Monday, April 4, 2011

How You Can Help Birds

Spring is here at last! Like clockwork, on frosty mid-February mornings we heard the first “konkaree's!” of the red-winged blackbirds. Right on schedule, the ospreys arrived next at their platforms in March. Now the tree swallows, phoebes and other early migrants trickling in, reminding me that before we know it, migration will be in full swing, with birds arriving in droves. You don’t have to be a birder like me to appreciate the beauty of birds, or to admire their wonderful melodies. Birds are traveling ambassadors, and as they journey from their wintering grounds in the tropics to their breeding grounds (whether that is here on Long Island or points further north), we must remember that many species are now in decline. I will save those details for another article, but in the meantime, in celebration of springtime migration, I wanted to pass along some information on how we can all do our part to help birds.Here are some tips:
Drink shade grown coffee - unlike sun grown coffee which is produced in sterile

monoculture environments devoid of most wildlife species, shade grown coffee is grown beneath an intact tree canopy which provides habitat to hundreds of birds, mammals and other wildlife species. While you are at it, help local people out too, and try to make sure the coffee you purchase is fair trade.

Buy a duck stamp annually - officially known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, the “duck stamp” is one of the most successful conservation initiatives ever conceived and the most conservation bang you can get for your buck. Ninety eight cents of every dollar generated by the sale of these stamps go directly towards the protection of habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge system. To date, over $750 million has been used to purchase or lease over 5.3 million acres of wildlife habitat.  
There are approximately 553 refuges in the USA as of this year.

Keep your cat(s) indoors - the approximately 100 million feral and free-roaming cats in the country kill tens to hundreds of millions of birds and small mammals each year. While there is little you can do to prevent feral cat predation, you can play a role in reducing free-roaming cat predation -- by keeping your pet cat(s) indoors. Please.
Support conservation organizations - local, regional, and national conservation organizations, which play such a vital role in achieving conservation success, simply would not exist without the financial support of individuals who care about conservation. Don’t forget to join or renew your membership in Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon!

Conduct citizen science - participating in the Christmas Bird Count, the Breeding Bird Census, Project Feeder Watch or one of several other data gathering programs is an important way to contribute to science. These programs have been instrumental in broadening our understanding of bird populations such as population trends and changes in distribution.
Become involved in the political process - it’s a simple but under-appreciated fact that elected officials, especially local ones, react to public opinion. If they get letters, phone calls, or comments advocating for a certain conservation action (e.g. such as preserving Plum Island!) they often will respond. If you are willing to speak out, your voice can be a powerful tool for conservation.
Limit your use or don’t use pesticides - pesticides are designed to kill things and even when used according to label can kill unintended targets. Use alternatives to pesticides and make changes to the conditions in your lawn and garden to eliminate the need for pesticides.
Make other environmentally benign lifestyle changes -
in living our lives we all have an impact on the environment upon which birds depend. There are many things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint including recycling, composting, using energy efficient light bulbs and appliances. Drive a gas efficient car, take public transportation or carpool. Buy locally grown produce and products.

Buy recycled paper products- The fluffy toilet tissue purchased by most Americans, and stocked in virtually all of our supermarkets, requires pulp containing long wood fibers found only in virgin timber (from live trees). When you use premium tissue, you flush down the toilet part of a tree that may have been felled solely for that purpose. And that tree may have been harvested from Canada’s boreal forest, where 57 percent of Blackburnian warblers breed—along with a third of all North American songbirds. Remember, we may not all buy a newspaper or magazine each day. Perhaps we don’t use paper towels on a daily basis, but I would bet my last dollar that we all use toilet paper each and every day!
Wear your binoculars proudly - when birding in popular birding spots, while stopping to get a bite to eat or pump gas keep your binoculars visible around neck so that business patrons know why you’re there. Your binoculars serve as a trigger to them to care about bird conservation in their local community since what they are benefiting economically from the presence of birds. Just put the bins down before you start to eat, crumbs in the eyepieces are very annoying!

