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International Migratory Bird Day


Opinion - Editorial by Sam D. Hamilton

May 8, 2004

Tom R. MacKenzie - Chief, Media Relations, 404-679-7291


While some of us might not know the difference between a great blue heron and a snowy egret, or a wood stork from a gull-billed tern, we love to see these graceful and beautiful creatures in flight along wind-capped waves, or silently hunting their prey, statue-like, mirrored on the glassy surface of a still wetlands pool. These colonial-nesting birds are favorites of the general public because of their size and visibility but are surprisingly vulnerable to human-related threats.

International Migratory Bird Day, which is May 8, 2004, is an annual event to celebrate and support migratory bird conservation. This year’s theme is the conservation of colonial-nesting birds, such as the great blue heron.

With ever-increasing growth, more and more land is paved and developed, forcing wildlife into ever-dwindling places to live. Here in the Southeast, our coastal areas are being developed at breakneck speed. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 50 percent of Gulf inland and coastal wetlands have been lost, turning miles of pristine coastline and woodland hammocks into developed areas. And the pace is unlikely to stop. The Census Bureau estimates a 72 percent increase in the population of the five Gulf Coast states between 1995 and 2025 from a total of 44.2 million to an estimated 61.4 million people.

We need to realize that if we are going to have continued growth, we need to do more to protect wildlife and their habitats.

What can we do? Sometimes it is best to start with what we can control. The choices we make can have great impacts far beyond the horizon.

Clean up our act. Don’t litter. And when we take our next beach walk, let’s take a litter bag. When we see an improperly discarded fishing line or entangling plastic that has washed ashore, let’s pick it up. It belongs in a trash can, not the beach. The trash we pick up can save the lives of countless birds that would die slow, agonizing deaths strangled and hamstrung in the pitiless plastic. The pelican we save will live another day to dive and snatch elusive fish feeding itself and our imaginations to the delight of kids and adults alike.

Do not disturb. Let’s keepour distance from wildlife on land and water. We can use binoculars to get a closer look. Use watercraft responsibly.

Protect habitat. Get involved with restoration of wetlands. If you own wetlands, save as much as you can. There are easement programs that subsidize these choices. Consider building sites carefully. How we create our nation has a huge impact on all aspects of the environment, air, water, and land. Before you build, explore environmentally-friendly approaches to reduce impacts on key areas.

Make responsible seafood consumer choices. The type of seafood we buy will affect fishing methods, including the use of longlines and gillnets, that can have a huge impact on birds.

Visit our website at for events in your area and to get a wide array of information and additional resources to help colonial-nesting birds.

These choices may take a little extra effort but can make our part of the world safer for these glorious creatures for our generation, and those we leave our world to in the future. I hope you will join me on May 8 to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. Also, recognize that everyday is one that you can help save these extraordinary migratory birds.

Sam D. Hamilton
Southeast Regional Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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