Great news for birds and for all of us who care about them!
A federal court ruled yesterday that the legal basis for the Trump Administration’s rollback of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is inconsistent with the intent and language of the law.
U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni found that the Administration’s legal opinion, which would needlessly put millions of birds at risk, “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.”
As many Mass Audubon members know, the MBTA’s passage in 1918 was a direct outgrowth of the advocacy spurred by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who more than two decades earlier had founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society to end the slaughter of birds for their feathers.
It is heartening to know our founders’ legacy lives on in the actions and support by nature lovers that continue to inspire today.
The court’s decision comes as a result of lawsuits filed by environmental organizations and eight states, including Massachusetts; we specifically thank Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff for their stalwart determination to help bring about the ruling.
To be sure, this fight is not over. Mass Audubon has formally objected to the proposed regulatory rollbacks and supported legislation in opposition.
But we need your help to stop any future attempts by the Trump Administration and its allies to dismantle the founding achievement of the Audubon movement and one of the nation’s bulwark legal protections in support of thriving wildlife.
The United States government has released a draft environmental impact statement that will crush the bird conservation successes of the last 100 years.
Their report recommends ending federal protections for harassing, trapping, or killing birds, or taking nests and eggs, unless it can be proven that the intent of the action was only to kill birds, or the species is an endangered species. This kind of loss, called incidental take (detailed here), kills millions of birds every year, even with federal protections in place enabling responses to reduce impacts. Removing these protections will unleash unbridled assaults on our native birds, which is why this change must be stopped.
Since 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has protected our native birds from purposeful or incidental losses. Mass Audubon’s founding mothers, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, built public support to end the feather trade and protect all birds. Some species were split off to be managed as game – and they flourished with special protection.
The vast majority of species like bluebirds, hummingbirds, terns, and owls all entered a new era of protection and conservation. They were given a reprieve from hunting and harassment, egg and nest collecting, and any other behaviors that killed birds without a permit. This helped drive innovative conservation initiatives that allow industry to thrive, and native bird populations to coexist with a booming economy. It worked well – maybe better than in any other country in the world.
The Return of the Dark Ages
Despite these conservation successes, decades of economic expansion, and public comments representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, the Trump administration has chosen to recommend advancing regulatory changes that will make it legal for anyone to kill unlimited numbers of birds, as long as their action is “otherwise lawful.”
The federal government did this while admitting their chosen path would serve the single benefit of “improving legal certainty,” but have negative effects on all other environmental conditions – including bird populations.
So, if you want to build a shopping center, and construction starts in June, and there is colony of herons or a nest of owls on the land, you can legally cut down the trees, destroying the nests, eggs, and chicks.
And, importantly, if your industry is a repeat offender and kills thousands of birds each year in uncovered oil waste pits (because you won’t follow best practices and cover the pits), there is no penalty.
There will be no repercussions, and no incentive, for making even minor changes to construction or industry practices to protect non-game birds like wrens, egrets, and loons, unless your state has legislation that covers these species. At this time Massachusetts does not have legislation that protects these species – we have always relied on the federal MBTA to do that.
What You Can Do
Join Mass Audubon and others who care about birds:
Birds fill our lives with curiosity, hope, and wonder. We marvel at their audacious colors, ability to withstand freezing nights, and migrations across the hemisphere. We benefit as they help ecosystems thrive by pollinating plants and eating pesky bugs that damage crops.
But they need us more than they have in the last hundred years. It is our turn to step up and make our voices heard.
This nest, located in a white pine tree, was discovered many months ago by a homeowner’s association and reported to MassWildlife. Subsequently, Josh Maloney, a burgeoning nature enthusiast and volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary discovered what appeared to be a chick in this nest in late May.
Josh carefully mapped the location of the nest, documented the chick with photographs, and reported the sighting to MassWildlife state ornithologist Andrew Vitz. Within days, Mass Wildlife ascended the tree and banded the eaglet in order to gather valuable life history information throughout its life and contribute to eagle research across the country. We are hopeful this chick will fledge in the coming weeks, and that this breeding pair will return to this nest annually for many years to come.
Bringing Eagles Back to Massachusetts
This historic benchmark is a living testament to the conservation efforts initiated in Massachusetts by Mass Wildlife and Mass Audubon in response to the significant regional decrease in the population of Bald Eagles that took place throughout the Northeast as a result of DDT use during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1982, two healthy young eagle nestlings from Michigan were foster reared in a specially constructed tower in a remote section of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. Using a captive rearing protocol called hacking, the two fledglings were eventually released with hopes that upon reaching maturity in four to five years, they would return to the Quabbin area to breed. Between 1982 and 1988, 41 similarly raised eagle chicks were released at Quabbin Reservoir. By 1989 two pairs successfully reared young of their own.
