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Lark Ascending: Tips for saving birds on World Migratory Bird Day

Christina Holbrook
Lark Ascending
Christina Holbrook
Photo by Joe Kusumoto

“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” Rachel Carson

Spring is here and not even COVID-19 can darken the pure joy of witnessing the return of migratory birds to Summit County. Colorado is home to over 400 species of birds, and in the past several weeks, many have been returning to their favorite nesting spots in the county.

Up where I live on Gold Hill, the robins started returning in mid-March, while bluebirds appeared a week or two later. Then flickers and finches. And just this week, the neighborhood was buzzing with texts sharing the exciting news: The hummingbirds are back, touching down on their appointed neighborhood feeders. Then this morning, another arrival: There was the wren, buzzing and churring from the rooftop, examining the nest box options around our house.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of birds to human beings. They embody beauty as well as courage and toughness. What other 0.11-ounce creature can you think of that packs as much grace and ferocity as a hummingbird?

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Birds remind us of our wildness and our belonging as well as our capacity to rise above difficulties and to heal. Their untamed voices, “harsh and exciting,” announce our “place in the family of things.” Their sturdy spirits offer us the possibility of being “light and frolicsome,” and “improbably beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.” (Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” “Starlings in Winter”)

Our personal health and the health of our communities are tied to the presence of birds. Research by scientist and sound tracker Gordon Hempton has shown that the human range of sound is a perfect match for birdsong (see Birdnote.org). Just as Rachel Carson writes of a chilling apocalyptic “Silent Spring” for humans — a world without birdsong — Hempton postulates that we have evolved to hear bird sounds quite specifically, because the presence of birds represents a healthy, safe and prosperous environment for humans, too.

In fall 2019, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported in the journal Science a “staggering decline” in bird populations, “a loss approaching 3 billion birds or 29% of 1970 abundance.” Many factors have contributed to this heartbreaking loss, including climate change and destruction of habitat.

During bird migrations, all of the dangers to birds increase exponentially.

This Saturday, May 9, is World Migratory Bird Day. The peak of bird migration to our area is April through May. What can we do to help support the safe arrival of birds to Summit County (and elsewhere)? These are suggestions from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy. For more ideas, check out MigratoryBirdDay.org.

  • Protect birds from glass collisions. It is estimated that collisions with glass kill 599 million birds annually, and half of that is from our homes. Turn out lights at night and explore options for taping windows, screening or adding decorative decals to break up the reflections of sky and foliage that confuse birds.
  • Say no to pesticides. Avoid use of toxic pesticides, including insect sprays and seed treatments, which are lethal to birds.
  • Keep kitty inside. Entertaining your cat indoors will save birds’ lives.
  • Create native bird habitats. Habitat loss is one of the most widespread threats to birds. Try landscaping with native plants, and allow at least some of your property to go wild so birds have places to forage and nest.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle. Seabirds and waterfowl can mistake plastic for food, often with tragic results. Adopting a sustainable lifestyle helps animals, birds and people of course!

While it is too soon to say what impact the coronavirus shutdown will have on bird migration and populations, experts at the Cornell Lab report “one thing we are learning, at least anecdotally, is that people are reporting hearing so many more birds!”

Let’s open our windows, step outside and enjoy the uplifting sounds of birds returning to Summit County.

Cornell University offers an array of free activities for bird lovers, such as bird cams in bird nest boxes, online games for kids and bird song recordings. Audubon recently has won a technology award from Fast Company for is online bird tracking resource, Survival by Degrees, which allows viewers to check out bird populations in their own zip codes.

Christina Holbrook’s column “Lark Ascending” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Holbrook writes about life in the mountains, from the beauty of the natural surroundings to the quirkiness of friends and neighbors to what makes a good life. She moved to Breckenridge in 2014 and is the author of “Winelands of Colorado.” Contact her at peak1studio@gmail.com.


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