Bird Conservation Through Education TM

April 3, 2015 

In This Issue
Subirdia Review
Race 4 Birds Moving Forward
Pledge to Fledge & GBBC
Thanks to our BEN Bulletin sponsors:
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The Bird Education Network (BEN) was created following the February 2007 National Gathering, hosted by the Council for Environmental Education (CEE). BEN is a CEE initiative that seeks to connect and support a community of bird education professionals.


Over 4,000 individuals representing 300 organizations receive communications and engage in professional dialogue through the BEN-run Bird Education Listserv. 


A BEN Committee has been established to provide advice and guidance for this important initiative, to advance "bird conservation through education."

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An Area Begging to be the Focus of Bird Educators

Book Review by 

In a sensational new book, Welcome to Subirdia, Dr. John Marzluff has pleasingly distilled many years of his own cutting-edge urban ecology research plus that of teams of his graduate students, into an extremely easy-to-understand treasure chest of insights into the abundance of birdlife that is almost under our noses, yet little appreciated.


Subirdia is that landscape found between a city's industrial, business, or downtown shopping core, and the distant, relatively infrequently reached, and still somewhat pristine wilderness. Such suburban and urban landscapes are precisely where the vast majority of us spend their lives, recreate, "hang out," and of course, attend educational institutions.  This "zone of maximum influence" is certain to be a critically needed focus area for enhancing birdlife, as well as abundance of butterflies, pollinators and other forms of biodiversity for decades to come; and is an opportunity for relevant bird/biodiversity learning activities well worth exploring.


Welcome to Subirdia is not intended to be a collection of lesson plans.  Yet it will clearly help educators understand the "why," the "what" and the "how" of focusing learning activities on residential neighborhoods, individual gardens, community gardens, municipal parks, roadways, streamsides, buffer areas, open spaces, etc. - that continue to fly under the radar of those outdoor educators who too often dwell on landscapes far from where people spend their lives and can have a positive impact.  Best of all, in a beautifully engaging way, Welcome to Subirdia invites educators, students and concerned parents to address a truly enormous opportunity, and suggests how to approach it, with critically important hands-on bird education activities that are vitally important for keeping common birds common, and some rarities from going further toward extinction.


Following are a few of the many important conclusions delightfully described in this exceptional book: 


1)  Everything that Marzluff learned while becoming a conservation biologist told him that cities are bad for birds and biodiversity - yet years of his own research and that of his many PhD students, have proven just the opposite.


2)  The bird diversity Marzluff found within Ketchikan, AK was almost double his next day's count along the Naha River - a remote wilderness fifty miles away in the Tongass National Forest.


3)  Even more noteworthy, in March of each year Marzluff compares bird diversity in 2.2 million acre Yellowstone National Park - within a wild ecosystem of nearly 20 million acres, to bird diversity in 800 acre Central Park in the heart of Manhattan, New York, not all that far from Broadway lights, Rockefeller Center, Harlem, and Wall Street.  In March of 2013, after finding 26 bird species during four days of searching throughout Yellowstone N.P., he easily found 31 species in just two mornings of birding within Central Park.  This radical divergence is obviously not yet fully appreciated by bird educators and bird conservationists.


4)  For over a decade, Marzluff and his graduate students have counted birds in three distinct Seattle environments: the industrial/high rise downtown area (averaging 10-15 species); "wild" forested places society has reserved for nature and clean water far from the city (averaging only 20 species); and the suburbs located between the city center and distant forested reserves (usually 30 or more species).  The number of bird species supported by the suburbs was not intermediate as originally expected, but rather it was double that found in the city center, and significantly above the diversity found in "pristine wildlands."  This is how Marzluff and his students discovered Subirdia.  These data have been further confirmed in other cities located in North and Central America, New Zealand, and Europe.  The implications of this new insight for bird educators and bird conservationists are obviously huge, but will they be properly addressed?


5)   The lure of cities is proving irresistible.  In 2008, for the first time in history, more of us lived in cities than outside of them.  By 2050 more than 2/3 of all humans are expected to live in cities.  Thus, Subirdia (familiar to students and their parents, as well as easily and inexpensively accessible) offers a tremendous untapped bird education opportunity at present as well as far into the future. In his paradigm-shifting book, Dr. Marzluff identifies and beautifully describes 10 principles that can be followed in innovative and locally appropriate ways by bird educators to address this huge and inviting suburban/urban opportunity.


