Friday, August 14, 2015

Farewell and Thanks from John Hartig

Reintroducing lake whitefish into the Detroit River
(2013) - Photo credit: USGS
It has truly been an honor to moderate this America’s Wild Read discussion on Bringing Conservation to Cities.  I want to thank Anne Post and the other staff at the National Conservation Training Center for making this possible.  I would also like to thank everyone who participated for enriching the discussions and for helping raise awareness of the importance of making nature part of everyday urban life. 

There is no scientific doubt that the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge would truly be unique in its own right, because of its plethora and diversity of fish and wildlife, if it were not situated in the industrial heartland and a nearly seven-million person urban area.  But it is, and just like a rose that grows surrounded by concrete and steel is more remarkable than one that grows in a horticulturist’s garden, this refuge is more remarkable because it is being built in the industrial heartland and within a major urban area.  And it is helping bring conservation to this major urban area in a fashion that will help develop the next generation of conservationists that will value and appreciate nature in both cities and beyond. 

It is critically important that a high priority be placed on reconnecting urban residents with nature as part of a long-term strategy to inspire individual respect, love, and stewardship of the land/ecosystem to be able to develop a societal land/ecosystem ethic for sustainability.  All stakeholder groups, including governmental agencies, educational institutions, businesses, environmental organizations, conservation clubs, faith-based organizations, social advocacy groups, and health institutions, must join forces to help reconnect people to the land and water in urban areas through compelling outdoor recreational and educational experiences that help foster an appreciation of and love for the outdoors.  That, in turn, will help develop a strong sense of place that inspires positive actions, a sense of ownership, and stewardship for the community’s natural resources. 
Unique birding spot on the Detroit RiverWalk
            in Downtown Detroit - Photo credit: USFWS


Clearly, urban refuges and other urban conservation places have the unique proximal natural resources to help children experience nature as the supporting fabric of their everyday lives.  Whether it’s hiking, fishing, hunting, birding, learning through environmental education, photography, natural resource interpretation, or just plain exploring in the woods, these urban conservation areas have what educators, city planners, developers, business leaders, and parents want – unique natural resources that can enhance quality of life, contribute to ecosystem health and healthful living, and nourish our sense of wonder, imagination, and curiosity.  

 Kids Fishing Fest on the Detroit River
Photo credit: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy




We need unique urban conservation places, whether they be urban refuges, urban conservation areas, urban state parks, metroparks, city parks, conservancy lands, or other natural areas, or some combination of these urban conservation places, that can make nature experiences part of everyday urban life.  As noted in the July 12th WildRead blog posting, it was indeed quite prophetic that the great American author and naturalist HenryDavid Thoreau, while watching civilization expand into the countryside during his lifetime (1817-1862), recommended that every town should have a forest of 500-1,000 acres for conservation instruction and outdoor recreation. 


This America’s Wild Read discussion should be viewed as only a beginning.  It will be continued through the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program Hub. Again, thank you and please stay involved in our important work to provide a reason and opportunities for urban residents to find, appreciate, and care for nature in their cities and beyond.  


Monday, July 27, 2015

Lessons Learned from the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge by John Hartig


The Refuge's new LEED-certified Visitor Center is
 being built adjacent to Michigan's only Ramsar
 Wetland of International Importance - Humbug Marsh.
Photo credit : Jerry Jourdan
I like to think of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge as a tapestry. A tapestry is a form of textile art traditionally woven on a vertical loom and most often proudly displayed in a prominent location of a home. Individual colored threads, each unique and beautiful in their own right, are woven together to produce an exceptional piece of art more beautiful and much stronger than imagined with just the individual threads. The Refuge is like an ecological tapestry made up of numerous species and habitats that when woven together are more beautiful and much stronger than imagined with just the individual species and habitats. Much like a textile tapestry is a source of pride in the home, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge tapestry has become a source of pride in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario.

