Can you feel it? Something really BIG is going to happen on Monday at noon. People all across America are making plans. They’re reading field trip descriptions, booking hotels in northwest Ohio, texting their friends, and updating their “birds needed” lists. And at 12:00 noon on Monday, February 16 (tomorrow!), they’re all going to make sure they’re at their computers with their fingers warmed up and ready to go. That’s right, registration is opening for this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding!
As I do every spring, I’ll be telling you much more about the festival events and the birds as we move through the season. But today I want to tell you about something that makes me very proud to be associated with this event–Oh wait, did I tell you I’m on the festival planning team this year? I am! But that’s not what I was talking about. The thing that makes me proudest is that the Biggest Week (BW) has continued to maintain a laser-focus on their mission of bird conservation. These people aren’t just trying to sell a bunch of t-shirts with pictures of birds on them, no sirree, Bob! This purpose of this festival is to increase people’s connection with birds so they’ll care enough to contribute money in support of the important bird conservation work carried out by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO).
Last year’s festival raised $14,000 to help save habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler, a migrant bird that’s experiencing steep population declines. If you’re curious, here’s a detailed description of how last year’s Biggest Week Carbon Offset donations were spent to help that species. (Hint: Planting 12,000 trees was just part of it!)
And this year’s Biggest Week Carbon Offset Program donations will help protect and restore habitat for the Cerulean Warbler, yet another species that is having trouble. The population of this tiny blue warbler has declined 70% in the past 40 years, mostly due to habitat loss caused by human activities like agriculture, mining, and logging. They’re so hard to find that it was even hard to find one at the Cerulean Warbler Weekend sponsored by Michigan Audubon. But I did manage to get this identifiable picture of one of the males high up in an oak tree:
Here’s a link to the American Bird Conservancy website that tells you all about the plight of the Cerulean Warbler. I’m excited to see how much we can raise this year to help stop the decline of this beautiful bird before it’s too late. And by the way, even if you aren’t able to come to the Biggest Week this year, you can still make a donation to the BW Carbon Offset Program to help the Cerulean Warbler. Here’s the direct link to Paypal , or you can also get to the donation page from the home page of the Biggest Week website, here.)
In a world where there’s so much bad news all the time, and where it’s hard to feel you can make a difference, this event stands out as a highlight in my year. It’s supported by hundreds of volunteers who bend over backwards to make sure visitors have a great time while they’re in Ohio. And the birds always put on a spectacular show for us. It’s a win/win situation: The birds (and other creatures) benefit from the habitats protected, and the people who live and work in northern Ohio benefit from the tourism dollars that have become so very important to them in recent years. (Economic studies found that the Biggest Week in American Birding brings an average of $25 million a year to the local economy. Hotels, bed & breakfasts, and restaurants hire more staff to keep up with the added business generated by the 60,000 people who show up to see the birds each spring.) And on top of all that, the people who travel to the shores of Lake Erie to see the spectacular migration have a great time while they’re here.
So you see, we birders aren’t just a bunch of dorky people with binoculars and funny vests wandering around out there — we’re protecting wetlands, planting trees, and saving birds! Why not join us and see how great it feels to be a part of this worthwhile event?