It’s official: I’m a bird nerd. On a Saturday in late July I joined nine of my colleagues in becoming a Vird Ambassador as part of a new National Audubon Society (NAS) initiative to teach bird lovers to better advocate for these creatures.
Kelly Knutson, NAS New York Field Organizer, NYS Headquarters, Troy, New York, presented our certifications.
First, a little history.
The National Audubon Society got its start in 1905, discouraging the manufacture and sale of women’s headwear that used bird feathers. Subsequent campaigns encouraged sensible hunting practices and the reduced use of pesticides.
The Society has done its homework on its 1,800,000 “engaged participants” and is sensitive to the fact that being a bird-lover doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a tree-hugging liberal. In fact, Knutson said that 48 percent of Audubon members list themselves as centrists or conservatives.
Birds don’t care about politics; they just want a place to nest, eat and live. But 588 North American species are threatened, including more than 100 who call New York home. As bird ambassadors, it is urgent that if we want to be a voice for our fellow creatures we don’t sound too shrill a note, which will turn off new recruits.
So with that in mind, how do we achieve a non-confrontational, bipartisan approach to bird advocacy?
Talk about politics or climate change’s effect on bird populations isn’t helpful. Neither are arguments about whether science is real or fake news or who’s to blame; man or nature.
What is helpful is a shared interest in the birds. A better approach is to focus on our backyard visitors and whether or not their visits are as commonplace as they used to be, and then perhaps launch into a discussion about their habits and habitats.
If you tell someone that the Baltimore oriole you’ve enjoyed for years in your backyard orchard is increasingly making its way to the far less-urbanized Catskill and Adirondack regions, that could open a dialogue.
It is useful to point out that North American birds use five major migrational flyways and that warmer average temperatures combined with shrinking woodlands, grasslands and coastal areas have altered their ranges.
From there, you might want to point out that insects comprise 90 percent of a bird’s diet.
One thing most of us agree on is that we much prefer the company of birds. Their beauty, their songs and the fact that they keep our yards relatively pest-free are all easy-to-sell attributes to ensure their protection.
We should also stress the use of native plants in our gardens and yards. Oaks, for example, harbor the caterpillars of 534 butterfly and moth species, while the non-native ginkgo attracts a mere five species.
To find out which plants are ideal to attract and keep birds, visit audubon.org/plants for birds and plug in your zip code.
One of the group members reminded us to take advantage of the wallet-friendly Long Island native plant sales that take place twice a year at Suffolk Community College in Riverhead.
Another colleague, who works for one of our elected officials, reminded the group that “It’s great to educate but sometimes you have to legislate.”
That gave rise to an analysis of 1st District Congressman Lee Zeldin’s environmental record. On the plus side was his budgetary inclusion of $8 million for the Long Island Sound, $26.7 million for the National Estuary Program and the suspension of the sale of Plum Island. We were urged to thank him for these actions but also encourage him to be more vocal and active on other environmental issues.
So what can you do to become a bird ambassador, besides creating a bird-friendly property and talking to your friends? Don’t sit idly by while Congress dismantles the Endangered Species Act.
Instead, write a letter to Congressman Zeldin at 30 West Main Street, Suite 201, Riverhead, 11901, call his district office at 631.209.4235, or best of all, visit him and voice your concerns. And don’t forget to bring him a birdhouse and some native plants as a gift.