The payback from purposeful actions focused on birds and native habitats across Subirdia in terms of long-term public health, social and cultural benefits, water and air quality, and overall citizen well being is already quite well documented, if not yet broadly understood and applied by municipalities.  Now is the time that educators and their students, with well-designed and age-specific learning activities can play a leading role in investigating and demonstrating these many benefits to all citizens in their respective neighborhoods.


Welcome to Subirdia is a most timely and inspiring summary of the importance of, and benefits to be gained from focusing educational activities at all grade levels, as well as basic teacher or student-led bird conservation practices on sustaining and enhancing populations of birds and other wildlife where a majority of people spend their lives.  Dr. Marzluff has shined a bright revealing light on a world of birds and other biodiversity that many of us live with, but fail to recognize, appreciate or try to sustain.


This optimistic and beautifully illustrated book is a must-have for all serious bird educators. It is also highly recommended for anyone else who wishes to understand why urban and suburban areas contain more birdlife than is normally realized, what is needed in these areas to enhance bird populations, and how a sharp focus by young and old alike is necessary a very long time into the future. 

Race 4 Birds Moving Forward  

by Tom Reed


The Race 4 Birds Foundation, launched in July 2014, continues to gain momentum as  Spring arrives. The organization's mission is to promote birding competitions, or "big days," for teams of children ranging in age from elementary through high school.  Teams work together to identify as many birds as possible during a 24-hour period and within a pre-specified area (town, wildlife refuge, park, school ground, etc.). The idea is based on the youth birding competition (YBC) created in 2001 by R4B Founding Director Tim Keyes and the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources. The Georgia event continues to thrive and will celebrate its 10th anniversary in April.   


R4B has been hard at work in 2015.  Tom Reed, the New Jersey Big Year record holder and World Series of Birding winner joined as Communications Manager in January.  Board members James Currie, Richard Crossley, Tim Keyes and others are working with sponsoring organizations to launch new events in Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, and at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. Several other competitions are also in the works, including the second annual Soarin' Hawk Raptor Rescue R4B in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  


All R4B support for event sponsors is free of charge. The Race 4 Birds website provides primers, planning guides, and other valuable resources for bird educators, scouts, birding clubs and others who want to create their own R4B competitions.  Additionally, the organization also benefits from two advisory boards: one comprised of young birders, and another comprised of educators and mentors who are proven leaders in the birding world.  For more information about how R4B can help you create a Race 4 Birds in your community, email R4B.


Evaluating Wildlife and Conservation Education

by Paul J. Baicich

Last month, at the much-respected North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, held in Omaha, Nebraska, the opinions of leaders and activists in wildlife and natural resources were revealed at a unique plenary session. Paul W. Hansen, executive director of the Murie Center, and a veteran of more than three decades of conservation work, unveiled an opinion survey run since late January involving over 800 respondents.

For bird-oriented educators, answers to one pair of questions should be most enlightening.

Among a number of questions, respondents were specifically asked to identify the least successful initiatives, programs, and or efforts of fish and wildlife management over the past 100 years. They were asked to rate them first on the national level and then on the regional or state level.

For these two questions, "education of the general public to ensure awareness of and support for conservation efforts" were outstanding among those identified  as "least successful."

On the national level, the failure of conservation education took third place. On the regional/state level, the failure of conservation education took fifth place among the "least successful."

Only two disappointments beat out conservation education nationally: the ability to raise funds for conservation (especially from "nonconsumptive users"), and the Endangered Species Act. (Curiously, the ESA also appeared as one of the most-successful efforts, with respondents balancing ambivalence over its intent and its implementation.) Parallel disappointments beat out conservation education on the regional and state level: political/special interest influencing state-level decision-making, recruitment and retention, reintroduction or recovery of certain state-specific species, and managing/maintaining various wildlife populations.

Since conservation education appeared as the third of 13 least-successful programs nationally and fifth of 24 least-successful programs on the regional and state level, there is something of real significance here.

Education is given high priority, insofar as it is deemed important but relatively unsuccessful. Yet anyone working in the field of bird education is painfully aware that the funding for wildlife/bird education at federal or state wildlife/natural-resource agencies has been inadequate for years and that foundation funding has also been similarly lacking.

Is it any accident that the results have been disappointing when the funding has been so meager?

If leaders in the profession view "education of the general public to ensure awareness of and support for conservation" as among our least successful efforts, what will it take to correct that problem?

Educational professionalism, intense communications training, and serious long-term expenditures will have to be among the answers. Conservation efforts simply left to practicing biologists and land-managers cannot succeed without corresponding efforts to explain and explore these conservation efforts to the public. It's that simple, that sobering.


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