Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Finding Inspiration During an Extinction Crisis

 A tapir walks through forest   Tapirs are a critical species for maintaining healthy forests. Photo by Nick Hawkins/Nai Conservation

By LEVI NOVEY

The small bee had stung me on my cheek. But I was not very concerned. I walked inside the ecolodge, checked myself in a mirror and then more excitedly looked at the photos on my camera. Even though we were only taking short breaks, I was getting great photos of the colorful hummingbirds congregating around a feeder outside. They and the incredible view from the lodge were an awesome bonus to the task at hand.

I was at this inspirational location in a national park in Costa Rica for the second session of the Baird’s Tapir Survival Alliance, an international effort to save the unique and charismatic Baird’s tapir.

[More]

Our Future Flies With Pollinators – Celebrating 2020 Pollinator Week, June 22-28

Monarch Butterfly and Bumble Bee on Swamp MilkweedMonarch butterfly and bumblebee on swamp milkweed in Michigan. Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Pollinator Week 2020 is all the buzz at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now in its 14th year, Pollinator Week celebrates species that are vital for producing food and providing every day resources such as natural fibers and medicines.

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators to healthy ecosystems on public and private lands and their value to the nation's economy, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt proclaimed June 22-28, 2020 as National Pollinator Week at the Department of the Interior. In his proclamation, Secretary Bernhardt calls upon the American public to “join us in recognizing the importance of pollinators and the stewardship role the Department plays in providing valuable pollinator habitats throughout the Nation.”

Bees, bats, butterflies, beetles, ants, flies, moths, hummingbirds and many other animal species are known as pollinators because they carry pollen from flower to flower, which in turn fertilizes the plants to produce seeds, fruits and the next generation of plants.

There are more than 200,000 species worldwide that pollinate flowering plants and agricultural crops. In fact, pollinators play a part in producing one out of every three bites of food consumed including berries, melons, apples, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, almonds, spices, coffee and chocolate. Pollinators help produce approximately $40 billion worth of products around the world each year.

Pollinators also help to support healthy habitats because of their role in the life cycle of plants that other wildlife species such as ducks, deer and songbirds, rely on for food and shelter.

But across North America, pollinator populations are changing and some species, like monarch butterflies, are in decline. Many populations are threatened by loss of food sources and habitat, human encroachment and inappropriate pesticide use.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to conserving pollinators by strengthening pollinator health. Through proactive conservation with the help of federal, state, tribal and non-governmental partners and private landowners, the Service aims to recover pollinator species currently on the Endangered Species List and support conservation efforts to preclude the need to list them.

Pollinator Week 2020 is a reminder that our future flies with healthy pollinators.

Learn about pollinator conservation at https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/ and about monarch butterflies at https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/. Visit https://www.pollinator.org/pollinator-week for more information about Pollinator Week 2020.

   Pollinator poster with drawing off flower, a bat, hummingbird, butterfly, 2 bees and beetle. It includes this text in English and Spanish, “Pollinators provide many ecosystem services that support the health of plants, people, and the planet. Get involved at www.pollinator.org. Meet these plants and pollinators, and learn how you can help them at https://www.pollinator.org/poster-2020. Art by Fiorella Ikeue.” Also includes logos of partners and benefits of pollinators

Bee Part of Pollinator Week

If you would like you to bee-friend pollinators during Pollinator Week 2020 and throughout the year, here are some things you can do:

  • Plant a pollinator-friendly garden using native flowers and use pesticides responsibly.
  • Support local beekeepers and farmers by buying local honey and locally produced organic food.
  • Challenge your family and friends to a fun “Pollinated Foods Cook-off” to see who can make a meal or a dish featuring the most ingredients that rely on pollinators. Here’s a list of pollinated foods and their pollinators.
  • Build a bat house or a native bee condo.
  • Tag your social media #PollinatorWeek and tell others about pollinators and how they can help bee-friend them.
  • Support pollinator conservation actions in your hometown.

Refuges and Hatcheries Welcome You for Great Outdoors Month

Blue skies and puffy clouds reflect off water in front of canoe    Blue skies and puffy clouds reflect off Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge's canoe trail into the Everglades. Photo by USFWS

By Aurelia Skipwith, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

June marks the start of summer and for many, the chance for much-needed outdoor vacations and a welcome relief from busy working lives. But this year, more than ever, Great Outdoors Month is something to look forward to.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown the world the value of natural spaces as retreats where we can escape the confines of houses and apartments, and even meet friends – at an appropriate distance. I take solace in this as a silver lining: a newfound appreciation by many, and a renewed interest by others, in the natural world. And so this year, in ways perhaps we have not in the past, we celebrate, appreciate and explore the outdoors.

