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We can learn from birds on the wing

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By The Staff

Close your eyes and imagine you are in a huge football field. It is completely dark and all you can see are the stars in the firmament. It is a life challenge: you must run toward the other extreme of the field as fast as you can in order to survive.

Now, imagine you are at the same place, but this time the field is filled with obstacles. Your challenge is the same — how fast can you run? Will you make it to the other extreme without deadly collision?

This imaginary challenge is a reality for many migratory birds year after year. At first it was a lot easier, without obstacles, big buildings, fences, highways, towers; all these things we have created to make life easier for us but inadvertently, more complicated and dangerous for the migrants.

Each year thousands of warblers, vireos and thrushes of less than one ounce of weight immerse themselves in a wonderful adventure: flying in the seeming infinity of the night to arrive at an unknown place located thousands of miles away from where they saw the world for the first time.

This challenge, however, cannot be completed in a single jump. Each sunrise they must find a safe place to rest and gather the energy needed to continue the next night. This stop-over place could range from a backyard tree to a migratory hot spot. The size or place doesn’t matter. They are both as important to the traveling birds as are each and every rivet in an airplane. How many rivets can we lose before the plane falls apart?

How many stop-over places can we lose before the migrants can no longer make their trip?

Certainly we do not know the answer, but there’s one thing we can be sure: the number is not too large and we have been seeing the danger signals for years.

In the last few decades, scientists have noticed how the number of migratory birds is dwindling. Over time there are fewer nestlings that leave their nests during the summer and fewer adults that come back in the spring looking for a place to breed.

Development of cities, deforestation, pollution and overuse of fossil fuels — all these actions are carrying the planet to an extreme never seen before. Environmental hazards like those that affect the birds on their journeys also affect all the living creatures in the world, including us.

Will this be the place we want for our children? We must establish ourselves as stewards of the planet, so that our legacy will be more than the Silent Spring that Rachel Carson wrote about in the 1960s, making reference to woods and fields without the songs of birds.

As wildlife biologist interns from Colombia and Mexico working with Bandelier this migratory bird season, Angélica Hernández and Rafael Paredes are learning first-hand about these problems and sharing their knowledge with schoolchildren in Northern New Mexico.  

They will be available to discuss these isues with members of the community Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. among the many activities at the Bandelier-PEEC Nature Festival, at Bandelier’s Juniper Campground, Loop A.