Take a child on a hike or birding - we underestimate our ability to influence others, and fail to realize how impressionable children can be. Get kids excited about birds, talk about how cool they are - their fascinating migratory feats, complex songs and calls, and well developed senses and coordination - and watch how your behavior piques an interest. Remember, today’s children will grow up to be tomorrow’s conservationists! You don’t have to focus just on kids, talk up birds and nature to anyone you meet. Let them feel your enthusiasm!
Protect birds from window collisions - More birds are killed each year from striking windows than from any other direct cause of death, and the problem is growing as window sizes increase and houses get larger. Use window decals / stickers or cover your windows with blinds, awnings or shutters to minimize the reflection of the sky. One company that manufactures window stickers that have proven effective at reducing collisions is WindowAlert, available on the web at

Create a bird friendly yard - Whether you have a tiny backyard or a big one, you can landscape for wildlife. Plant native bushes, trees and other plants that provide food, protection from predators and resting spots during migration, provide nesting spots in cavities and dense shrubbery, leave leaf litter and brushy corners where birds can feed and hide.

In the meantime, while you are mulling over the steps you can take to protect the birds we so admire, get outside and revel in the warmer weather. Come on one of our field trips or venture out on your own. The lovely days of spring and summer are so fleeting, which is why no matter how busy you are, you need to take the time to step outdoors and enjoy nature, even if it is just your backyard. Happy spring!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bird’s Eye (Re)View: John Turner’s “Exploring The Other Island: A Seasonal Guide to Nature on Long Island” by Stella Miller

“To watch a flock of sandpipers or a small group of yellowlegs drop from the autumn sky with bodies and wings twisting in response to millisecond changes in aerodynamic conditions, to listen to their lonely, compelling calls is to experience utter wildness. The birds carry with them the desolation of the tundra.”

With those words, John Turner perfectly expresses what I have always felt while listening to the plaintive cries of shorebirds, but was unable to articulate. This book is filled with lyrical prose such as this while being chock full of facts about the natural wonders of Long Island. From fish to birds to land animals to plants, Turner tells us what to look for and where to find it. But he directs us responsibly. Locations of sensitive species are not given, and I was impressed, although not surprised, to see his code of ethics on display. We are also encouraged to be responsible stewards of these precious creatures and habitats. One of HOBAS’ tag lines is “responsible recreation” and that theme is evident throughout this book.

The book is divided by seasons and then broken down by species. For example, included in the section for springtime is a chapter on songbird migration, as well as spring ephemerals (for those of you who do not know what a “spring ephemeral is, I am certainly not going to tell you. Read the book to find out!), salamanders and frogs. Summer brings us the horseshoe crab, but the chapter is not just a dry recounting of the natural history of this ancient animal. Turner discusses the crab’s place in the web of life, how man’s actions are impacting not just the crabs, but in a snowball effect, the shorebirds that depend upon the crabs for their survival. There is a domino effect to everything we do, as starkly illustrated here.

Did you know that there are habitats that depend on fire in order to proliferate? Or that skunks are carving out a living on Long Island? I bet you didn’t know that cranberries were a booming business right here on the Island. Read the book and you will discover not only these tidbits, but others as well!

Most folks are not aware of the various species of orchids and parasitic plants that flourish here. They do not realize that in the fall, one can see hundreds of hawks in one afternoon, while visiting the Fire Island Hawk Watch, or catch waves upon waves of shorebirds at our barrier beaches. A good number of Long Islanders most likely believe that Long Island is devoid of wildlife during the cold and windy days of winter. As one of the premier wintering spots for waterfowl, the island comes alive with vast gatherings of these birds. Furthermore, when we think migration in winter, we assume that the general travel direction points south. This is true but, in a reverse pattern, Long Island is the winter spot for many of our far northern species. Snowy, saw whet and long eared owls, redpolls and crossbills are just a few of these hardy visitors, and the barrier beaches are terrific spots to spy them as they roost and forage. Other wonderful winter species are the seals. Plum Island is one of the most significant winter seal haul out sites in southern New England. Oh, did I just get a shameless plug in for preserving Plum Island? You bet I did!