I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt who championed our efforts to keep public lands open and accessible throughout the pandemic. Most national wildlife refuge and national fish hatchery lands remained open, enabling the public to continue to enjoy many recreation opportunities including hunting, fishing, birding, wildlife photography and much more.

In fact, refuges in many parts of the country experienced significant increases in visitation during this time. Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in south Florida, for example, experienced more visitation this March and April than all of last year!

As the nation recovers from this unprecedented situation it is only fitting that our public lands welcome Americans this month as they did throughout the spring.

Each year, we host more than 50 million visitors at our 568 national wildlife refuges and more than 70 fish hatcheries. There’s a refuge in every state and territory and most major cities have one within a short drive.

RELATED: Find a Refuge or Hatchery Near You

Whether you want to find the perfect trout stream, conquer a challenging trail, or simply spend time experiencing nature with your family, we have the place, perhaps close to home. From the northern reaches of the Arctic to the deserts of the Southwest, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to the Florida Keys, there is something for everyone.

And getting outside isn’t just fun – it helps all of us improve our health and wellbeing, while helping to support the economies of local communities and sustaining thousands of jobs. If we take care of Mother Nature, she will take care of us.

And don’t forget that hunting season is just around the corner! This fall, following President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt’s proposal for the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in history, there will be more opportunities for sportswomen and men on refuge lands than ever before.

So get outdoors. Refuges and hatcheries are ready to welcome you with informative and entertaining programs and events during Great Outdoors Month and throughout the year. And wherever you go, please recreate responsibly.

#BlackWomenWhoBird: A Personal Reflection

   woman in FWS uniform  and life jacket on a boat looking at camera, holding binoculars

My name is Felice Yarbough. I’m a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service park ranger with the Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement, an urban wildlife conservation program.

When I first joined the Service in 2019, I was told all these great things, one being that the agency was full of birders.

I didn’t really know what birding was. I could infer it had something to do with birds, but whether it was watching, recording, collecting or a combination of things, I wasn’t quite sure. What I did know was that I was new and I wanted to fit in, but I didn’t know any birders, let alone black women birders. I couldn’t remember a time when I ever used a pair of binoculars.

Birding wasn’t even part of my job description, and yet I felt I was a fraud for not knowing more. I felt I would stick out like a sore thumb being around colleagues if they ever talked about their latest birding adventure and, suddenly, all the other things that I knew would become irrelevant. I decided I would be quiet – listening, studying and hoping I would remember a sliver of the conversation so that I could regurgitate it the next time I was in a similar situation.

 black bird on brown grass  Red-winged blackbird at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge near Houston. Photo by Frankie Wimbish

I was fortunate to grow up enjoying the outdoors. It was safe. I played in the leaves that fell from the giant oak tree in the backyard. I made mud pies, discovered an albino ladybug, and I even sat in an ant pile (do not recommend). Still, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me in outdoorsy professions. My role models growing up were engineers, doctors, teachers, people in business, my mom – a scientist who rarely spent a moment outside of the laboratory. When I started to pursue interests in animal sciences, agriculture and conservation, I accepted my choice to be a minority in the field, knowing that I would likely be the only one around who looked like me.

   woman in FWS uniform  and life jacket on a boat looking through binoculars

When I heard the recent story of Christian Cooper, a black man who was birding in Central Park when a false police report was called in by a white woman who claimed harassment, it resonated with me. Whether at national wildlife refuges or in other green spaces, it could have been me. I could have been perceived as a threat or someone who didn’t belong.

Like all the other stories, the ones that have become so normal to hear and see on the news, I felt fear. I thought of how my ranger uniform outwardly identifies me as someone who works in these spaces and that should certainly protect me. But what if I wasn’t wearing a uniform? What if I was enjoying nature alone? Would I look suspicious?

