Tag Archives: Debra Reynolds

I like cake and so do birds

Deb gets a Boston cream pie for her birthday this year.

Deb Reynolds, communication and outreach coordinator for the Division of Migratory Birds, gets a Boston cream pie for her birthday this year. She is going to share her love of cake and birds with you today.

I like cake. My favorites are Boston cream pie, tiramisu, and that yummy fruit and cream cake my mom used to get for my birthday. These cakes are pretty different, but what they do have in common are layers. Each cake is unique and its individual layers make the cake delicious and complete.

Now that you’re salivating for some sugary goodness, I’m going to throw you for a loop. Birds like cake too, and I’m not talking about those gulls that harass your beach spot. For the birds I’m thinking about, their cake is the forest. From a distance, the forest looks like one continuous green wall. If you look carefully, you will see different types of trees and shrubs that make the wall complete. Each layer is unique, providing something critical for a species’ survival. Some birds need multiple layers for survival like the prairie warbler. Found in scrubby fields, young forests, and even some mature forests to sing, feed, and use for shelter, they will only nest in trees less than 10 feet high. Others, like the blackburnian warbler, breed, nest and feed in the highest peaks of conifer forests.

Blacburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Some birds even have a preference for a forest layer based on their sex. When Bicknell’s thrush head south to the Caribbean for the winter, the males and females split up. Male Bicknell’s thrush are found in more pristine, higher-elevation tropical-moist forests. Females are found at lower elevation wetter forests. So this bird species needs both habitat types to survive.

The forest is layered just like a cake and birds often have a preference for one  or more layers.

The forest is layered just like a cake and birds often have a preference for one or more layers.

Let’s get back to that cake. Unlike me, birds are pickier about their cake and don’t easily move on to the next layer. Impacts to any one of the forest layers will have consequences for the species that depend on it. What would the blackburnian warbler do if that top layer of its forest cake was gone? And where would the prairie warbler raise its young if the understory layer was missing? And if there is not enough low elevation forest for female Bicknell’s thrush to feed in, they will not survive to make the journey north to breed.

The forests we are familiar with are changing. Forestry practices, changes in land use and development all affect the health of the forest system. These changes can effect the structure of the layers and overall size of the forest, which can benefit some birds but is a harmful to others (many of which are of conservation concern).

A cake can become dry and burned if the temperature is too high, and so can a forest. The conifer forests that many of our highest priority species live in won’t thrive in a warmer environment; and the food and shelter they provide will no longer be available. And a warmer climate increases the risk of drought and fire (Find more: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/forests.html).

In my life, cake is pretty important. At the end of the day though, I can (and probably should) live without it. For birds, their layered cake—the forest—is essential, with each layer critical to their survival.

Citizen science to make a difference for the rusty blackbird


The rusty blackbird, a close relative to the grackle, is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species.

If you look carefully into the wooded swamps and woodlands of a boreal forest of our northern states, you may catch a glimpse of one, distinct in appearance from other blackbirds with its rusty featheredges and pale yellow eyes. Rusty blackbirds can also be spotted in our region into late summer and fall as they migrate from these breeding grounds towards their wintering areas in the southern U.S.

Once common, populations have dropped 85 to 95 percent in the last 40 years. The cause of the dramatic decline in numbers is unclear. While extensive loss of wooded forests and wetlands to agriculture on their wintering grounds is a likely factor, the principle cause is unknown. Scientists hypothesize that there is a “perfect storm” of factors that also includes:

  • competition for food with more common blackbirds,
  • increased exposure to disease,
  • climate change drying out habitat on their breeding grounds, and
  • high levels of mercury in their bodies, which might affect overall health.

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group believed that the mystery of the rusty blackbird decline and its large range made it a perfect candidate for a citizen science project. Thus, the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz from early March through mid June this year.

“The Migration Blitz will provide new information on migration timing and migratory hot spots that will help us focus conservation efforts for this species where and when they will have the greatest impact.” says Randy Dettmers, one of our biologists studying the bird’s behavior.

Birders from 38 U.S. states, 9 Canadian provinces and 3 Canadian territories tracked these elusive songbirds on their northward migration from the southeastern U.S. up through Canada and into Alaska. Presence or absence information is entered into the Cornell lab of Ornithology eBird site, and scientists will use the data from the Blitz to target future conservation efforts and research initiatives.

During the first full month of the Blitz, birders submitted 6,281 checklists into eBird that included location information of rusty blackbirds–a 41 percent increase from 2013. These data provide much more than the typical snapshot of a single location; it’s like a collective collage that shows a much fuller picture. While the final tallies are still coming in, if the upward trend of submitted information continues, there will be a wealth of knowledge for scientists to sort through.

The Blitz presented a unique opportunity for citizens to both get outside and enjoy nature in the spring, and to actively participate in an effort that sets a new precedent for conservation.

“The Blitz focuses on rusties, but it also demonstrates the power and potential for leveraging citizen science for conservation,” noted Blitz coordinator Judith Scarl of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Even though the rusties have already passed through many of our region’s states, there’s some fascinating birding to be done this month. Check out these tips from eBird!


Remembering Flight 93

Photo from Flight 93 Memorial Facebook page. Credit: National Park Service

Photo from Flight 93 Memorial Facebook page. Credit: National Park Service

Today you're hearing from Deb Reynolds, outreach coordinator for the Appalachian Joint Venture and our agency's Division of Migratory Birds in the Northeast Region.

Today you’re hearing from Deb Reynolds, outreach coordinator for the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture and our agency’s Division of Migratory Birds in the Northeast Region.

It’s not too often that I get to participate in fieldwork.

As the outreach coordinator for the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture and Division of Migratory Birds, most of my time is spent working in the office with staff to develop strategic communication and outreach messages for our biological priorities.

So when I came to work recently as I usually do and opened my email, it was with delight that I not only saw some great news, I got to reflect on a remarkable day in the field I had almost 2 years ago.

It was a chilly rainy day in Storystown, Penn., and we were at the Flight 93 Memorial.

The memorial site was part of a project to reforest the previously mined and reclaimed land, as well as provide a windbreak for the memorial. The project was part of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), which is hard at work reestablishing native forests on former coal mining sites throughout Appalachia for the benefit of migratory bird species, including the golden-winged and cerulean warblers, birds of conservation concern.

That day, I witnessed an emotional remembrance of the tragedy and then watched as the victims’ family and friends joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, multiple partners, and dozens of volunteers to plant trees that served not only to create a beautiful memorial site but would also provide habitat for migratory birds.

It was the perfect blend of partnership, habitat restoration, and working with the community and volunteers. The beauty of the project for birds is that restoration of reclaimed mines benefit golden-winged warblers, and as the forest matures, it will in turn benefit the cerulean warbler and a multitude of wildlife that share similar habitat. Both species are high priority species for our agency’s Division of Migratory Birds.

Nearly two years after the project began, the ARRI Flight 93 Reforestation Project was awarded the Department of Interior’s prestigious Partners in Conservation Award last week. I feel proud to have been a part of a project with the families of Flight 93 and nearly 1,200 volunteers who planted over 35,000 tree seedlings.

This project serves as a beautiful memorial of a great human tragedy and is a testament to the power of partnerships for bird conservation.