It has been a phenomenal year of birding in Massachusetts, with a number of vagrants spotted in some of our favorite birding hotspots. But as the woods and fields grow increasingly quiet this fall, it’s a reminder that these birds are not to be taken for granted. Nationwide, birds are in trouble. And in Massachusetts, a state with great bird diversity, a whopping 22 birds are in decline and many more are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is a frightening prospect that the excitement of our favorite birding pastime might wane as birds disappear.
Fueled by an interest in bird conservation, the HBC re-established the Conservation Committee last spring to provide additional focus to the growing needs of birds in our area. The conservation challenge is daunting because of the many social, political, and economic factors that must be navigated to get meaningful conservation projects off the ground. However, the committee has identified several conservation opportunities that are within reach and that could produce conservation dividends. Here’s an update on a few of our leading opportunities.
Working on a Motus tower. Photo credit: Bob Zimmermann.
Motus Wildlife Tracking System—Miniature radio transmitters, called nanotags, are revolutionizing our understanding of bird, bat, and even insect movement. One might think that placing a tag on a bird could interfere with flight, but these tags are incredibly lightweight. There are fifteen receiver towers that pick up the signal of these nanotags in Massachusetts. That might sound like a lot, but their detection range is limited to roughly ten miles and there are gaps right here in our area. In collaboration with the Northeast Motus Collaborative, the committee is investigating the potential for sponsoring the construction of a receiver in the hilltowns between the Connecticut River Valley and the Berkshires so that bird movement and habitat usage can be more readily understood. Two committee members observed the installation of a tower at October Mountain State Forest last month to get a sense of what is involved.
Chimney Swift Nesting Tower—One of the great spectacles in a summer evening is the swirling flock of nesting Chimney Swifts returning to their roost. New England has an abundance of old mills and brick buildings which often serve as Chimney Swift roosting or nesting habitat. But as these structures age, it isn’t uncommon for communities to remove the buildings and repurpose the land, thereby eliminating the Chimney Swift colony. As a result, and because of old growth forest loss, Chimney Swifts are on the decline and are on a list of birds that could one day go extinct. Intervention is necessary. Designs for nesting towers are readily available, and Bruce Hart is looking into the construction of a tower in Williamsburg to replace a roosting site in the chimney of an old school building that has recently been demolished. While finding suitable locations and willing recipients of a tower is challenging, several locations have been suggested for consideration and the discussion is ongoing.
Bees at work. Photo credit: Bob Zimmermann.
Pollinator Gardens—A vast majority of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators (insects, bats, and birds) for reproduction. Many birds in our area rely on those very same insects for food. Unfortunately, key pollinators such as wild bees and some butterflies are on the decline owing to habitat loss, climate change, and the indiscriminate use of herbicides, creating concerns for the persistence of our insectivorous birds and natural communities. One option to help reduce this decline, promoted by state and federal agencies and conservation groups, is the expansion of pollinator gardens. Not only do flowering milkweed, sunflowers, coneflower, and lavender produce pollinator benefits, they are colorful and easy to maintain. The committee is promoting the use of pollinator gardens as an affordable and effective conservation tool in our area. Several committee members have registered their pollinator gardens with HomeGrownNationalPark.org and have eliminated their lawns in favor of low maintenance pollinator gardens.
Male Bobolink. Image credit: Creative Commons, photo by JanetandPhil.
Grassland bird monitoring—Isabel Bronson, Land Stewardship Coordinator with the Trustees of Reservations, joined the Conservation Committee to discuss the plight of grassland birds and opportunities to assist in monitoring them on Trustees’ properties. Point count surveys during the breeding season on these properties are helping managers and scientists answer key unknowns such as whether timing of migration is changing due to climate change, whether grassland bird arrival coincides with food availability, and what are effective management regimes. The program expanded to include 28 properties this year, and several committee members assisted with point counts on four of them in western Massachusetts. We aim to have the HBC be part of the larger effort to conserve grassland birds such as the Bobolink, which has experienced a significant decline due to habitat loss, and stands to benefit from this program.
If you have an interest in making a difference to birds in our area by participating in any of these activities, we welcome you to join the HBC Conservation Committee. Please contact Bob Zimmermann at email@example.com.
Contributed by Will Duncan, HBC Conservation Committee Member.