One of the most fragile animal classes on the planet are migratory birds.
These amazing birds maintain winter and breeding homes and travel thousands of miles per year, relying on sustainable food, water, and habitats along the way. The remarkable journey and life cycle incorporates more than the normal amount of risk as birds are highly evolved and often very specific in their adaptions.
Some interesting migration facts provided by the Audubon Society:
• The Arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird, almost 50,000 miles in one year, going from the Arctic to Antarctica.
• Some migrating birds fly as high as five and half miles above sea level. The record is a Ruppell’s griffon vulture, which traveled seven miles above sea level.
• The northern wheatear, weighing less than one ounce, travels from the Arctic to Africa — almost 9,000 miles each way.
• The fastest migratory bird, traveling 60 miles per hour, is the great snipe.
• The bar-tailed godwit can make the nearly 7,000-mile trip without stopping.
• Migratory birds enter a physical state called hyperphagia before traveling, bulking up on fat to fuel the trip.
Obviously, any trip of this magnitude is quite dangerous and billions of birds die each year from a variety of causes. Windows, radio and television towers, cars, and windmills all cause the death of these brave migrants. Other human activities threatening bird species are hunting, habitat fragmentation, and domestic cats.
It’s due to the hunting and habitat destruction that birds are among the most protected animals. And, as with any environmental issue, it can be quite contentious, as many people put the interest of industry, sport, trade, and economic development above the needs of birds.
The Migratory Bird Treaty was born, in part, out of the overhunting and annihilation of birds like the passenger pigeon. Once abundant, it was hunted to extinction despite the attempt of activists.
All About Birds provided this account of the failure of an 1857 Ohio Senate committee to protect the passenger pigeon: “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “The MBTA provides that it is unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior. Some regulatory exceptions apply. Take is defined in regulations as: ‘pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.’”
This basically means you have to leave birds alone. You can’t kill, hunt, or trap them for fun or because they are a nuisance. You can’t destroy their nests or collect their eggs. You can’t catch them and sell them or their feathers. There is an exhaustive list of migratory birds, including common birds like the Canada goose. They might be messy and abundant but they are protected by federal law.
The MBT has been credited with saving the snowy egret, which was hunted for it delicate feathers, and many other birds such as the wood duck and sandhill crane.
However, in the Trump administration’s continued effort to destroy anything that gets in the way of financial interests, enforcement of the MBT has been changed to accommodate industry that may “incidentally” kill birds. A Washington Post report said the greatest beneficiaries of the change are oil and gas companies, which “were responsible for 90 percent of incidental takes prosecuted under the act, resulting in fines of $6,500 per violation.” Newsweek noted that “environmental disasters still carry legal ramifications, but the MBTA will no longer have the power to prosecute actions that incidentally harm birds.”
Birds provide numerous benefits to our ecosystems. They eat insects, clean up road kill and dead fish, and distribute seeds. They are also a sign of ecological health.
And bird-watching is one of the most popular hobbies. They are fascinating to watch and learn about — they all seem to have different story. They also provide tremendous economic support to places like Magee Marsh, where thousands of birders come from all across the world to see dazzling warblers make their final stop before crossing Lake Erie.
They are worth protecting and with hundreds of bird species on the endangered list — it might be now or never.
Rob Swindell is a lifelong Lorain County resident offering his opinions on politics, science, and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.