We all have a right to our public lands. We deserve to feel safe while enjoying what they have to offer. For me, national wildlife refuges offer an alternative to city life. Growing up, my family didn’t even know about national wildlife refuges. But now, those are places I’m able to practice birding with my new binoculars and geek out on the iNaturalist App, also new to me. I’m forever appreciative to all my colleagues who have supported and taught me so much about birding

 woman in FWS uniform  in  front of wall of smoke  Felice Yarbough at a prescribed fire at the W.G Jones State Forest managed the Texas A&M Forest Service. Photo by USFWS

I’m grateful to be a ranger. I’m striving to be the conservation role model that I wish I had growing up. I love the work that I’m doing in Houston – getting to work with kids, many who look like me. I don’t take it for granted. I want them to experience nature in ways I didn’t. Advocacy and mentorship are more important to me now than ever before. As I heard Christian Cooper recently say “birds are modern-day dinosaurs,” and to me that’s something that everyone can get excited about. There is so much work to be done to truly make access to nature equitable for all, but it’s an investment worth making.

I alone cannot accomplish this change, but I hope to be a part of the advocacy for a more diverse and inclusive spectrum of Americans to enjoy their public lands.

  PINK BIRD FLYING Felice Yarbough says – with a smile – that three birds she knows she can identify correctly are coots, red-winged blackbirds and roseate spoonbills (above). Photo by Joe Blackburn

My journey as a black women who birds is just beginning, and I hope that my words inspire you in some way. #BlackInNature

Orphaned Key Deer Fawn ‘Eating Like A Champ,’ Doing Well At Santa Fe Teaching Zoo

close-up of fawn's face   The rescued Key deer is eating well and enjoying life at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo_Photo Courtesy of Santa Fe College

For most of the almost three-hour flight from Key West to Gainesville, Florida, on May 1 the tiny Key deer fawn that Erick Mahle had in his airplane was very quiet. It wasn’t until the small Grumman Tiger aircraft hit a little turbulence near the end of the flight that the fawn whimpered a little bit.

“I was relieved when he made some noise,” said Mahle, a volunteer pilot who transported the baby deer in conjunction with a program called Pilots N Paws. “He’d been super quiet and I was starting to worry that he might not be all right.”

Fortunately, the fawn was quite “all right” and when they landed at the University Air Center in Gainesville, Mahle gave him to Kathy Russell, curator of the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo. Russell took the fawn to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for a full check-up and initial care—where he checked out just fine.

   fawn in back bed of pickup with man feeding it

It was the culmination of a long journey for the baby deer, which a few days earlier had been found abandoned and in questionable health on Big Pine Key near National Key Deer Refuge.

 “The fawn was collected April 29 by Refuge Law Enforcement Officer Steve Berger after receiving calls that it was abandoned. Observers had seen the fawn approaching other deer and being ignored or turned away,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Supervisory Biologist Ashleigh Blackford, who at the time was acting refuge manager.  “The fawn was estimated to be 3-4 days old.  We believed it had been abandoned for at least two days, but don’t know why it had been abandoned.”

The orphaned fawn was taken to Dr. Doug Mader, a local veterinarian who voluntarily assists the Service with Key deer. The doctor checked out the fawn, determined it wasn’t in immediate danger and administered fluids.       

From there, staff from the South Florida Ecological Services Office and the refuge worked to find the fawn a permanent home, and it was taken to the Monroe County Sherriff’s animal farm in Key West, under the care Jeanne Selander. She and her team provided food, shelter and excellent care. But the Service needed to confirm that this fawn had received colostrum from its mother before it was abandoned—something that couldn’t be confirmed at facilities in the Keys.

“It’s vital that white-tailed deer receive colostrum from their mothers because of antibodies it contains.  We didn’t know whether this fawn had, which created an urgency for additional veterinary care,” Blackford said. “We had to get it to a facility that could make that determination.”

Enter Pilots N Paws, the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo and the University of Florida.

   Fawn with tongue out eating shrubThe rescued Key deer fawn gets acquainted with his new surroundings at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo_Photo Courtesy of Santa Fe College

The Service has a strong relationship with the zoo via working together on Florida grasshopper sparrows. Service Biologist Brian Powell reached out to see if they were interested in a Key deer fawn for their planned exhibit featuring Florida native animals. Russell enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Blackford then made arrangements with Pilots N Paws to get the fawn flown to Gainesville and Russell took the fawn to the university.

 “When the university confirmed the fawn had received colostrum based on proteins observed in its blood, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Frankly, there was some cheering too!” said Blackford. 