This book is an informative and lively guide to all things natural on Long Island. Long Island is not just shopping malls, highways and developments. One does not have to look very far to find the magic of nature. Open up this book and let John Turner take you on a seasonal tour of natural Long Island. It will whet your appetite to explore the “Other Island” for real!

While you can purchase copies of this book on, HOBAS has signed copies available and all proceeds will go directly to us!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Window Bird Collisions

It’s probably happened to you. You’re enjoying the view of watching birds at your backyard bird feeding station when suddenly they spook due to a Cooper’s hawk. They burst, scattering in all directions and one bird, let’s say a white-throated sparrow, sees a small opening of sky and bushes and heads for it in order to escape. It’s a fatal mistake. Although the sparrow avoided the clutches of the hawk, the small natural opening that it thought meant freedom turned out to be the reflections of a window. The sparrow hits it with full force, partially breaking its bill and hemorrhaging its brain. You’ve heard the thud and run outside to check on it and find it dead beneath the window. But make no mistake, even if the bird has flown away, chances are it will perish from its injuries. This sparrow can now be added to an annual tally of birds that have died from colliding into windows and buildings which conservationists estimate ranges between 100 million and 1 billion birds a year; this cause of mortality ranks among the top three causes for bird decline among North American birds and may be the number one quantifiable cause.

A variation of this experience happens with larger commercial buildings. With both the use of glass in general, and the use of reflective glass as the main type, growing in popularity, many glass-facaded commercial buildings have become significant sources of bird mortality. This problem is magnified when trees are planted near the building. Migrating birds see the reflection as reality, and seeking the sky or tree the reflection presents, unwittingly fly into the glass with lethal force. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for dozens of birds to perish at problematic buildings as they navigate on migration through urban centers like New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and San Francisco. Long Island buildings pose a problem too. Fifty two golden-crowned kinglets, several warbler species and yellow-bellied sapsuckers died in one day flying into an all-glass building situated in Great Neck as they migrated south this past October. All-glass buildings at the Jericho and Huntington Quadrangles are also known to kill birds.

Fortunately, there is a technological answer to the problem. Unlike humans, birds can see ultraviolet light. Window and window film manufacturers are taking advantage of this ability by making windows and easily applied window films that reflect UV light. Windows so equipped, instead of deceiving birds, inform them that the windows are solid objects that should be avoided. And since we cannot see UV light these solutions pose no aesthetic concern.

The Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society is working with New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to introduce legislation in the 2010 NY State Legislative session to begin to address this issue. While all the elements of the draft legislation have not been finalized, it is expected to require new public and private construction to use bird friendly window designs, and to establish a 15-member Bird Friendly Building Council charged with researching various issues relating to the problem and developing proposed solutions, including a program to retrofit existing “problematic” buildings. We’ll keep you informed as this important legislation takes shape over the next couple of months and works its way through the state legislative process.

And what to do to prevent that white-throated sparrow from becoming a victim at your home? Here are several things you can do to deal with window collisions:

  • Because collisions are caused by birds attempting to fly through glass, or because they see the reflections of the sky and trees and are unable to recognize the glass as a solid object, be sure to break up or eliminate their view by placing decals on your windows, ideally one-quarter-inch wide, white, vertical stripes spaced four inches apart, or one-eighth-inch, black, horizontal stripes spaced one inch apart.
  • If you feed birds in your yard, move the feeders and bird baths to within three feet of your window. The birds cannot gain enough momentum at this close range and you greatly decrease the chance that they will get hurt. If this is not possible, move them at least thirty feet.
  • Move inside plants away from windows so that birds do not mistake them for outdoor habitat.
  • Consider using screens, bars or film on your window to eliminate reflections. If you can, purchase bird safe glass to have installed.
  • If you are landscaping your yard, try to place trees and shrubs away from your windows in order to prevent reflections in the glass that look like a continuation of your yard.
For more information on how to make your home bird friendly, please see: and

John Turner/Stella Miller