There is no scientific doubt that this Refuge would truly be unique in its own right, because of its plethora and diversity of fish and wildlife, if it were not situated in the industrial heartland and a nearly seven-million person urban area.  But it is, and just like a rose that grows surrounded by concrete and steel is more remarkable than one that grows in a horticulturist’s garden, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is more remarkable because it is being built in the industrial heartland and within a major urban area.

Refuge celebrates completion of environmental education
 shelter in Humbug Marsh. Photo credit: D. Mitchell
The story is truly a compelling one – that cooperative conservation is helping re-create gathering places for people and wildlife along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.  These unique conservation places are now a key factor in providing the quality of life demanded by competitive communities and businesses in the 21st Century.  Equally important is that cooperative conservation is helping provide an exceptional outdoor recreational and conservation experience to nearly seven million people in the watershed.  That, in turn, is helping develop the next generation of conservationists and sustainability entrepreneurs. 

Over 200 Detroit High School Students participate
 in Sturgeon Day on the Detroit RiverWalk
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
If conservation can be brought into the industrial heartland and this major urban area through the work of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, it can be done in other urban areas.  Key lessons from building the Refuge include:

·                     Establish a compelling vision;

·                     Practice adaptive management;

·                     Build partnerships at all levels;

·                     Develop an ecosystem ethic through broad-based education, outreach, and stewardship;

·                     Connect people with nature;

·                     Build a record of success and celebrate it frequently;

·                     Quantify benefits;

·                     Involve the public in all actions to develop a sense of place and instill local responsibility               for stewardship;

·                     Recruit and train individuals to be urban change agents and facilitators; and

·                     Recruit a high-profile champion.

 
Urban conservation work is not easy and not for the faint of heart.  It is frequently underappreciated.  However, it is so important, much needed, and can be very rewarding. 

What lessons can you share from other successful urban conservation programs and what needs to be done to share these lessons within our growing urban wildlife conservation family? 

[Editor's Note:  See the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Urban Wildlife Conservation program site]





Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Compelling Citizen Science by John Hartig



John Hartig
Aldo Leopold is considered by many the father of wildlife conservation in America and an influential leader in wilderness preservation.  Clearly, if he were alive today he would be a strong proponent of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program and its efforts to bring conservation to cities as part of a strategy to help develop the next generation of conservationists in urban areas because that is now where 80% of U.S. citizens live.  Leopold understood that conservation issues were not narrow and restricted, but multidimensional, requiring an integration of science, history, and culture to solve problems and achieve sustainable natural resource outcomes.  If you believe in citizen science and the important role it can play in bringing conservation to cities, then this Leopold quote will resonate with you:
 
“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, or otherwise have faith in.”

This quote provides much food for thought, particularly if you want to be part of the movement to make nature part of everyday urban life. 
 
In the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge we have been championing citizen science as an important tool in bringing conservation to cities.  The Refuge was established in 2001 as the only international one in North America and one of only a few truly urban refuges.  It is now one of the 14 priority urban refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The goal of the Refuge is two-fold: to help restore and conserve continentally-significant fish and wildlife populations and their requisite habitats along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie; and to make nature part of everyday urban life to help develop the next generation of conservationists.
 
Citizens Help Undertake Detroit River Hawk Watch at one
of the three best places to watch raptor migrations in the U.S. 
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To help develop the next generation of conservationists, a priority has been placed on reconnecting people with nature through compelling citizen science. Good examples of involving citizens in observing and understanding nature, and contributing to conservation in our Refuge, include: DetroitRiver Hawk Watch in one of the three best places to watch raptor migrations in the U.S., marsh bird monitoring, Christmas Bird Counts, common tern restoration and monitoring, habitat restoration and enhancement work through our Refuge Stewardship Crew, and soft shoreline engineering at over 50 sites in the watershed. And all of this citizen science is being done in a refuge with nearly seven million people in a 45-minute drive. 
 
