The Edge of the Wood would like to remember all the women in the late 1800’s early 1900’s who rallied against the use of bird feathers in millinery. Millions upon millions of birds lost their lives to the trade. Socialites and bird loving women rose up to convince all women that enough was enough. Sara A. Hubbard, director of the Illinois Audubon Society, said “I expect to live to see the time when the wearing of bird plumage will be a brand of ignorance.” Is this a problem today? Yes. Roosters, ostriches and swans are often live plucked and killed to satisfy the fashion industry. Let’s take a lesson from our turn of the century sisters. After all bird feathers are beautiful but belong on birds, not people.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we are not known for our spelling, but in this case we got it right. Architect and birder Bruce Fowle just completed a renovation of the massive Javits Convention Center in New York City. His innovative work includes patterned windows that have lowered bird collisions by 90% and a green roof that has attracted 11 bird species including herring gulls who have begun to nest there. Ultrasonic microphones have detected five bat species. Now kestrel nest boxes are going up. Is the wave of the future in buildings? Yes, and the future is now.
A woodpecker’s beak is tough…and innovative! The spongy bones and nail hard beaks of woodpeckers are inspiring a new generation of shock absorbers, potentially shielding airplane black boxes, football players and other valuable materials from the forces of impact. Woodpeckers hammer their beaks into trees at the astonishing rate of 18 to 22 times per second, subjecting their brains to deceleration forces of 1200g’s with each strike. This is more than 100 times the g-force required to give a football player a concussion, according to research conducted by the NFL. Want to learn to be tough and beautiful? Talk to a woodpecker.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we remember our cheery school crossing guard with her blue uniform, white sash and bright red stop sign. Katie Sieving, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, has found that tufted titmice act like “crossing guards” and that other birds hold back from entering hazardous open areas in a forest if the titmice sound an alarm. Here a little titmouse is sizing up our camera to see if it’s kosher. We hope she gives us the thumbs up so we can look forward to more of our bird friends stopping by.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we just tossed out our lawnmower and planted more bird- friendly-berry, bearing-bushes. We think of this as a win-win. Biologists Amy Belaire and Emily Minor found that landscape plantings in private yards play a much greater role in attracting a diversity of native birds in neighborhoods than do the surrounding parks, forest preserves, or streetside trees. Areas with bird-friendly yards had nearly twice as many species than neighborhoods whose private yards were less attractive to birds. So help a bird and help yourself. Sometimes a bird in the hand is worth less than two in the bush.
A recent study looked at the economic value city dwellers place on having birds in their communities. Researches asked how much residents would spend to conserve common bird species and what they’d spend, if anything, on bird food. In Seattle, the value of enjoying common birds is about $120 million in bird seed, housing and plantings. “We know that having a livable, green community that attracts birds also increases the value of homes in that area.” said John Marzluff, a University of Washington professor of environmental and forest sciences and the paper’s co-author. “This paper shows there’s an economic service birds are providing.” Home improvement doesn’t always have to involve a hammer and a saw.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we noticed that in urban areas there are more black squirrels than gray squirrels. Biologists believe that black squirrels may have been the norm several centuries ago, before large-scale deforestation. Today’s woodlands are much less shady than forests used to be, and cities, with their tall buildings, may mimic the darker environs of the early continent. In environments with more sunlight, “squirrel gray” can offer better camouflage. In New York City black-coated squirrels blend in perfectly with the urban human population. … after all, a little black dress is always in fashion.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we have come to understand that bird plumage descriptions can be confounding. The male Redstart is…orange. The red-bellied woodpecker’s head is brighter red than its belly. And, with that giant blue bill, why is it called a ruddy duck? Here we have the classic red tail of the red-tailed hawk, but you won’t find it on all of these fine raptors. Most juveniles have yet to grow one. Some morph in and out of rusty colors, and the western version of the species may not have it at all. What’s a bird lover to do?
Trish O’Kane thinks so. She runs a program at the University of Wisconsin that pairs university birding students with underprivileged middle school students in a unique environmental studies program. The kids explore nature and learn about environmental justice issues affecting their communities. They are shown that nature belongs to all of us and not just the few. So get outside and enjoy the bird songs…it might inspire you to do great things.