Birder's Guide

MAY 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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44 Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | May 2014 Steve Holzman North High Shoals, Georgia steve.holzman@gmail.com S o be a better birder, be better to birders. Where did I hear that? My wife, Rachel, just came up with it. We were trying to fgure out where this arti- cle was going, and she summed it up nicely. Maybe, instead of publishing this article, I could just put that simple message up as my Facebook status. I spend too much time on the internet— reading blogs, Facebook, and the com- ments section of news articles (big mistake, by the way)—and it seems that no matter what someone says, there's always someone else ready to tear it apart. "Windmills are great for reducing our carbon footprints and slowing global cli- mate change." "You heartless SOB, windmills will kill all the birds." "You shouldn't take fights to foreign birding destinations. Don't you know how much carbon is spewed out by airplanes?" "Not so fast, mister; ecotourism might help convince developing nations to pro- tect their biodiversity." "I can't believe you are driving 100 miles to chase that Common Merganser just for your state list! What a waste of gasoline!" "But I'm going to thoroughly cover an under-birded area along the way and enter my data in eBird so we get a more accurate picture of bird distribution." The issues are not so black and white. Perhaps we should cut each other some slack and save our angst for those who don't even care if birds continue to exist. There are people and organizations out there right now who believe that every feral cat should live wher- ever it wants to, in- cluding wildlife refuges, nature centers, city parks, and your own yard. They are pres- suring local governments to prevent you from removing unwanted feral cats from even your backyard. They don't see any difference between a native Sharp-shinned Hawk taking a Hermit Thrush in order to survive and a non-native feral cat being fed by humans that also kills Hermit Thrushes because it's just in its nature. It may be in- stinctual, but it's not natural for a predator to receive daily food from humans and then roam free to kill wildlife. Instead of sniping at each other over things that have little ef- fect on bird populations (for instance, ju- dicious use of playback, playing the listing game, the occasional fushing of a bird), we should be banding together to prevent or discourage behaviors that actually kill birds outright. There's another group of people—and it is probably the majority—who just don't see the value of having wildlife around. If species go extinct, they think, "Well, that's just the way of the world. I can't be both- ered to do anything about it." I was no- ticing students on campus the other day, walking to class with their faces looking down at their phones. They didn't notice the American Robin on the branch next to them or even the Red-tailed Hawk looking down from a nearby oak. They go through their lives never noticing that each season brings different birds to town. They do not care that the woodlot was bulldozed for a new strip mall. They are not bothered that airports are killing Snowy Owls when there are better ways to protect planes. It does not matter to them that hawks are being poisoned by ever- increasingly-potent rat poisons. When they run across a Facebook post about killing rats to protect seabirds, they will not know what a seabird is, but they'll know they are against killing, and that's all that will matter. Without edu- cating them, we will be left to fght these battles alone. We could make fun of them when they walk into trees while engrossed by yet another wacky cat video on their phones, or we could try to get their eyes to see the beauty around them. Organizations like the Georgia Ornithological Society and the American Birding Association, among many others, have active programs trying to encourage and promote youth birding. These programs show kids that there are others just like them, and that it's pretty cool to be passionate about something, be- cause, as the author John Green said, "nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthu- siastic about stuff". That stuff may include their frst self-found rarity or being able to distinguish a White-throated Sparrow from a Swamp Sparrow. So don't downplay a new birder's excitement over common birds; encourage them, and engage them in local conservation projects. We'll need their help to assure birds have a place on tomor- row's landscape. My wish is for birders to celebrate their similarities, their shared passion. I want us to avoid infghting on the internet. Remember, it wasn't too long ago that bird enthusiasts shot birds and stole their eggs. Even if we occasionally use an mp3 player or fush a bird trying to get a better pho- to, we've certainly come a long way. Who knows how birding might change in 50 years? In the not-too-distant future, as we are wearing our Tilley hats with matching drab-colored nanotech jumpsuits and fy- ing with jet packs to see a cloned popula- tion of Passenger Pigeons, birds may only be "countable" if you've done something tangible for their survival. The big listers of the future may be those whose lists refect how much habitat they've helped restore, how many feral cats they've removed from the environment (with bonus points for socializing them and giving them a new indoor home), and how many kids they've mentored. Don't take all this the wrong way; it's absolutely correct to point out where we can do better. But remember, we all want wildlife to thrive and all species to survive. Let's quit the sniping and get to work. To Be a Better Birder T Photo © jadeandmatthew.com 7-Better Birder2B.indd 44 5/22/14 7:59 PM

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