 
 
Citizen scientists help restore common tern habitat
 along the Detroit River. 
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The value and benefits of this work include: developing a personal connection to the places citizens work and study; gaining an understanding of environmental and natural resource problems, challenges, and needs; learning about scientific methods and how science contributes to management; becoming involved in environmental and natural resource management decisions; building the capacity of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholder groups to fulfill their environmental and natural resource missions; and improving scientific literacy and developing a stewardship ethic.  Achieving these benefits has required effective citizen science project planning and implementation that: ensures measurable results; expands knowledge; provides meaningful experiences for volunteers; and ensure that volunteers have fun. 
 
Refuge's stewardship crew removes invasive
 buckthorn from Humbug Marsh
Photo credit: International Wildlife Refuge Alliance
 
 
 
 
What role does citizen science play in bringing conservation to your city and what creative citizen science efforts have you used or been involved in?
 
 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Becoming Part of the Community Fabric by John Hartig

The Detroit RiverWalk provides a new waterfront
porch for people and wildlife in downtown Detroit
Photo credit: SmithGroupJJR
Clearly, much needs to be done to reconnect urbanites to their land/ecosystem through compelling outdoor experiences.  Compelling outdoor experiences can lead to thinking fresh about city dwellers’ relationships to their land/ecosystem.  Thinking fresh can then lead to development of a stewardship ethic that can inspire urbanites to live differently.  Living inspired by a land/ecosystem ethic gives hope.  One of our goals of conservation organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be to make sure that their programs and staff become part of the community fabric.  As Aldo Leopold noted, we must learn to love and respect the land, our ecosystem, and the place we call home. 

It is abundantly clear that urban refuges and other urban conservation places have the unique proximal natural resources to help urbanites experience nature as the supporting fabric of their everyday lives.  Whether it’s hiking, fishing, hunting, birding, learning through environmental education, photography, natural resource interpretation, or just plain exploring in the woods, urban refuges and urban conservation areas have what educators, city planners, developers, business leaders, and parents want – unique natural resources that can enhance quality of life, contribute to ecosystem health and healthful living, and nourish our sense of wonder, imagination, and curiosity.   And in the case of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, these natural resources can be seen, enjoyed, and studied in the shadows of industries and skyscrapers, providing a foretaste of sustainable development.   

1910 breakwater at Elizabeth Park
 before restoration
Photo credit: Wayne County  


Elizabeth Park shoreline after restoration
 using soft shoreline engineering - Photo Credit: USFWS 

We need unique urban conservation places, whether they be urban refuges, urban conservation areas, urban state parks, metroparks, city parks, conservancy lands, or other natural areas, or some combination of these urban conservation places, that can make nature experiences part of everyday urban life.  It was indeed quite prophetic that the great American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, while watching civilization expand into the countryside during his lifetime (1817-1862), recommended that every town should have a forest  of 500-1,000 acres to be used for conservation instruction and outdoor recreation.  There is no doubt that unique urban conservation places will undoubtedly be part of every successful sustainable city in the future.


A few examples of how the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is becoming part of the community fabric include:
  • Refuge staff serving on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy that is building, stewarding, and programming a 5.5-mile Detroit RiverWalk in downtown Detroit – one of the largest urban waterfront redevelopment projects in the United States;
  • Being a consistent long-term supporter of well-attended community events like the Point Mouillee Waterfowl Festival that attracts up to 10,000 people each year, Hawk Fest that attracts over 4,000 people each year, and Detroit River Days that attracts over 100,000 people each year;
  • Being a supporter and champion for working beyond refuge boundaries by promoting soft shoreline engineering at over 50 locations in the watershed, creating new waterfront porches for both people and wildlife; and
  • Being a partner in regional efforts like the Detroit Heritage River Water Trail for kayaking and canoeing, the southeast Michigan greenway trail network, and the ByWays to FlyWays bird driving tour for southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario.