Russell said, “He got great care at the university. When he got to us at the zoo, he weighed 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) and now (on May 20) he’s up to 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds). He’s eating like a champ and adjusting well…very calm and playful. The prognosis is great. He’ll be fine.”

Having seen to it that the fawn was healthy and well-adjusted, the next major milestone for the zoo staff was naming him. “We chose ‘Blue.’ He’s named for Blue Hole, a large fresh water pond at National Key Deer Refuge where you can find Key deer,” said Russell.

For now, Blue will be quarantined behind-the-scenes, receiving top notch care from the zoo’s staff.  “In the future, guests will be able to see this tiny deer across the bridge from the American alligators,” said Russell.

And once Blue is put on public display, another airplane ride will happen.

man wit fawn in kennel Erick Mahle on airplane with fawn in Key West_by Ashleigh Blackford/USFWS

Mahle’s looking forward to flying up to the zoo with his family for a visit. “With Pilots N Paws, we usually fly dogs and cats. Having an endangered Key deer fawn as a passenger was a unique experience,” he said. “My wife is pregnant with our first child—a little girl. After she’s born we’re definitely going to fly to Gainesville to see this little deer.”

The endangered Key deer is the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer.  Adult males, or bucks, weigh 55 to 75 pounds. Adult females, or does, weigh slightly less. On average, the deer stand only about 24 to 32 inches at the shoulder. Poaching and habitat loss had reduced the number of Key deer to only a few dozen animals by the 1950s, but establishment of the refuge and subsequent listing of the deer as endangered in 1967 has allowed for protection and recovery of the species.

By Ken Warren/USFWS

A Talk on the Wild Side Podcast: Dive into Wetlands

 Podcast Icon

A Talk on the Wild Side

 PrairiePotholes  The Prairie Pothole region is known as America's Duck Factory because so many waterfowl breed there. Photo by USFWS

In celebration of American Wetlands Month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put together our first-ever national podcast dedicated solely to wetlands and the important role these ecosystems play in our lives. It’s not just about how incredibly important wetlands are to Americans for clean water, outdoor recreation, wildlife and supporting endangered species, but about the people and history, as well as 21st century threats and innovative conservation tools.

In the podcast you’ll hear stories about:

The Canary in the Salt Marsh

  bird in tall grass The saltmarsh sparrow hangs on. Photo by USFWS

Service wildlife biologist Kate O'Brien at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in southern Maine and Aimee Weldon with the Service’s Atlantic Coast Joint Venture discuss an imperiled bird that spends its entire life in the coastal salt marshes of the eastern United States, incredibly important ecosystems that are themselves endangered.

To survive in salt marshes, the saltmarsh sparrow has developed remarkable strategies that have worked well for more than 10,000 years, which you’ll hear about, in addition to the impacts of rising sea levels, which have put these birds in steep decline. You’ll also hear about the incredible community of conservationists and researchers that study the sparrow, and have been working to conserve it and its salt marsh habitat for more than two decades.

   nest with hatchling, 3 eggsA saltmarsh sparrow nest. Photo by USFWS

And while this might sound like a monumental task, Service biologists and our partners remain hopeful and committed.

“…this isn't just about the salt marsh sparrow. This is just the first in a suite of birds that rely on the tidal marsh system that are declining as well. If we can get it right for this first species, which is a great representative of the high marsh habitat, then we're going to get it right for everything,” Service wildlife biologist Kate O'Brien.

 

You Can’t Protect What You Can’t See

   map

Back in 1975 the National Wetlands Inventory Program was created to help conserve wetlands - a huge national concern at that time and now, with more than 50 percent of wetlands in the lower 48 lost since the 1780s. Even at that time of limited geospatial technology it was clear that maps of America’s remaining wetlands were needed to understand the role of wetlands in supporting our communities and wildlife, and how best to conserve these natural resources.

Today more than half a million users visit our Wetlands Mapper interface every year, and those users download nearly 400 maps a day. People downloading these maps include private landowners, city planners, and members of state and federal agencies, industry, conservation groups and universities. The rate of map downloads has steadily increased every year. Where there are people and wetlands, there are maps being downloaded, especially in places where critical decisions are being made about the fate of wetlands.

