Nature Boost Podcast
Bird is the Word!
Jill Pritchard: Hey there, and welcome back to Nature Boost! I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Did you take more of an interest in birds this past year? You're not alone. Birders were booming in 2020. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, bird watchers set a new world record last May on Global Big Day. That's an annual bird watching event. Additionally, during the first few weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown, submissions on eBird, an online database of bird observations, soared nearly 50 percent compared to the previous year.
[Bird noises in background.]
The increase in bird watching and the number of new birders was one bright spot in what was an unprecedented and heart wrenching year. But sadly, birds are facing a major hardship of their own.
Sarah Kendrick: Just last year, a huge study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the top ornithologists in the country in the journal Science showed a 29 percent decrease in North American birds since 1970. It's a loss of about 2.9 billion birds. So, birds on the whole, certain guilds of species like grassland birds, are doing worse than other groups, but we have seen some pretty large declines. And those declines are also occurring here in Missouri.
Jill Pritchard: Missouri State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick says it's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the bird declines because many are migratory and breed in the US, but then winter out of the country. However, one big threat birds face is the loss of breeding habitat.
MDC has since joined forces with numerous partners, including the US Forest Service, Joint Ventures, and the Missouri River Bird Observatory to develop the Missouri Bird Conservation Plan. The plan outlines Missouri's most threatened bird species and their level of statewide concern, their land management needs, and threats to the species and their habitats. Out of the roughly 335 species that commonly occur in Missouri, 29 birds are included in the plan. Birds such as eastern meadowlark [each bird singing after naming], prairie warbler, northern bobwhite, eastern whippoorwill, and the redheaded woodpecker are just a few popular species that are threatened.
Despite the sad news, Kendrick says there are several easy and relatively low-cost ways all of us can help our avian friends.
Sarah Kendrick: When people hear about these large bird declines, sometimes it can be quite overwhelming because they don't know where to start or how to help. But there's a website, 3billionbirds.org, that has seven simple actions that people can do for birds. So three things they can do that are very important are native plants, plant native plants, trees and shrubs in their yard or on their property if they have acreage; prevent window strikes at their home or at their business by placing opaque stickers or some sort of screen on the outside of their windows so that birds can see it and don't see it as a pass-through, because otherwise they can strike the window and it's a very large contributor to bird mortality.
A third thing they can do is to upload their bird sightings when they're out bird watching to the website ebird.org. And that helps to track population trends on a global scale, and it's a very popular, easy to use app where people can contribute just by going outside and enjoying birds.
Jill Pritchard: You may be inclined to hunker down inside during the colder months, but don't think birds are doing the same. There are a few ways you can still help them as the days get shorter and the temperatures drop.
Sarah Kendrick: There's a number of things that people can do for birds in the fall and winter. The first one is they can feed them. So, this really helps birds when there's inclement weather like ice or snow that covers the ground so a lot of our seed eating birds can't get to that layer under the leaves or in our yards to get at seeds. So, feeding birds is especially imperative during those times of year. Remember to put out seed, but also suet for woodpeckers and nuthatches. You can also put out a heated bird bath. So, when the weather gets really cold, those birds still need water. And some of those resources might be kind of hard to get at if the temperatures are very cold. So, they sell heated bird baths, or just break the ice a lot in your normal bird bath.
Jill Pritchard: Learn more about Missouri's most threatened bird species and ways you can help them by reading the Missouri Bird Conservation Plan at mssouriconservation.org. You can also visit 3billionbirds.org to read further about the bird declines.
After the break, Sarah tells us why wintertime may be the best time to start bird watching. Stay tuned.
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Female: Birds help our mental and physical health. Bird watching boosts our economy. Their habitats support clean water and raise home values. But North American birds have declined by 3 billion since 1970. That's about 30 percent less birds in our backyards, forests, and grasslands. You can help birds by planting native plants and preventing collisions by breaking up reflections on outside windows with stickers, film, or screens. Discover area birds at greatmssouribirdingtrail.com.
Jill Pritchard: And welcome back to Nature Boost where we're talking more about birds with Missouri's expert, Sarah Kendrick. Birds became somewhat of a trending topic this past year as many made a new hobby of watching them during the Covid lockdown. If you're late to the bird watching game, no worries because winter may be an even better time to start.
Sarah Kendrick: So many people haven't gotten into bird watching, or just don't know about this really fun opportunity because it can be very overwhelming. So, in Missouri alone, we have about 400 species that have occurred in the state on our state bird list. And so that can be kind of overwhelming for a beginner. But in the fall, and in the winter especially, there's just fewer species to choose from. And it's easy to put out a feeder and watch the birds that come into your feeder, and they're staying still and it's easier to get your eyes on them with binoculars and look up what species they may be. So, I really encourage people to get out. Even if it's cold, there's still birds out there, and there are just fewer of them, so it's easy to learn.
[Birds singing in background.]
You can bird anywhere. That's the best part about bird watching, is A, you never see the same things twice and you can do it in your backyard or go out in the woods. You don't have to go to a conservation area or state park. You can bird in your backyard. But yes, it's fun to go to all different types of areas because you'll see a bunch of different birds anywhere you go.
Jill Pritchard: If you recall from our last episode with Sarah, you can find numerous species of birds in your own backyard. Common ones in the wintertime include the colorful northern cardinal [birds singing], tufted titmice, chickadees, blue jays, and even dark eyed juncos, which are only in Missouri in the winter.
But if bigger birds are more your speed, Missouri offers great places to view them, too.
Sarah Kendrick: Good places to look for raptors or other soaring birds, like some turkey vultures, red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks or Sharp-shinned Hawks, are any open grassland area or areas along ridges, because they use those thermals off the ridges to soar around. So, any of those are good places. Sometimes it can be hit or miss whether you see hawks when you're out there. Owls begin vocalizing in February and March because they start to breed very early. And so that might be a good clue to find owls. Looking for eagles is always really fun. So, eagles generally hang out in your large waterways, large lakes or impoundments, or wetland areas, of which we have quite a few here in Missouri, luckily. Another place if the weather gets very, very cold and many of the waterways or lakes or rivers get iced over is to visit dams in the state because below the dam, the water is still moving and churning, and fish get stunned as they move through the dam. And many eagles can concentrate in one area and fish.
So those are always good places to look for them in the winter.
Jill Pritchard: Thanks again to MDC's Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick. If you'd like more information on Missouri's birds and great places to spot them, visit missouriconservation.org.
I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.
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