Since the late 1980s, the Commonwealth’s eagle population has steadily grown and spread. Today pairs of this magnificent raptor are nesting from Berkshire to Barnstable County, and recently they have attempted to colonize Martha’s Vineyard.
Impact of Conservation
Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Massachusetts citizen scientists who contributed the valuable breeding bird distribution data, Mass Audubon ornithologists now have two invaluable roadmaps to help highlight nesting species in need of state conservation assistance. This includes not only include Bald Eagles, but also declining grassland species such as American Kestrel, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark.
In spite of last year’s chilling national report on 3 billion missing birds in “Decline of the North American Avifauna,” species recoveries like those shown by the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Piping Plover, and Eastern Bluebird offer clear evidence that it is never too late to implement sustained conservation efforts, and that many species will often dramatically respond.
These species offer clear evidence why Mass Audubon’s bird conservation efforts continue to make a difference, and why financial support for avian conservation programs is more important than ever.
You can support Mass Audubon’s Bird Conservation efforts and help us accomplish even more. Make an impact >
This week marks my first week as President of Mass Audubon. I had planned to introduce myself to all of you by sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. And I am extremely excited to meet with so many of you who are committed to our important mission. But given the extraordinary times we are in, I feel it is important to use this opportunity to take a stand for what is just and equitable for people of color here in Massachusetts and beyond.
Like many of you, I am appalled by the injustices and acts of violence against racially marginalized groups. The gruesome events that have unfolded in the past weeks and months have rattled me. In particular, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the protests that have followed illustrate the historic, systemic racism and environmental injustice that exists in our country towards people of color, specifically Black people.
Fighting for what is right is core to Mass Audubon’s mission. The organization was founded by two women fighting for the protection of birds, and has since expanded that fight over the last 124 years to comprise all things surrounding conservation, education, and advocacy for the protection of not only wildlife, but also people.
One fight that I know we need to amplify is the fight for racial and environmental justice. For far too long, Brown and Black people have found everyday activities like jogging or birding unsafe and have disproportionately suffered from significantly lower air quality as a result of toxins, pollutants, and greenhouse gases.
I recognize that we have more work to do to right these wrongs. I will dedicate my first few months to gaining a better understanding on how I and Mass Audubon can not only contribute but serve as a model for the Commonwealth.
I will listen to our staff members, especially those of color, on how we can support them and move forward as an organization; I will work with partners and grassroots organizations to ensure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and open space; I will continue our focus on the climate crisis, which causes people of color to bear the burden of some of climate change’s worst impacts; I will work to ensure we create access to our sanctuaries and trails that is safe and welcoming to everyone; and I promise to make diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of what we do from this day forward.
I hope you will join me in standing in solidarity with those fighting racism and injustice, and share your thoughts on how we can make Mass Audubon a stronger community that uses our voice for people and wildlife.
Bird-at-home-a-thon, which took place May 15-16, was more than we could have hoped for. Thanks to all of you, we not only had a record number of participants, but raised a record amount of funds ($290,000 and counting) that will support conservation, education, and advocacy across the state.
Our 26 teams recorded an impressive combined total of 242 bird species in Massachusetts. We were amazed at all the different bird species we could see right from our backyards and neighborhoods.
Teams across the state not only got points for birds seen, but for taking part in a variety of nature-themed activities including filling bird feeders, going on scavenger hunts, and even coloring! The Teams that received the most points are:
Eagle Eye Award for most points earned goes to Team Drumlin Farm with 992 points
Home Habitat Award for second place for the most points earned goes to Team Wellfleet Bay with 537 points.
We loved seeing all the amazing posts on social media and our online digital gallery during the event. Here are some of our favorites:
Drawings & Silly Names
Birding on the River
Bird Art in West Boylston
View more Bird-a-thon pictures in the online photo gallery. Feel free to add your own Bird-a-thon pictures as well, and please be sure to include your name in the file name so we know who to credit.
It’s Not Too Late To Get Involved
The birding may be over, but fundraising is open until mid-June! We can’t thank you enough for your generous support.
On May 15, we lost a member of our family, someone whose work embodied the integration of education, science, conservation, and community-based advocacy.
Liz Duff worked for Mass Audubon for more than 20 years and contributed greatly to our education and engagement efforts on the North Shore, working with partners throughout New England.
She leaves our community with a strong and lasting legacy of meaningful environmental education and activism that has transformed the land and people that she so dearly stewarded and loved. Her contribution to students and teachers across the region and her collaboration with colleagues — across Mass Audubon and beyond — will influence how we connect youth to their local ecosystems for years to come.
Whether in the field with classroom teachers, helping connect students with authentic environmental research, or showcasing youth research at the annual Coastal Science Conference that she hosted with Plum Island Long Term Ecological Research, her commitment to her students of all ages was profound. It is incredible to imagine how many students and educators she influenced over the decades.
