Did you know you can continue to celebrate the earth and the concept of water conservation this month on World Migratory Bird Day?
While the official Bird Day is the second Saturday in May in North America and the second Saturday of October in Latin America (Mexico, Central and South America) and the Caribbean, we can (and should!) celebrate birds every day of the year. Why are there different Bird Days in North America and Latin America? Because birds migrate between these two regions. For us, “our” migrant species are returning in May from their winter hiatus. For people in Latin America, “their” migrants are returning in October from their brief breeding excursion to North America.
The theme for this year’s Bird Day is “Water: Sustaining Bird Life.” Water is fundamental to sustaining all life on our planet. Migratory birds rely on water and its associated habitats—lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, swamps, marshes, and coastal wetlands—for breeding, resting and refueling during migration, and wintering. Yet increasing human demand for water, along with climate change, pollution, and other factors are threatening these precious aquatic ecosystems.
Birds are a good indicator of the overall health of the environments and ecosystems in which they live. And water is at the base of the food web. (You can learn more about the Web of Life with IPC's Action Kit).
In fact, birds are such a good indicator of environmental health, the US Environmental Protection Agency used one of my favorite birds—Louisiana Waterthrush—as the basis for a study on watershed health in the Northeast about 20 years ago. This bird nests along small flowing streams and feeds on macroinvertebrates (insects) in and along the water’s edge. If the stream (and therefore the watershed) is healthy, you will find Louisiana Waterthrush nesting there.
Migratory birds that nest in our area will spend 2-3 months on the breeding grounds and spend 7-9 months each year in Latin America and the Caribbean. They depend on healthy forests and waters not just here, but also on their “wintering” grounds and every place they stop during their migration to rest and refuel. The theme of World Migratory Bird Day a few years ago was “Birds Connect Our World.” How true! Birds connect us to people in other countries, and they connect forests and watersheds in different continents. What a joy to watch a Baltimore Oriole, Maryland’s state bird, feeding on fruit in Costa Rica a few inches away from a Yellow-throated Toucan. And healthy forests and watersheds provide refuge and nourishment to birds as they undertake their strenuous migrations every spring and fall or raise their young.
Humans also need refuge and nourishment from the strains of our own daily journeys and activities. The pandemic helped many people realize the natural healing power of nature. Studies have documented statistically significant decreases in levels of stress and anxiety from spending as little as 15 minutes in nature. What’s more, being in a forest or a wooded area has even more benefits. As someone who spends a lot of time in the woods watching birds, I know how a walk in the woods helps melt away the stress of daily life. I’m sure a lot of you know this, too.
As an avid birder/birdwatcher, I have developed an ear for bird vocalizations. I must admit that at times it’s easier for me to hear a bird singing than a person speaking to me in a noisy setting. Watching and listening to birds bring me a sense of peace and calm I cannot get anywhere else. For me, it is spiritual renewal at its deepest level, a close connection with Creation. Have you heard a Wood Thrush sing at the break of dawn? Its song reverberates throughout the woods as it sings harmony with itself. The ethereal quality of its song has a feeling of other-worldliness. The song seems to say “Everything is right with the world.” And chances are that the Wood Thrush is one of many birds joining together in what we call the dawn chorus. Starting about a half-hour before sunrise, the cacophony of so many birds singing so many different songs is a marvel of nature.
Humans are rejuvenated by being in nature and in the woods. The songs of birds can calm us. Birds connect our world. Or perhaps we can say bird connect us to nature. We are, after all, a part of creation like birds, forests, streams, insects, and all other living things. So, it is natural that we find renewal by being in nature. It is where we belong.
Thank you for celebrating Earth Day and Earth Month. Keep the celebration going through this month with World Migratory Bird Day and its theme of water. We all need clean water. And whether you know it or not, we all need birds and the birds need us. To borrow an old saying, “Think Globally. Act Locally.” Birds connect our world. It’s up to us to ensure a healthy watershed for birds and for us.
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