In this podcast, you’ll learn about how the Service is going about the time-intensive work of updating our wetlands database, in part by applying new technologies. You’ll hear from leaders in this effort, such as Bill Wilen, who over the last 40 years has been singularly focused on wetland conservation through increased awareness of and access to vital information about them.

“We had a big celebration about producing [the first] one million maps, but a visiting scientist replied that we had 199 million to go. That one statement … that everybody in the United States needed access to these maps and the information they contained, was the single-most important driving influence on my career,” Bill Wilen, National Wetland Inventory Program.

 

Conserving America’s Duck Factory in Big Sky Country

duck in water shaking   A mallard hen in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota. Photo by Ryan Moehring/USFWS

The Prairie Pothole region is perhaps one of the most unheralded wetland ecosystems in the country. This area sits in the heart of North America - consisting of about 300,000 square miles, with two thirds in Canada and a third in the United States, with pothole wetlands in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. 

Sean Fields, with the Migratory Birds Joint Ventures Program and Linda Vance, senior ecologist with the Montana Natural Heritage Program in Helena, Montana will share more about this important ecosystem, including current and historical threats. She’ll talk about what’s being done to preserve agricultural and other major land uses in the region, while also protecting and restoring wetlands that support more than half of the waterfowl in North America.

To enhance that effort, the Service is working with diverse local and state partners in Montana to map its wetlands, including Vance. According to her, Montana is a little bit unique in that, of the northern states, it’s one of the few that has not lost the majority of its wetlands; we still have, we think, 60-70% of the original wetlands up in the prairie. Vance and her colleagues work to protect this remaining intact habitat, as well as restore wetlands that have been lost.   

Vance also underscores the importance of this work and its outcomes:

“Beyond being important for wildlife, we know that wetlands are very important for things like flood control, and we're seeing these more weather extremes along with changing climate, more flooding, and as we see that, it's really driving home the fact that we need to keep these wetlands on the landscape and functioning,” Linda Vance, senior ecologist for the Montana Natural Heritage Program.

Invasion of the Hairy-clawed Crustaceans: Mitten Crabs Are a Delicacy for Destruction

mitten crab   Mitten crab. Photo by Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=342346 

Sounds like a spoof horror flick, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, hairy-clawed crustaceans have been transported out of their native Asian waters and have invaded North America and Europe! They are better known as mitten crabs (Eriocheir sp.).

Mitten crabs are a medium-sized burrowing crab native to Asian rivers, lakes and coastal habitats of China and Korea. They have dense amounts of setae, or hair, covering their claws causing them to resemble mittens, thus the name. They sound cute, but their introduction to U.S. ecosystems can cause serious harm.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week
  May 16-23 is dedicated to shining a light on the invasive problem.

On June 22, 1989, mitten crabs were listed as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act. These crabs are a hazard to human health, the economy and natural resources. Mitten crabs can outcompete native species for food and space. Their burrowing activity can cause damage to levees resulting in significant erosion. They can damage industrial plants by causing filter screens, pumps and water intake structures to fail. Mitten crabs can have a serious effect on the commercial fishing industry. These crabs are known to host the oriental lung fluke, and other zoonotic organisms, which can be transferred to humans in raw or undercooked crab meat. In addition, their “mittens” can transport hundreds of tiny nuisance organisms. There have been confirmed mitten crabs found in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, Hudson River, Mississippi River, San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River, but the oriental lung fluke has not yet been found in mitten crabs collected within the United States.

Mitten crab season begins around September 1, coinciding with the female crabs’ roe maturation, running through December and often into the new year. The crabs are a delicacy in some Asian cuisines.  This desire creates a lucrative market, which drives black market smuggling of live mitten crabs from Asia into the United States every year.

  crab tied up and blowing bubbled A siezed mitten crab. Photo by USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Inspection Program is the nation's front-line defense against the illegal wildlife trade. The program consists of about 120 wildlife inspectors who protect our country’s vital natural resources at major ports of entry throughout the United States.  Wildlife inspectors also help the United States fulfill its commitment to global wildlife conservation by intercepting illegal shipments of smuggled wildlife and wildlife products. 

 rows of crabs

In 2019, the Service created the Wildlife Inspection Interdiction Team (WIIT), and Operation Hidden Mitten was the first international inspection operation initiated by the newly formed group. The team consists of seasoned Service law enforcement professionals who are committed to closing international wildlife trafficking pathways, generating intelligence and coordinating national wildlife inspection efforts.