Indeed, there are more examples, but the point is that we need to find ways and means of becoming part of the community fabric.  To become part of the community fabric will not only require becoming involved, but staying involved for long periods of time.  Frequently, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees are encouraged to move every several years to gain experiences elsewhere and foster consistency across the National WildlifeRefuge System.  This is important, but it we are serious about becoming part of the community fabric to help make nature part of everyday urban life, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation organizations will have to recognize that relationships are critically important in urban conservation work and that there are clear advantages to encouraging employees to “put down roots” in one area to become part of the community fabric.

What creative tools and techniques are you using or have you seen that will help conservationists become part of the community fabric?    


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why the National Wildlife Refuge System Needs Successful Urban Refuges by John Hartig

John Hartig, author and Detroit River Intnerational Wildlife
Refuge
Putting Detroit and Windsor, the automobile capitals of the United States and Canada, respectively, in the same sentence as conservation may seem like a paradox, but it really isn’t and you may be pleasantly surprised to learn why. In the 1960s, the Detroit River was one of the most polluted rivers in North America because of its history of industrial and urban development.  Today, the cleanup and recovery of the Detroit River represent one of the most remarkable ecological recovery stories in North America with the return of balk eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, lake sturgeon, lake whitefish, walleye, mayflies, wild celery, and more. Out of this recovery has come the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge – the only international one in North America. It represents a new model for conservation – one that focuses on conserving, protecting, and restoring habitats for 30 species of waterfowl, 113 kinds of fish, and over 300 species of birds, and on making nature part of everyday urban life. Today, this refuge is one of the 14 priority urban refuges charged with helping provide a reason and opportunities for urban residents to find, appreciate, and care for nature in their cities and beyond.



Peregrine Falcon overlooking the Detroit skyline.
Photo credit: DTE Energy

What percentage of people in the United States live in urban areas? The answer is 80%.  Incidentally, the same percentage of people in Canada lives in urban areas. Throughout the world 54% of all people now live in urban areas and this is projected to increase to 66% by 2050. Most urban residents are disconnected from the natural world. As a global community, we cannot afford to allow this disconnection to continue and that is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has created an Urban Wildlife Conservation Program to help create a connected conservation constituency. This new program is made up of the 14 priority urban refuges, 14 urban wildlife refuge partnerships, and many other urban bird treaty cities and other suburban refuges.


However, this new program is not without constructive criticism and tough questions from within the National Wildlife Refuge System and key partners like those representing biodiversity. Often, the argument is that it will just take too many resources to bring conservation to cities and that this will diminish the amount of resources for conservation of biodiversity and wilderness. One good answer is that it should not be either/or, but we can and should do both. The vast majority of resources will still be deployed in conserving fish, wildlife, and biodiversity in wilderness and rural areas, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investing a relatively small amount of resources in bringing conservation to selected cities in a strategic and value-added way. 
I believe that we need to do both and that bringing conservation to cities in compelling urban places such as San Diego, Detroit, Albuquerque, Chicago, Alamo, San Francisco, and others, and keeping urbanites connected with nature, can indeed help build support for conservation of fish, wildlife, and biodiversity in cities and beyond.  Investing in urban conservation should also help develop a more conservationally-literate society and one that values, appreciates, and cares for conservation in cities and beyond.  Finally, this is fully consistent with the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  This mission statement clearly includes humans and future generations.
 
What can and should be done to win over more people in the conservation field to recognize the broader value and benefit of bringing conservation to cities and to support experimenting with making nature part of everyday urban life in selected cities?

