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The ABCs of Saving Wild Birds Part 1

From cleaning bird feeders to purchasing bananas that benefit migratory birds, the year begins with four of 26 ways to lead the bird conservation lifestyle.

Peter Stangel, Ph.D.
Posted: April 25, 2013, 5:00 p.m. PDT

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I’m a 24/7 birder, and I’ll bet you are, too. It’s one of the biggest joys of birding: No matter where I am or what time of day it is, there’s always a chance that I’ll see some good bird. The more unusual the circumstances and the more unlikely the situation, the more fun it is.

Case in point: As I backed out of a parking space last week, I looked to my left to watch for traffic and caught the reflection of a bird in the window of the car next to me. I did a double take – a raptor, probably an accipiter.

I watched the reflection for a couple seconds, enjoying the shape of bird as it circled overhead, trying to identify it. Coming to my senses, I realized that if I stepped out of the car, I could look at the real thing.

Downy woodpecker
Cleaning bird feeders and feeding areas regularly can reduce the possibility of disease transmission.

After grabbing my car binocular, I spun around and watched a beautiful Mississippi Kite cruising over the mall where I had just eaten lunch. Thus began my life list of birds first seen as reflections in car windows.

It’s easy and fun to be a 24/7 bird conservationist, too. Much as I’d like to take a week of vacation to donate my time to some conservation cause, that’s just not a reality right now.

There are lots of simple things that I can do, however, in the course of everyday life that help birds. It’s all about living the bird conservation lifestyle.

In the 2008 Conservation Corners, we’ll work our way through 26 activities that each of us can do to benefit birds – one for each letter of the alphabet.

A Is For Action
The backbone of the whole system, action is the most important step that you can do to help birds and live the bird conservation lifestyle. Take the pledge right now: Every time you read this column, take action on at least one of the activities.

If you do just one per issue, you’ll have accomplished six at the end of the year. I think you’ll find that once you get started, you’ll want to do more.

It’s a little bit like exercise. Getting started is the tough part. Once you get in the groove, though, you won’t want to stop and will become addicted to the endorphins. Okay, I can’t claim that living the bird conservation lifestyle actually stimulates endorphin production, but I can tell you for a fact that something about it makes me happy.

B Is For Bananas
My favorite fruit, and I’m not alone. Bananas are America’s No. 1 fruit, and most of us consume on average about 28 pounds per year. The industry estimates that about 96 percent of American households purchase bananas at least once each month.
 
What’s the connection to birds? Bananas are grown in tropical regions around the world. Most of the fruit consumed in the United States originates in Central and South America, right smack in the middle of some of the most biologically rich areas on the planet. Many of the migratory birds that share your back yard spend the winter months in these tropical havens.

For years, the banana industry was infamous for poor environmental practices that included deforestation of native habitats, poor waste disposal, water pollution and excessive use of chemicals for fertilizer and pest control. Recognizing the importance of the banana industry to both people and the environment, the Rainforest Alliance stepped forward in 1991 and brought together a host of partners to establish the first standards for responsible banana production.

Today, more than 15 percent of bananas in international trade come from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms. These producers take steps to improve water quality, recycle waste, minimize chemical use and improve the quality of life for farmers and their families. All of this is good news for both resident and migratory birds.

Two companies, Chiquita and Favorita Fruit Company, have achieved 100 percent certification of all company-owned plantations. Next time you are foraging for bananas in the supermarket, the choice is clear: certified.

Even better, drop a quick note to the companies, and let them know how much you appreciate their concern for their environment. A little positive reinforcement can work wonders.

If your supermarket doesn’t stock certified bananas, ask them to start. Never underestimate the power of your pocketbook.

Day in and day out, my favorite place to watch birds remains the bird feeders in my yard. In terms of pure enjoyment,  feeding birds in my backyard sits at the top of my list.

Feeding birds provides many benefits. It’s a great way to introduce newcomers to the pleasure of birding, it provides superb opportunities to watch birds up close and learn about their lives, and it can help birds in terms of providing sustenance during periods of stress.

In return for the pleasure of their company, it’s our obligation to keep their feeding places clean. Cleaning bird feeders and feeding areas and changing food regularly can reduce the possibility of disease transmission.

The first step is to buy an easy-to-clean feeder. Many manufacturers now highlight special features on feeders that make them simple to clean.

Make sure that you can disassemble a feeder to clean away seed residue completely. Many plastic feeders can go into the dishwasher for easy care.

Wood feeders can be more challenging, so choose a style with easy access for cleaning. Cleaning bird feeders once a month is good practice, as is raking the ground under the feeders to remove seed hulls and bird droppings.

D Is For Donate
Literally hundreds of organizations work to conserve birds and their habitats. Many are not-for-profit organizations that depend on donations to fuel their conservation efforts.
 
Supporting these organizations can be one of the most rewarding and educational opportunities available to birders. In fact, the toughest part might be deciding which to support.

Most organizations advertise minimum membership fees, which entitle donors to benefits such as magazines, newsletters and special field trips. If you can’t afford the minimum membership, don’t despair. Every little bit helps.

Look for an organization that supports causes important to you: land conservation, research, education. Supporting local groups also feels rewarding, because you can see first-hand how they benefit birds and the environment.

Take The Pledge
Pick one of the activities above, and make it happen. Don’t be surprised if buying certified bananas, cleaning feeders regularly or supporting your favorite bird conservation organization becomes a habit.

Excerpt from WildBird, January/February 2008 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing LLC. To purchase digital back issues of WildBird Magazine, click here.

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