Liz’s programs, the conference, and community events all demonstrated what an agent of change she was in this region. The number of schools, individuals, government agencies, and community-based organizations that Liz worked with are too many to mention, but each and every one of them was part of the strong network of webs that Liz helped to weave over the years.
Most of all, Liz was a conservationist who cared deeply about her work and the health of the planet. She will be deeply missed here at Mass Audubon and in the greater conservation community.
At Mass Audubon, we are pleased to announce a new award in Liz’s honor. The Liz Duff Excellence in Environmental Education Award will be presented annually to recognize a professional who has developed and implemented field-based environmental education program that combines scientific investigation and civic engagement with the goal of having a positive impact of one’s community.
While we all wish Liz was still in the field, in her waders with a group of enthusiastic and engaged students, we hope that this award will allow her life’s work to continue to inspire others who also aim to connect people to nature and protect our planet.
While this year’s Bird-a-thon has shifted focus to birding closer to home and around your neighborhood, you can still find tons of exciting birds. Some birds are common in many habitats, like Northern Cardinals and American Robins, but here is a list of other feathered friends you are likely to see (or hear!) in habitats across Massachusetts along with some fun facts.
Carolina Wrens (6) are also known to nest in odd places when living in suburban areas, like in an old boot, or in a mailbox.
White-breasted Nuthatches (7), like other nuthatches, can move head-first down tree trunks and are frequently seen in that upside-down pose.
The Gray Catbird’s (8) song may last up to 10 minutes.
Sometimes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers (9) wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into smaller pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year.
In 1929, Edward Forbush (MA ornithologist) described the Chipping Sparrow (10) as “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.”
Although they can climb trees and hammer like other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (11) prefer to find food, like ants, on the ground.
The Eastern Towhee’s (12) song sounds like they are saying “drink-your-tea.”
Wood Thrush (13) can sing two parts at once. In the final trilling phrase of their three-part song, they sing pairs of notes simultaneously, one in each branch of its y-shaped voicebox. The two parts harmonize to produce a haunting, ventriloquial sound.
The scientific name for Black-and-white Warblers (14) is Mniotilta varia meaning “moss-plucking,” after their habit of probing bark and moss for insects.
The yellow patch just above the Yellow-rumped Warbler‘s (15) tail gives them the nickname “butter butts.”
Tree Swallows (16) are one of the best-studied bird species in North America, helping researchers make major advances in several branches of ecology. Despite this, we still know little about their lives during migration and winter.
Eastern Bluebirds (17) typically have more than one successful brood per year. Young born in early nests usually leave their parents in summer, but young from later nests frequently stay with their parents over winter.
American Kestrels (18) can see ultraviolet light, which allows them to see the urine trails that voles leave as they run along the ground. These bright paths help kestrels find prey.
Bobolink (19) songs sound like R2D2’s voice from Star Wars.
Male Eastern Meadowlarks (20) can sing several variations of its song. Scientists analyzed one male meadowlark and found he sang more than 100 different song patterns.
Fossils of Belted Kingfishers (21) dated to 600,000 years old have been found in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas.
Wood Ducks (22) nest in trees ranging from directly over water to over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her but does not help them in any way. Ducklings may jump over 50 feet without injury.
Green Herons (23) are one of the world’s few bird species who use tools. They often create fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to attract small fish.
Unlike most birds, Spotted Sandpiper (24) females establish and defend the territory, arriving to the breeding grounds before males. Males then take the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and caring for chicks.
Hooded Mergansers (25) find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refraction properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. Plus, birds have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect their eyes while swimming, like a pair of goggles.
Piping Plovers (26) will sometime use a foraging method called foot-trembling where they extend one foot out into wet sand and vibrate it to scare up food like marine worms, insects, and crustaceans.
Unlike most shorebirds, American Oystercatcher (27) chicks depend on their parents for food for at least 60 days after hatching.
Double-crested Cormorants (28) often stand in the sun with their wings outstretched to dry. Cormorants have less oil on their feathers so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck. Having wet feathers probably make it easier for cormorant to hunt underwater.
Common Eider (29) mothers and chicks form groups called “creches” that can include over 150 chicks and include non-breeding hens as protection.
During the Great Egrets (30) breeding season, a patch of skin on its face turns neon green and long feathers called aigrettes grow from its back. These feathers were prized for ladies’ hats in the 19th century and inspired Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall to form Mass Audubon to protect them.
Since 1983, Bird-a-thon , Mass Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser and birding competition, has been enjoyed by thousands of dedicated supporters and birders all the while raising over $3 million dollars for our wildlife sanctuaries and programs statewide.
It is very much part of Mass Audubon’s DNA, and we aren’t going to let COVID-19 stop us from having this beloved event. With a little reimagining, this year’s Bird-at-home-a-thon will be more engaging, inclusive, and even carbon-free! Here, we highlight some of this year’s changes.
