Like many people, I started watching birds at a backyard bird feeder. That soon led to curiosity about their names and behaviors, which eventually led to subscribing to bird magazines and a full-blown love affair with birds. And one day in 2011 I saw an ad for a spring birding festival in northern Ohio. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing colorful warblers that I’d never even heard of before, so I signed up for the Biggest Week in American Birding. And my life was forever changed.
That first spring was overwhelming. I had a lot of learning to do, and lots of beautiful birds to watch. I saw tiny little warblers and other songbirds in all the colors of the rainbow. My jaw hung open so much I probably swallowed as many insects as the birds did. Birding became somewhat of a healthy addiction, with warblers serving as the gateway drug.
But, believe it or not, there’s much more to the Biggest Week than birdwatching. The festival is organized and hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, an amazing team of devoted scientists and naturalists who spread the message of conservation throughout the festival. In fact, that’s the real reason for the Biggest Week, to teach people about the importance of protecting bird habitats. If you can get people to fall in love with birds — or even care about them a little bit — you gain an ally in the battle to protect the wetlands, woodlands, and grasslands they depend on.
If you’re one of those people who only notices birds when they poop on your clean car, you might be interested to know that birds have great value to the ecosystem and to the economy. Here’s what the American Bird Conservancy has to say about why we should care about bird conservation:
Birds inspire us.
Our affection for birds dates to the dawn of our species. Eagles, doves, and ravens permeate our history, cultures, and religions. Images of cranes, falcons, geese, and parrots adorn the walls of Neolithic caves, Egyptian pyramids, Mayan temples—and most American homes today. Storks deliver us at birth and owls mourn our deaths. Each new generation marvels at the beauty of birds and their ability to fly away, leaving us simply to wonder.
Birds are indicators of environmental hazards.
Because they are sensitive to habitat change and are easy to census, birds are the ecologist’s favorite tool. Changes in bird populations are often the first indication of environmental problems. Whether ecosystems are managed for agricultural production, wildlife, water, or tourism, success can be measured by the health of birds.
Protecting birds promotes good land stewardship.
Birds have been a driving force behind the American conservation movement since its early days, when unregulated hunting, use of toxic pesticides, and destruction of wetlands threatened our wildlife and wild places. The environmental problems we face today are even more complex, and we need a new generation of committed conservationists to counter them.
Birds are a tremendous economic resource.
Forty-six million Americans watch birds. Birders are the market for a burgeoning industry, spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year feeding birds, purchasing equipment, and traveling in pursuit of birds. This economic force—and the benefits birds provide in insect and rodent control, plant pollination, and seed dispersal—add value to sustaining birds and their habitats.
But most of all, we have a moral obligation.
As stewards of our planet, we have an absolute ethical obligation to maintain all other species regardless of their functional values. We should no more allow the loss of species than destroy a masterpiece of art. The very least our generation can do is to ensure our children inherit as much as we have now. It is on this ethical commitment to the future that American Bird Conservancy is founded.
The first time I visited northern Ohio during spring migration, I was shocked to see this huge sign posted along Route 2 near Magee Marsh. And I wasn’t the only birder to take notice — this sign was seen by thousands of us driving on that road between the various birding events, and the conversation about birders buying Duck Stamps has been getting bigger each year.
It was through my involvement with the Biggest Week that I learned the importance of the Federal Duck Stamps, and why birders should buy them for the same reasons hunters do: to preserve bird habitats. Even though I have strong objections to sport hunting, I can put those aside in the spirit of finding common ground with hunters to do a good thing for the natural world. We birders owe much to the hunters for their financial commitment to maintaining the refuges we visit on our birdwatching trips. It’s about time we began contributing our share. (I’ve bought a Duck Stamp every year since I learned about this program.) And just think, if enough birders bought the Duck Stamp each year we might have more influence when it comes to making laws and regulations affecting birds. (If you want to step up to the plate too, you can buy the Federal Duck Stamp and the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp directly from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, here. They’re very reasonable at $15 each.)