Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Photon in a prairie-chicken blind

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Most dogs wouldn't last 5 minutes in a prairie-chicken blind before they barked, whined, or otherwise became nuisances. But this little dog waited patiently the whole time I was there--and I lingered an hour longer than was required! But she's not a morning dog, as you can see. I came across this photo when I was posting my Greater Prairie-Chicken photos to my Flickr photostream last night.

101 Ways to Help Birds

This is rather shameless self-promoting, but I sure wish that, with the new State of the Birds report, people would take another look at 101 Ways to Help Birds. I cover removing unnecessary fencing (the #1 cause of mortality for female prairie-chickens!!) energy conservation and how all the methods of producing electricity cause serious harms to habitat, air and water quality, etc. [well, except solar]), suggestions for making windows safer for birds, what to do when you find a bird in trouble, the best ways to solve problems with birds, etc. I was covering a lot of these topics before others seemed to even notice them--there's a part about birds and airplanes, for example, and I was researching bird impacts with windows for years before the book came out in 2006. Anyway, it really is worth a read, whether you buy it, check it out from a library, stand in the aisle or sit in a chair and read it at your favorite bookstore, or read it piece by piece in Google Books. I put my heart and soul into it, and years of research and writing, and it would be lovely if it were selling better.

Editors at two very prestigious publishing houses wanted to publish it, but in both cases the marketing departments nixed the project saying no one wants to buy books about conservation. I'd love to prove the marketing departments wrong, but so far apparently they were right.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I made Anderson Cooper's blog on CNN!

It's about chickadee brains and neuron regeneration. Check it out!

Check out Twin Beaks

Much as I love blogging, more and more I find myself thinking of how to post information as a bird might do, so I'm putting more and more information on Twin Beaks and less and less here. Some of it's funny (or not--humor is always subjective), but a lot of it is important conservation information. I'm trying very hard to make that website accessible and fun for birders of all levels, but always with a strong conservation message.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

State of the Birds

I am SO proud to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The teamwork that went into this report was truly inspiring, and I'm very proud of the Lab's part in it. This report, and the video, are splendid. Please check it out.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.

At the same time, the report highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, offering hope that it is not too late to take action to save declining populations.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

The report, The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.

In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. In addition, the report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline in birds of aridlands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.

However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.

“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”

“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”

“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to hea

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.

“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”

Birds are beautiful, as well as economically important and a priceless part of America's natural heritage. Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, maki

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Read all about it, and even download a cool PDF of the whole report, at

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going nuts with my podcast

I know that Macs are supposed to be so wonderful, but they're so tied to their own software, and the whole system is so inflexible that it's driving me nuts. I like a lot of features about iWeb, and that's how I'd been putting my podcasts on iTunes, but when I tried to migrate my homepage over, too, since I'm now paying TWO hosts every year and really need to start saving money, iWeb erased my whole podcast. So now I'm starting from scratch--only somehow iTunes erased the description of the podcast now, and I don't know how to change it back. Oh, well. I guess I'll have to stick with my old host for another year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Head to Twin Beaks for CSI: Ithaca!

I've been way too busy and distracted to post much here lately, but have been keeping up with Twin Beaks. If you're not already doing it, you should check "my" Twin Beaks blog--"the first blog by birds, for birds." This past weekend I got brave enough or cocky enough to add it to Fat Birder's Birding Top 500 list. It started out with a ranking over 1000, but quickly raced up the chart and is, as of this moment, up to the #213 spot.

Ryan Bakelaar just allowed me to post his posting to the Cayuga Birds listserv about the necropsy he did on the Magnificent Frigatebird that turned up in Ithaca after Hurricane Ike--it's a wee bit gruesome, especially after he sent some pretty cool but explicit parasite photos (that Gil Grissom would LOVE), but very interesting. On Twin Beaks, of course, where everything is told from the birds' point of view, this is presented as the first episode of CSI: Ithaca. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Neotropical Birds Online

Tom Schulenberg, one of the authors of Birds of Peru, writes:
We are a long way from having a comprehensive series of natural history accounts for Neotropical birds.

But, we can change that. Working together, we might get there a whole lot faster than you might think.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is pleased to announce the launch of Neotropical Birds Online ( Neotropical Birds Online is similar to the familiar Birds of North America series, but one important difference is that Neotropical Birds will be free - no subscription fees!

The scope of Neotropical Birds Online is all bird species that regularly occur in the Neotropics, from Mexico and the Caribbean south to southernmost South America. The emphasis is on species that breed within this region, but the eventual goal is to provide accounts for all species that regularly occur within this region.

Each account on Neotropical Birds Online is a separate online publication. Full credit is given to the author, or collaborating team of authors, for each species account. The online format allows authors to revise their accounts to keep pace with new research. This format also allows us to incorporate other media into the species accounts, and to link to related resources elsewhere on the web. This is a collaborative project: Neotropical Birds Online not only is for researchers, birders, and managers who are interested in birds of the neotropics, but it also will be *created* by that community of specialists.

We are launching this with only a few completed species accounts, although more will be going online very soon. But for this project to succeed, it will need support from researchers working in the neotropics. You can contribute to Neotropical Birds Online not only through authoring a species account, but also by providing photographic images, sound or video tape recordings; learn more about how to contribute