There are a host of reasons to pay attention to birds. Watching tree swallows sail over a meadow, or listening for a ruffed grouse’s drumming from deep in the forest can bring pure joy.
Paying attention to the birds around us is also a way to access the wild world we enjoy here in the Mahoosuc region. Hearing a loon for the first time can be as exciting as seeing a moose. When yellow-bellied sapsuckers return in the late winter, you know that sap is running.
Maybe more important, birds can be a good indicator of change in the world we share with them. Like the old saying, “the canary in the coal mine” birds can signal when something is wrong. The World Wildlife Fund in its 2018 paper, Living Planet, reported a 60% drop in animal populations across the planet in recent decades. And, birds have not been immune. The 2018 State of the World’s Birds report states that 1,469 types of birds are threatened with extinction.
Here in the Mahoosuc region, loon populations are being watched closely to protect the waters on which they rely. Many of the birds that migrate to our region from the tropics are undergoing dramatic drops in their populations. Understanding these trends isn’t just for the birds. If birds are doing poorly, it is a good bet that the air, water, soil and forest we share may be threatened as well.
Birders can help. More and more they are reporting their sightings to scientists who use the information to gain insights into trends and patterns. This is often the first step in finding solutions. Here are few success stories:
Nesting bald eagles are regularly reported along the Androscoggin when, just a few decades ago, they had almost entirely disappeared.
· Wild turkeys, once absent from New England, are now common. I recently had to stop my car on Vernon Street because a flock of almost 30 turkeys were crossing the road.
· Dick Albert of Fryeburg tells of how in the last five years sandhill cranes, a wading bird larger than a great blue heron, has returned to nest along the Saco where they had been absent for decades.
If you are interested in learning more about birds, watch for upcoming events sponsored by the Mahoosuc Land Trust. On January 12th, I am teaching a Beginning Birder Class. It’s free and will provide tips designed to help all birders but is designed for beginners. Call (207) 824-3806 To find out more and register.