Each fall, wildlife inspectors search for live mitten crabs being smuggled into the United States. The crabs are mainly shipped via express couriers that aim to have a single package offloaded from a plane, sorted and reloaded onto the next plane within 15-30 minutes – a perfect pathway for shipping live, perishable animals. Under the leadership of the WIIT, more than 14,000 live mitten crabs were seized from 137 illegal shipments.(Some of the siezed crabs are seen here. Photo by USFWS.) Smugglers had falsely declared the shipments as T-shirts, jeans, auto part samples, shopping bags, photo albums and other commercial products.

You can do your part to help stop these invaders from entering our country. If you see mitten crabs in the marketplace or in our waterways, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by calling toll free at: 1-844-397-8477 or email: fws_tips@fws.gov.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to pay rewards for information or assistance that leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of seized property. Payment of rewards is the discretion of the Service and is linked to specific federal wildlife laws. The amount of any reward we may pay is commensurate with the information or assistance received. Please discuss the possibility of receiving a reward with the Service personnel receiving your information or assistance.

By Eva Lara, Regional Supervisor Wildlife Inspector

Statement on the Recent Tragedy in Virunga National Park

mountain gorilla with baby on back
Virunga is best known for its mountain gorillas. Ranging in two island habitats separated by 25 km of agricultural land, this species has rebounded from the brink of extinction and represents the biggest conservation success story for great apes in Africa. In the late 1980s, only a few hundred mountain gorillas remained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda. Today, thanks to intensive conservation support from USFWS and others, the mountain gorilla population has increased to over 1,000. In 2018, in recognition of their increasing numbers, mountain gorillas were reclassified from critically endangered to endangered. Mountain gorillas are the only African great apes that are increasing, not decreasing, in number. Photo by Dirck Byler/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joins the global conservation community in mourning the 17 lives lost in the recent tragic attack on community members, park rangers, and staff of the Virunga National Park. Virunga’s devoted rangers are the courageous stewards of what has been a success story for the rebounding mountain gorilla population. In the face of extreme challenges, the park rangers not only defend the wildlife of one of Africa’s most biodiverse landscapes, but also protect the communities of which they themselves are a part. Our thoughts are with their colleagues, friends, and the families they leave behind. Since 2011, Virunga has undertaken a tremendous effort to support the widows and families of rangers killed in the line of duty. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is humbled to have been one of the original supporters of its Fallen Ranger Fund, which honors the legacy of these fallen heroes and provides essential assistance for their loved ones.

We extend our deepest condolences to the Virunga community.

Aurelia Skipwith, Director, and the staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

World Migratory Bird Day 2020: Birds Connect Our World

In 2009, scientists captured a whimbrel in coastal Virginia, an important stopover site for this migratory shorebird. When the bird, a female nicknamed Hope, was released, she carried a satellite transmitter that would provide details about her future travels. Shuttling between breeding grounds in northwestern Canada and a wintering site in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hope demonstrated both the spectacular journeys that migratory birds make each year and the threats they face.

In 2020, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), coordinated by Environment for the Americas in the Western Hemisphere, launches its annual conservation campaign with the slogan Birds Connect Our World. Throughout the year, we are focusing on the tracking technologies researchers use not only to learn about migratory routes, but also to examine the hazards along these routes and identify the conservation actions that can help migratory birds throughout their journeys.

  Design of 12 birds flying over map of world who text reading Birds Connect Our World/ World Migratory Bird Day 2020

The design that highlights Birds Connect Our World features 12 bird species: northern pintail, American kestrel, barn owl, western sandpiper, bar-tailed godwit, arctic tern, purple martin, calliope hummingbird, fork-tailed flycatcher, Canada warbler, yellow-breasted chat and Baird’s sparrow. Each represents a method of tracking birds, including banding, geolocators (electronic tracking devices), weather radar, satellite tracking, feather analysis and citizen science. Throughout the year, these species will take us on journeys across the globe as we explore the tracking methods used to follow them and the communities on the ground that are working to make their journeys safer. Our ultimate goal is to raise public awareness of their spectacular journeys and motivate conservation actions at the local level that help to protect them.

Which brings us back to Hope. This whimbrel was tracked over more than 50,000 miles, but disappeared in 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck St. Croix. Intense storms, illegal hunting, pane-glass windows, loss of habitat, free-ranging cats and plastic pollution are just a few of the factors that World Migratory Bird Day tackles in 2020.