[Editor's note: Comment below and "like" below]

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Welcome to our "Bringing Conservation to Cities" book discussion with John Hartig

Welcome to our Bringing Conservation to Cities book discussion.  Author and FWS refuge manager John Hartig will moderate this discussion with one essay a week and you the reader can participate in a discussion here by commenting and John and other readers will respond.  Note the question(s) to prime the discussion flow.  The month long uban conservation conversation is framed around the following topics:

  • Week One: Why the National Wildlife Refuge System Needs Successful Urban Refuges
  • Week Two: Becoming Part of the Community Fabric
  • Week Three: Compelling Urban Citizen Science
  • Week Four: Lessons Learned from Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
We are pretty jazzed about this WildRead month so welcome and keep your eye on tomorrow's first essay by John!


  

 


Monday, June 15, 2015

Coming in July: Bringing Conservation to Cities: Lessons from Building the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge by John H. Hartig

John Hartig
Discussions begin July 1 with John Hartig, Fish and Wildlife Service refuge manager and author of Bringing Conservation to Cities: Lessons from Building the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.  

Bringing Conservation to Cities is the story of how innovative partnerships are making nature part of everyday urban life in the automobile capitals of the U.S. and Canada in an effort to inspire and develop the next generation of conservationists in urban areas because that is where 80% of U.S. and Canadian citizens live. 

Dr. John Hartig is trained as a limnologist with 30 years of experience in Great Lakes science and natural resource management.  He currently serves as Refuge Manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and serves on the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Board of Directors.  From 1999 to 2004 he served as River Navigator for the Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative established by Presidential Executive Order.  Prior to becoming River Navigator, he spent 12 years working for the International Joint Commission on the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  John has been an Adjunct Professor at Wayne State University where he taught Environmental Management and Sustainable Development, and has served as President of the International Association forGreat Lakes Research.  He has authored or co-authored over 100 publications on the environment, including four books: Bringing Conservation to Cities: Lessons from Building the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (2014; Ecovision World Monograph Series, Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society, Ontario); Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban Industrial Rivers that Caught on Fire (2010; Ecovision World Monograph Series, Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society, Ontario); Honoring Our Detroit River, Caring for Our Home (2003; Cranbrook Institute of Science, Michigan); and Under RAPs: Toward Grassroots Ecological Democracy in the Great Lakes Basin (1992; University of Michigan Press, Michigan).  His book titled Burning Rivers was a 2011 Green Book Festival winner in the “scientific” category and a 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in the “science/nature/environment” category.  John has received a number of awards for his work, including the 2013 Conservation Advocate of the Year Award from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the 2012 Outstanding Environmental Professional of the Year Award from the Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals, a 2010 Green Leaders Award from the Detroit Free Press, a 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation Award for Outstanding Leadership and Collaboration in the Great Lakes, the 2003 Anderson-Everett Award from the International Association for Great Lakes Research, and the 1993 Sustainable Development Award for Civic Leadership from Global Tomorrow Coalition.

Be here July 1!   [Editor's Note:  John Hartig hosted a WildRead discussion back in 2012 with his book Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban Industrial Rivers That Caught on Fire]

How to participate?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wild Bird Feeding in America by Carrol Henderson

One of my greatest revelations about bird feeding over the past 20 years has been the incredible appeal of bird feeding to children like our two-year old grandson who gets a great thrill from throwing bread crumbs to pigeons near his home in Brooklyn, New York, as well as to senior citizens in their nineties who are entranced by the beauty and actions of birds coming to feeders by the windows at their retirement or assisted living homes.  Feeder birds instill a lifelong passion among people with their fascinating colors, behavior, and seasonal appearances that keep bird feeding fun and interesting.

One reason for the increased enjoyment people get today from feeding wild birds is the change that has occurred over the past several decades as people have transitioned from “generic” bird feeding to “targeted” bird feeding. Generic bird feeding was characterized by putting out old bread, table scraps, and waste grain for the birds and watching whatever birds showed up—typically species like Rock Pigeons, House Sparrows, European Starlings, grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. 

I became aware of the potential for targeted bird feeding when visiting with John Barzen, CEO of Barzen International in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the mid-1990s. He was marketing a premium line of bird foods like a “cardinal mix” that contained black oil sunflower seeds, safflower, and peanut pickouts. He said had learned that people will pay for “premium” bird food mixes that attract “premium” birds.