How’s the birding different?
In past years, participants would spread out all across Massachusetts in groups of two or more, driving to the best birding spots in their area. This year participants are staying close to home to bird solo or with their household unit.
You’re welcome to bird from your back window, backyard, or a green space within walking or biking distance from your home. Not only will this new guideline keep everyone safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it will also allow us to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s a win-win!
All 26 wildlife sanctuary and program teams will work together to collectively count as many bird species as possible. Birding isn’t so much a team effort, as it’s an organization effort.
What’s this new point system all about?
We’ve introduced a whole new point system this year that will invite more people into the community of birders and nature heroes. You can earn points for your team by birding and also by completing fun, nature-based activities. Drawing a picture of a bird, completing a bird word search, and filling up your bird feeder are just a few of the ways to earn points for your team.
Earning points can be something the whole family can help with, no matter their age or birding level. And based on the total number of points earned by your team, you could all win one of our two new awards!
One thing that hasn’t changed?
The fundraising! Bird-a-thon is still a vital way we raise important funds for our wildlife sanctuaries and programs. We rely on the generosity of our supporters to continue our work in nature conservation, environmental education, and addressing climate change. We can’t do it without you!
Bird-a-thon is nothing new to Michael Pappone. As an active participant since 1995, Michael has a long-standing love of Mass Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser. Here, he shares why he participates, how he started birding, his plan for birding at home, and what bird he would be, if he could be a bird.
The birds have been telling us for years about the challenges we face in protecting the environment for all living things. Bird-a-thon provides the ideal bully pulpit to take the urgency of our conservation work to all our friends and family who care about nature.
An Introduction to Birding
I was first introduced to birding as a boy growing up in South Dakota, right in the middle of the Central Flyway. My family grew up in a hunting culture. As my dad cleaned the game, Ring-necked Pheasants and waterfowl in particular, I would sit on my dad’s knee and learn Bird Anatomy 101. My brother and I were fascinated by the iridescence of the Mallard’s feathers and the inner workings of the wings.
Birding eventually became a way to bring a more systematic focus to my love of nature. It provided an impetus to see more birds and understand what makes each one special. It’s been a fantastic way to connect with nature lovers across the continent who have become lifelong friends.
Elevating My Birding Game
I credit Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon’s Director of Massachusetts Important Bird Areas, and Jeff Collins, Mass Audubon’s Director of Conservation Science, for deepening my knowledge of birds.
Birding with experts like Wayne and Jeff allowed me to learn the stories behind the birds and deepen my appreciation for the intricacies of birding. And to take it a step further, I completed Mass Audubon’s Birder’s Certificate Program at Joppa Flats.
Most Exciting Bird Sighting
My most exciting species sighting so far was of a Harpy Eagle. When scanning the Ecuadorian rain forest from a canopy tower proved unsuccessful, I eventually saw a Harpy, feeding her young no less, in Peru. With birding, you savor the special sweetness when patience is rewarded.
By no means do you have to travel far and wide to have a good time birding. With the stay-at-home advisory, I have become even more familiar with my neighborhood and its many habitats. My Bird-a-thon day strategy will cover pine and hemlock woods, mixed deciduous, open meadows, vernal ponds, and another pond that has a heron rookery.
My Bird Spirit Animal
If I could be any bird, it would be a Barred Owl! I would fly noiselessly, avoid Great Horned Owls, and keep pesky Eastern Screech Owls off my hunting grounds. I’d give the resident Wood Ducks due respect, and bask in the chorus of the Wood Frogs and the Peepers down in the pool every spring. I’d delight the neighborhood with daytime sightings in plain view and help the nearby Cooper’s Hawks keep the chipmunk population from getting out of control.
UPDATE 3/23/20: As It brings us great sadness to inform you that, to support the stay-at-home advisory given by Governor Baker, we will be closing all of Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries and trails to any visitation as of noon on Tuesday, March 24, until further notice. Please visit massaudubon.org/covid19 for more details.
If ever there was a need for the benefits of being outside, it is now. Study after study has shown that being outdoors can do wonders for our health and well-being.
And while our buildings have temporarily shut-down, our 38,000 acres of protected land is there for you to explore.
Visit a favorite trail, or try a new one. While you’re there, take a deep breath, slow down, listen to the sounds around you, seek out signs of spring, and share what you see on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram.
We may have to socially distance ourselves in person, but we can continue to be a strong community online.
Mass Audubon relies on memberships and admission fees to maintain our property and provide education programs. During this difficult time, we have opted to open our trails free to everyone. If you would like make a donation, you can designate your gift to the sanctuary you visited.
Be sure to keep visiting our blog, where we will be sharing more ways to engage with nature over the coming weeks. Until then, stay well and get outside.