Birds matter, and they’re worth protecting. From controlling insects and rodents to dispersing seeds and pollinating flowers, a healthy bird population is essential for the environment. Birds have also served as an inspiration for the arts and sciences throughout the ages. Without birds, we also wouldn’t have the classic Hitchcock movie.
International Migratory Bird Day celebrates the importance of these winged travelers, and highlights the deeply nuanced challenge that is conserving a species that crosses political borders. Check out this infographic from our friends at birdday.org.
This year, we’re focusing on Bicknell’s thrush—a species that breeds in Northeast high-elevation spruce-fir forests and winters primarily on Hispaniola. With less than 125,000 Bicknell’s thrush remaining worldwide—precariously low for a migratory bird — this rare songbird’s habitat faces a variety of threats, including climate change and development. But recently on Hispaniola, where 90 percent of the remaining population winter, researchers have found that cloud forest habitat is being cut down. In the Sierra de Bahoruco range in southwestern Dominican Republican, our conservation partners at Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) and Grupo Jaragua have documented illegal clearing and burning of forests for industrial avocado and coffee plantations, as well as subsistence agriculture.For real progress in the conservation of Bicknell’s thrust, this vulnerable songbird needs to be protected across its international range.
In light of these problems, a coalition of scientists, conservation planners and natural resource planners formed the International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group to research and implement conservation actions. This research helped to inform the 2010 Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Action Plan created by USFWS, VCE and Canadian Wildlife Service. The goal is to increase the global population of Bicknell’s thrush by 25 percent by 2060 by improving the bird’s protection and restoring breeding and wintering habitat. The Action Plan was also the impetus for the USFWS and its partners to fund a position working on wintering habitat with the people of the Dominican Republic and Haiti for on-the-ground conservation implementation.
The American Ornithological Society only recognized Bicknell’s thrush as a distinct species in 1994, which opened the gates for further study of the thrush’s numbers. USFWS has supported and worked closely with VCE and the IBTCG on developing and implementing a breeding population monitoring program that has been in operating since 2000.
Besides threats from habitat loss, Bicknell’s thrush faces predation from red squirrels, which occasionally raid the nest to eat eggs and chicks. Also, climate change is reducing the total area the songbird can breed within — with a warming climate, the birds are retreating higher and higher to find the shrinking islands of conifer forests.
This International Migratory Bird Day, try and listen to the birds around you. See how impossible it is to imagine the world without that sound? That’s what makes conservation worth it.