A male Northern Cardinal is about to crunch a white
safflower seed. Photo by Carrol L. Henderson.
Demand was evolving for nyjer seed to attract goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and redpolls; safflower seed to bring in cardinals (while discouraging use by House Sparrows); and peanuts for woodpeckers (offered in squirrel-proof feeders).  Also coming to market were starling-proof suet feeders that attracted chickadees and nuthatches and white proso millet that attracted Indigo Buntings and Painted Buntings. Black-oil sunflower seed (compared to the more traditional gray-stripe sunflower seed) turned out to be easier for smaller songbirds to crack open and, as an added benefit, had higher oil content, providing birds more energy. It was discovered to be a great attraction for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, cardinals, and other seed-eating songbirds, too. Grape jelly was found to be very attractive to orioles, catbirds, and even Scarlet Tanagers.

A male Scarlet Tanager digs into a platter of
grape jelly. Photo by Carrol L. Henderson.
In this same era mealworms—the larvae form of the darkling beetle—were “rediscovered” to be a great food for attracting bluebirds.

Mealworms are “targeted” fare for bluebirds.
 This male Eastern Bluebird might be taking
 mealworms back to a nest full of chicks
Photo by Carrol L. Henderson.
Backyard bird feeding stations changed from an assortment of “junk foods” for birds to backyard delis that now attract beautiful and colorful birds throughout the year. 

That was the other major change that has occurred with wild bird feeding over the past several decades. It used to be a hobby for the winter season when people felt birds were most stressed by the weather and needed supplemental feeding. When I first began working to promote bird feeding for the Minnesota Department ofNatural Resources, I would call bird food retailers at the end of winter and ask if they had “left-over” bird seed that they needed to dispose of so it would not get moldy over the coming spring and fall. They gave me the seed free which I distributed to Minnesota’s state parks and Department of Transportation rest areas to stock their bird feeders. Not anymore. Now people have discovered the joys of year-round bird feeding and the wonderful colorful birds that come in the spring and summer like Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, orioles, goldfinches and even Scarlet Tanagers.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks can be seen visiting feeders 
in the Eastern U. S. and parts of Canada all summer 
long. Parents will often introduce their young to
 feeder foods. Image of male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
 by Carrol L. Henderson.
While delighting over the joy that people of all ages get from feeding wild birds, I have also learned of an unusual perception that some people have about bird feeding—bird feeding is an important conservation measure to save the birds. It might seem logical, but for most birds, the amount of food that most birds obtain from feeders contributes only a small portion of their total diet. Studies have shown that even for Black-capped Chickadees, which are one of the most common visitors to bird feeders, only up to about 20% of their diet is provided at bird feeders. The rest comes from seeds and insects obtained in the wild.

One time I gave a talk about the wildlife conservation work of the Minnesota Department ofNatural ResourcesNongame Wildlife Program to members of a bird club. That program has been funded primarily by voluntary donations to the NongameWildlife Checkoff on Minnesota’s tax forms since 1981. After the program, a gentleman came up and said that he didn’t donate to the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff because he had spent about $200 in the past year feeding the birds so that was his contribution to help wildlife. I was so disappointed to hear of this obvious lack of interest in the work we were doing for the state’s wildlife, but I wasn’t sure how to express that disconnect between benefits of bird feeding and larger scale needs for wildlife conservation at the state and national level.

Bird feeding provides supplemental nutritional benefits for birds but it is primarily a benefit for the up-close-and-personal observation of birds which creates enjoyment for people of all ages and creates a lasting bond with nature as we enjoy those “backyard” birds.  However, in Minnesota, we have only about three dozen bird species that commonly come to feeders out of over 400 species that have been recorded in the state. Interestingly, most of the birds that come to feeders are among the most common and adaptable of birds—like the Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, European Starling, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, and American Goldfinch.

