and see an interesting bird, use your binoculars and set them on your lap. The next time you get out of the car, you forget that you took the strap from around your neck and your new, expensive binoculars are smashed on the pavement. Binoculars are synonymous with birdwatching, so leave them on and advertise your hobby.
Some birders and clubs have cards printed that say something like, "I'm a birdwatcher who came to your area because of it's natural resources. Protect the area, and the birds who live here and I'll be back." This can be left on the counter of service stations, convenience stores or table of a restaurant (unless you're a cheap tipper, then it may do more harm than good.)
Other ways to help may be as simple as a polite phone call to the manager of a tall office building to tell them the importance of turning the lights off at night, especially during migration. Maybe they weren't aware of the birds that are killed when they're attracted to the lights. (I've actually picked up dead warblers in Moncton.)
Educating friends, family and neighbours on the importance of keeping cats indoors helps birds tremendously, (cats too). If you don't want to wade into that debate, at the very least lead by example, I once tried to convince someone that outdoor cats are one of the leading causes of population declines for many birds. Their reply..."our neighbour is the president of the nature club and his cats go outdoors!" Touché.
Did you know your choices in hot beverages can impact bird populations? I don't mean you should donate a percentage of your "roll up the rim" winnings to habitat protection, I'm referring to "Bird Friendly" coffee. This is a certification that first the coffee is grown organically and also the plantation has to have a minimum shade coverage, it's sometimes referred to as Shade Grown, a lot of coffee plantations clear the forest so they can plant more coffee per acre, taking away habitat and increasing erosion and pesticide run-off. Not to say that all coffee that doesn't have this certificate is grown in a way that has harmed birds or habitat. Certification is an expense that some of the smaller growers can't afford, it's also likely they can't afford pesticides and fertilizers needed to grow coffee in an unsustainable way, some coffee is grown right in the forest and is hand picked, although this way of growing is best for birds, it's impossible to get certification. Ask your favourite coffee shop/roaster how their beans were grown.
There are other fun ways to contribute, simply getting out birdwatching and reporting your finds to various sites, participating in any of the "Citizen Science" programs like The Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch, Christmas Bird Counts and more, show trends in bird populations at various times over the year. A couple weeks ago I mentioned noticing an increase in Mallards and decrease in Black Ducks in both PEI and Moncton when we did our little Christmas morning bird outing. After reading more about the Christmas Bird Count on the Audubon website I learned it was because of the annual count this trend was discovered and measures were put into place to correct the decline.
It would simply be impossible to conduct such a wide spread survey in such a short time without volunteer help. I also mentioned not being able to access some of the rural bird counts. I looked into it and it's because there's a $5 fee per counter to submit count data, half of the fee goes to Bird Studies Canada and half to The Audubon Society, this helps cover the cost of analyzing, publishing and maintaining a the website with the data for everyone to access.
I think if you're going to do a count, pay the gas and spend a day in the cold, you'd want your data to be used as widely as possible. Also, there's the personal satisfaction of looking back years from now, perhaps with my grandchildren and saying, "Your father and I found this bird, it was the first time ever on a Christmas Bird Count." A small price to pay for future bragging rights, if it ever happens.
If there are ways you help birds or their habitat, send them to me and I'll pass them on in a future column.