Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why Do Birds Matter?

Hermit Thrush
Why am I a birder? Why do birds matter in general, and specifically, why do they matter to me? Wow, such serious thoughts for a birder to have after a blustery morning of birding in March! We received the March/April issue of Audubon Magazine this week, and it is particularly thought provoking. Then Jeff Gordon, President of the American Birding Association, was the speaker at the Beckham Bird Club annual banquet last night, and talked about the image birders present to the world.

Golden-crowned Kinglet
The magazine quotes the opinions of famous and not-so-famous birders, and you will probably agree with them. Birds make any place a chance for discovery. Birds are important because they keep systems in balance. Their fate is our own. Birds remind us that there are angels. Our hearts soar on their wings and their songs. What’s good for the birds is also good for us.

Brown Creeper Camouflaged
The article that caught my interest, however, was entitled "Follow the Money."
Some might not realize the tangible value of birds, but it would be foolish to underestimate how tough life would be without them.
Birds keep farmers in business. They provide critical information about our environment, also known as "ecosystem services." History is packed with stories of birds saving the day from an invasion of insects. Just picture those elusive little warblers, patiently jumping from leaf to leaf looking for insects. Raptors provide natural rodent control without damaging the environment for other animals or plants.

Brown Creeper
Birds stimulate the economy by being beautiful and attracting birders by the thousands. I know how much I spend on birding equipment and travel. U.S. Fish and Wildlife made a study in 2006 estimating that birders spend $12 billion annually on travel, and an additional $24 billion on equipment like binoculars, camping gear and nest boxes. That money ripples through the economy and generates $82 billion in output, employs 671,000 people and enriches state and federal governments by $10 billion. Have you been to any of the big birding festivals recently? Yes, I would believe these figures. What this country needs is more birders! Why can't some politician base a campaign on this?

Great Horned Owlets
Of course, not everyone is interested in birds enough to go out on a cold snowy morning in March, just to look for birds. In fact, many people would say we are all crazy to do so! But lots of people like to stay nice and warm at home looking at their computer or soap operas on TV, and the birding option for those folks is Nest Cams on the Internet. There are many options for about any species you can name. People can get addicted to true reality TV by watching these nest cams. You see the patience and diligence of the mother on the nest, no matter what the weather. You watch as the parents struggle to find enough food for their growing youngsters. If a predator appears, you gasp in horror. In short, that family becomes yours, and that feeling of connection, of relation, makes all the difference. You cheer when the chicks leave the nest, and hope they can survive in the big bad world out there. It makes you think of your own children....Now the birds are important, where before was merely indifference. Why do birds matter? Because they are like us.

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