In the national State of the Birds Report that was issued in 2014, serious problems were identified with continuing habitat loss of forests, grasslands, and wetlands.  Any serious conservation initiatives for bird conservation need to address these losses and initiate projects to restore and maintain the quality and quantity of those habitats.

So my closing thought on our book, Feeding WildBirds in America: Culture, Commerce and Conservation (Texas A&M University Press), is that we have done our best to document the long and fascinating history of bird feeding traditions in America and to document what lessons we have learned on how to feed the birds—and how to conserve the birds.

If you want to increase your enjoyment of the birds at your feeders, check out Chapter 14 that highlights our “Top Ten” list of bird foods and our “Top Five” Best Practices Tips for doubling the number of bird species at your feeders.

And if you really love birds, help save the habitats of the forest, prairie, and wetland birds that never come to backyard bird feeders! Buy a federal “Migratory BirdHunting and Conservation Stamp” (often called the “Duck Stamp”), donate to your state “Nongame Wildlife Checkoff” or “Wildlife Diversity Checkoff” on your state tax forms, and purchase a state conservation license plate.  

Please comment below to open discussion with author...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bird Feeding Under Duress - A Glance Back to the Depression by Paul Baicich


Paul Baicich - Photo credit: V. Andolini
Even people who are terribly pinched by hard times should remember that just a few crumbs of bread can tide a bird over its time of stress. Indeed many birds choose bread crumbs even when bird seed is offered, and suet and bread crumbs with a bit of peanut butter for dessert provides a banquet for many a tiny wayfarer. Of course, as the guests increase, the menu may be enlarged as best suits them—and you.  

Ada Clapham Govan, adapted from her letters to the Boston Daily Globe and printed in the regular “Birds I Know” feature (ca. 1930s). Govan, a bird bander who established a bird sanctuary on her Massachusetts property, was a friend and long-distance correspondent of Rachel Carson.

Today, with the country still hampered from the economic downturn of 2008 and with real unemployment as high as it is, it may be instructive to look back at our past, to the Great Depression to see how Americans responded, at least to bird feeding, in similar -but far worse – times

Much of what follows is taken from parts of Chapter 5 of our new book, Feeding Wild Birds in America (Texas A & M University Press, 2015) by Paul J. Baicich, Margaret A.Barker, and Carrol L. Henderson.

Things were so bad in the depths of the Great Depression that millions of Americans who had been upbeat and optimistic in the prosperous 1920s became pessimists in the miserable 1930s. By the end of 1932, thirteen million Americans were unemployed, about a quarter of the workforce. Many of those who still had work had their salaries or wages cut. Industrial output declined about 50 percent and foreign trade, 70 percent. Farm income, having fallen in the 1920s, fell another 50 percent between 1929 and 1932. Corn prices plummeted to those not seen since the Civil War. Bankruptcy was spreading among businesses and banks; many families lucky enough to buy a home in the 1920s lost it in the 1930s. Cities could not collect enough taxes to pay teachers, police, and firefighters.

One would think that, with shocking unemployment and with hungry Americans lining up for food, there would be little sympathy for birds and little interest in keeping them housed and fed. But interest there was, and bird feeding continued and even grew. Only a few small businesses that were connected to bird feeding could survive the economic downturn, but some that were flexible actually adjusted well to the changing scene. Still, many newer feeding practices were concentrated among avid nature enthusiasts, creative rural waste-grain users, and game-bird professionals.

Most individuals who fed backyard birds in the 1930s still used table scraps rather than store-bought birdseed; they were “recycling” before there word had its current meaning. They typically used no more than one or two homemade feeders. Indeed, with the country deep in the Great Depression, the concept of recreational bird feeding could be seen as a luxury, despite the fact that birds were perceived to be under duress in winter.