It is our hope that by exploring the ways we track bird migrations and learning about the phenomenon of bird migrations, we can also join together and unify our voices for the protection of our shared birds and their habitats.

Join us virtually this spring at BirdDayLIVE for World Migratory Bird Day 2020!

 

By Susan Bonfield, Environment for the Americas

Phoenix Makes Room for the Downtown Owls

  2 burrowing owls in front of shrubs Burrowing owl pair at Rio Salado release from tent April 19. Photo courtesy of Jenohn Wrieden/Wild at Heart Raptor Center

Burrowing owls have expressive personalities that capture attention like few other birds. Standing only slightly taller than a soda can, these bright-eyed, gregarious owls delight observers with their daily antics: bowing, chattering, and preening their young. They are loved by the birding community and public alike.

5 people in purple FedEx shirts an d ne in gray shirt raise hands/mug for camera   FedEx employees and family rejoice in a job well-done. Courtesy of Cathy Wise/Audubon Arizona

What makes these owls even more special is that they are the only owls in the world that live underground. Unfortunately, this makes them especially vulnerable to habitat conversion, and they are often forced out of their homes by development. This is why Audubon ArizonaThe City of Phoenix, and the Wild At Heart Raptor Center are working in partnership to coordinate the beloved Downtown Owl Program: a volunteer-based effort to build artificial burrows for displaced owls, educate Phoenix area residents about the birds, and engage the community in conservation activities. The project receives generous support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant Program, FedEx, Wells Fargo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many other individual donors.

So how do these owls get rescued?

   owl at opening of burrowA burrowing owl inspects the new entrance as soon as workers have left. Photo courtesy of Jenohn Wrieden/Wild at Heart Raptor Center

The process begins with biologists from the Wild at Heart Raptor Center safely capturing owls from work sites and moving them to aviaries to await new homes. Because these owls do not dig their own burrows (and prairie dogs are in short supply) volunteers are needed to create the artificial homes. Under close supervision, community members of all ages assemble plastic buckets and flexible irrigation tubing into "affordable housing units." Then, temporary release tents are constructed above a new burrow cluster. A pair of owls are placed within each tent, and the new residents are fed mice daily for 28-30 days and then the tent is removed. These weeks in confinement serve to break the site fidelity the birds may have for their old home territory. When the tent comes off, the owls are free to go or to stay. Do they all stay? No—but many do and successfully raise families, much to the delight of all involved! The percentage of birds staying at the new area varies from site to site, and is likely related to prey availability and other factors.

Burrow sites are carefully evaluated before work begins and are located in a variety of settings: private farms, municipal parcels, and most recently at the urban Rio Salado Park. Audubon Arizona’s Downtown Owl Project mobilized thousands of volunteers to build burrows and release owls at five sites within the park. As one might imagine, park visitors delighted in seeing the owls! The team celebrated the release of the 100th owl at Rio Salado in April 2016 and began taking the program on the road to find higher quality owl habitats. Arizona Audubon is currently working at five sites throughout central Phoenix, and in 2019 assisted with re-homing 72 owls in the Phoenix area. Wild at Heart has worked with other organizations statewide to translocate more owls to many locations throughout the state. The project has also been a source of Burrowing Owl Translocation Best Practices, and much has been learned about process, timing of release, and other important elements. For a quick peek at the latest research, see Dejeanne Doublet’s “Survival, Fidelity and Nesting Fates of Translocated Burrowing Owls in Arizona”

Conservation in Action

  a woman and child look at camera as other volunteers work Families worked together to build release tents. Photo courtesy of Steve Prager/Audubon Arizona

The focus on burrowing owl conservation is necessary because the species is disappearing rapidly from the Phoenix Valley and much of their range. The Downtown Owl Project supports both the Urban Bird Treaty City’s and National Audubon's strategic goals to create bird-friendly communities and to build durable public will related to environmental stewardship. The specific objectives are to complete meaningful bird habitat conservation work and nurture a diverse volunteer workforce.

Community education is of equal importance, so Audubon educators developed an in-class outreach program for 4th-6th grade that focuses on burrowing owl natural history and invites family participation in Downtown Owl workdays.

By Cathy Wise, Audubon Arizona, and Valerie Fellows, USFWS

More Entries