Tag Archives: ecological services

Neotropical Migratory Birds have Dual Citizenship

Have you ever been outside and had a flash of color fly by? Do you find yourself intrigued to discover what kind of bird you caught a glimpse of? You are not alone in this curiosity, as tens of millions of Americans enjoy bird watching as a favorite pastime.

Chances are, you’ve seen a neotropical migratory bird species, like a Bicknell’s Thrush or Scarlet Tanager, who call multiple countries “home” depending its life cycle stage. Neotropical bird species are unique in that they breed in Canada and the United States during the summer and spend winters in Mexico, Central America and South America, making it critical to conserve habitat across many countries to ensure the longevity of these birds. Despite their incomparable beauty and invaluable ecological functions, populations of many migratory bird species with “dual citizenship” are in decline due to habitat loss and degradation.

Scarlet Tanagers are found in North, Central, and South America. Photo by Les Brooks.

The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) is a federal grant program designed to benefit Americans through helping sustain their continued enjoyment of birds while stimulating economic growth in the birdwatching industry, and through ensuring habitat for migratory birds that help maintain our environmental health. In this year alone, over $3.8 million in grants from NMBCA will support 31 collaborative conservation projects throughout 19 countries including Canada, the United States, Mexico, and other countries in Central and South America.

NMBCA is unique in that it fosters collaborations between partners across many countries and habitats to conserve migratory bird habitat, engages local communities in bird habitat protection, strengthens international relations, and raises awareness of the importance of bird conservation. Migratory bird conservation does not have borders – without collective conservation effort and collaboration across countries, successful conservation of migratory birds is not possible, since these birds are “dual citizens” that call multiple countries home.

Birding at Gachette Reservoir in the Dominican Republic, supported by the NMBCA. Photo by USFWS Headquarters.

“For a lot of our migratory birds that spend a good time of their annual life cycle outside of the U.S., working with partners in other countries is really critical for maintaining stable populations for those species, and protecting habitat on both ends of their migratory routes,” says Randy Dettmers, a landbird biologist for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Birds. “The NMBCA is one of few government sponsored funding mechanisms to help promote international and full life cycle conservation actions. It is really critical for a lot of our migratory species to link conservation efforts between breeding, migrating, and wintering areas.”

A Bicknell’s Thrush. Photo by Jeff Nadler.

A particular focus of the NMBCA is protecting habitat for various life stages of the Bicknell’s Thrush, a migratory bird species of highest conservation concern in the U.S.. The majority of the breeding population for Bicknell’s Thrush is in the northeast states, with wintering habitat in the Dominican Republic. “We recognize that loss of wintering habitat in the Dominican Republic is a major threat to Bicknell’s Thrush,” says Randy Dettmers. Randy, along with other members of the USFWS, had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic and meet with the Ministry of the Environment and other NGO conservation groups that are interested in protecting habitats for wildlife in general.  “We had a great opportunity to see first hand the issues they are dealing with, and discuss ways to collaborate and share information. We shared what strategies worked well in management areas, and worked on developing better strategic management plans for remaining habitat for Bicknell’s Thrush.”

So why get involved in migratory bird conservation? The 386 neotropical migratory bird species, including songbirds, shorebirds, and birds of prey, provide essential ecological functions including pollinating and dispersing seeds of plants that create habitat for other wildlife, keeping insect and rodent populations in balance, and providing early warnings of environmental contamination. Secondary contributions include generating billions of dollars in economic growth through the purchases of binoculars, bird seed, and travel expenses.

Click here for more information on ways you can invest in conservation.

Learn more about bird watching or click here for more information on NMBCA.

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Meet #ScienceWoman Susi von Oettingen

Susi von Oettingen, #ScienceWoman

In honor of International Migratory Bird Day May 9, we’re sharing #ScienceWoman profiles of biologists who are helping us save our feathered friends! Our #ScienceWoman campaign honors women across the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who are making history in our agency and in conservation. With each #ScienceWoman, we share a photo and a couple questions and answers about her work. Stay tuned for more posts later this week.

Meet #ScienceWoman Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist at our New England Field Office

Susi studied biology and botany as an undergrad at the College of William and Mary, and studied wildlife management in grad school at the University of Massachusetts. If you can’t find her along the New England coast working with roseate terns, piping plover and northeastern beach tiger beetles, she’s probably counting bats in summer roosts and winter hibernacula. Susi splits her time working with partners to support these and other threatened and endangered species. She assists and consults with federal and state agencies, environmental organizations and private landowners to protect and recover New England’s protected wildlife.

Mollie Beattie is my ‘official’ female conservation hero, no doubt about it. But I have lots more!” Susi says. “I work with a host of outstanding women biologists in the Northeast Region’s endangered species program and refuges. All of these women are my conservation heroes, too.” (Speaking of endangered species…Check out this interview Susi did with Fox CT on endangered species in the state!)

SVO releasing plover

Susi releasing a piping plover.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? A. I love working with the Service because of the opportunity to meet and work with the most extraordinary people. The dedicated and passionate biologists, landowners and conservation minded citizens with whom I work inspire me to keep plugging away at my job.

Q. If you could have one incredible animal adaptation, what would it be? A. I would love wings like a peregrine falcon so I could soar over wildlife refuges and watch plover chicks hatch and terns feed their young, and observe rare plants while never leaving a mark on the habitat.

Susi skiing.

Skiing is one of many of Susi’s outdoor hobbies! Photo courtesy of Susi.

See more #ScienceWoman profiles!

Mascot Madness!

March Madness has begun at last, which means people will be getting excited and using the word “bracket” outside of home improvement stores. All the teams have creative mascots, most often named after a fierce animal or other creature from the team’s locale — except my Minutemen, of course. They are named after something else entirely.

But some of these mascots are in trouble, and not just on the court. Out in the world, the issues these animals face are real, whether from climate change, pollution or habitat loss. Check out this terrific report from National Wildlife Federation on the issue.

The Canada lynx  relies on deep snow cover to hunt, but if that snow retreats north, so too will it the lynx. We’d hate if the only places to find this wildcat became on the logos for teams like New Hampshire, Villanova and Kentucky.


Although, I have more faith in the population of falcon’s recovery than Air Force’s. Photo via USFWS

The peregrine falcon made a comeback in recent years because of conservation efforts, and was removed from the endangered species list by the Service. But the Air Force Academy’s mascot could face trouble down the road as changing precipitation patterns can cause chicks to drown in their nests due to extreme rain events.


Without some serious changes to how we treat our world, black ducks like this guy could disappear after overhunting and habitat lost take their toll. Photo via USFWS


While not endangered, black bears could be a rarity in the lower 48 as global temperatures rise. Photo via USFWS

While Oregon’s Fighting Ducks may hold their own on the court, black ducks face problems from development as they migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. Sea-level rise is also a primary threat in the Chesapeake Bay area where many black ducks winter. The black duck population declined significantly since the 1950’s, though their populations have been stable for nearly 25 years since hunting bag limits were reduced.

While there is a healthy population of black bears here in the Northeast, climate change-related impacts like drought and other extreme weather events put bears and other species in jeopardy.

With so much important habitat located near the coast in the northeast corridor, climate change and sea-level rise pose a serious threat to wildlife populations and their habitats. So while you’re rooting for your home team to go all the way in climbing the bracket these next few weeks, take a moment to root for wildlife to too, because with our help, these species may be able to adapt to a changing climate and world.