In fact, it took a combination of major habitat loss in agricultural regions and some severe winters in the 1930s to stimulate even more people to feed birds in winter. Hunters were among the first to take action and provide food for game birds. Greater and Lesser Prairie-Chickens, Northern Bobwhites, Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasants, and Gray Partridge were all vulnerable to habitat loss and inclement weather. The particularly bad winters of the mid-1930s made a strong case that action was needed to protect some of these birds—game bird species and others—in northern regions.

In the 1930s, Aldo Leopold, based at the University of Wisconsin, helped direct serious inquiry into winter bird feeding. Leopold’s graduate student, Arthur S. “Art” Hawkins, and other colleagues set up a series of experimental feeders for game birds that included tepee shelters, lean-to shelters, and three-sided shelters with roofs. Each shelter had a trough or hopper feeder offering a variety of foods, including corn, milo (sorghum), millet, wheat, and buckwheat. Hawkins discovered that the game birds preferred corn and that they liked to eat near food plots—grain fields that were left unharvested, offering both food and cover. (In later years, Hawkins would become a legend in North American waterfowl management. He helped lay the foundation for waterfowl surveys that have been used for decades, and he was also a tireless advocate for Wood Duck conservation.)

During this decade, the Federal Cartridge Corporation of Minneapolis, Minnesota, also promoted winter bird feeding. From 1933 to 1936, the company produced free conservation advertisements with nationwide distribution. Today we would call these “Public Service Announcements.” Federal Cartridge promoted eight guidelines for outdoor enthusiasts, including “feed the birds in winter.”

Birdwatchers who had taken up the pastime in the 1920s continued it in the 1930s, and their numbers actually grew when Roger Tory Peterson had his landmark Field Guide to the Birds published (1934, Houghton Mifflin).  The “bird book on a new plan” was a grand success. It spread the popularity of watching and enjoying birds, from the backyard into the field.

By the start of the 1930s, the National Association of Audubon Societies magazine, Bird-Lore, even began to regularly feature ads for commercial feeders of all sorts. And this approach worked well.

Of course, winters in the North could be tough – for people and birds. Winter storms brought bitter cold and ice to the Northeast, for example, in January and February 1935. Boy Scouts and many others pitched in to help the birds through the conditions. Scores of radio stations sent out the plea to feed the birds while ice covered the ground. According to Roger Tory Peterson, “For days scarcely a program on the air did not include an announcement about this. Everybody fed birds, from the fire escapes of New York City to isolated snowed-in farms in the back country.”

Much of the winter feeding of the decade was still largely a rural activity that involved making feed such as corn or wheat available for the birds. After the commercial harvest, the leftover corn could still be manually collected in fields to provide an economical source of bird food. At some rural grain elevators, regular customers often could obtain leftover mixtures of waste grain, or “scratch,” for free, and they could then toss these mixtures into their backyards where birds could feed on the scratch, along with bread crumbs, crackers, and table scraps.

Over time, feeder watchers began to realize that certain birds seemed to prefer certain grains or seeds. The operators of grain storage elevators soon began to combine wheat, other grains, and gray-stripe sunflower seeds for sale in fifty-pound bags.

This pattern appeared in the practices followed by the partnership of Knauf & Tesch (today, known as Kaytee) from Chilton, Wisconsin. Some businesses were also crossover experiments, with seed for the domestic poultry market or for pigeons being the starting points for expansion into offerings for wild bird feeding. One example was Simon Wagner’s company, a precursor of the bird-feeding business later called Wagner Brothers, which was selling seed for chicken and horses. Seed for cage birds, pigeon feed, and pet supply items then were gradually introduced, and the company moved toward wild birdseed in the 1930s.

With the end of the 1930s, the country was picking itself up. The national income increased from about $40 billion in 1932 to about $71 billion in 1939. The birds benefited, too.

Feeding birds became more “practical.” In the context of a country under duress, organizations, individuals, and businesses learned a great deal about bird feeding in the  Depression, lessons that persist today.

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