This past weekend kicked off celebrations of the Year of the Dog and the Chinese New Year. But this year is also being recognized for another animal. 2018 is The Year of the Bird.
National Geographic along with major conservation and wildlife organizations such as Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology are providing stories and activities to mark the centennial year of the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Created in 1918 to combat the massive killing of birds for their plumes used in ladies’ hats, it was one of the earliest environmental laws enacted anywhere in the world. With climate change seemingly quickening its pace, and birds – animals that migrate some of the greatest distances in the world – serving as bellwethers across the Earth, it’s important now more than ever to take a reading of what the data is saying and to contemplate why birds matter.
As David Yarnold, CEO and President of Audubon, writes, “The Year of the Bird collaboration gives us all an opportunity to recommit to our promise to protect birds and the places they need for the next century.”
I highly recommend a lyrical and fascinating essay written by the author Jonathan Franzen for National Geographic. Franzen, who developed a passion for birds in his 40s, tries to explain how birds help the environment and help our souls. As he notes, “They are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding.”
I’ve included a photo of one of my favorite raptors to go with this post. The magnificent Ferruginous Hawk is a short-distance migrator that I see on the dry, open plains and farmland of eastern Washington during the summer. They fly up from land south of Washington to raise their young. Seeing a pair of these pale hawks circle high above together in a bright, summer sky is a life-affirming moment for me. As with many birds, conservation of grasslands and sagebrush steppe environments is important for the continued health of this species. Sustainable ranching practices that conserve prairie dog towns are beneficial to this hawk, whereas the construction of pipelines, wind turbines, and mining can have detrimental effects.
Information on birds and actions you can take to help them, including backyard bird counts and setting up feeders, can be found at the Year of the Bird website.