Now Starring: No American Birds

When we birders watch films and TV shows made in America, we often say, "Wha-?" We notice that the birds onscreen in a show supposed to take place here are actually foreign birds. No, it's not because of Hollywood sloppiness. It's because of the law. 

The Washington Post explains: The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918 prohibits the possession of migratory birds for commercial purposes. This means it's illegal to keep domestic bird species as animal actors. Why? Steve Holmer, a senior policy advisor at the American Bird Conservancy, says that, before the MBTA, populations of some birds were severely harmed because they were used so often commercially. Snowy egrets, for example were decimated in the early 1900s because their plumes were used to decorate hats.

Are you surprised that native birds can't be used as actors? So were we, and so are many producers. Benay Karp, owner of Benay’s Bird and Animal Rentals in Woodland Hills, California, says producers often come to her looking to rent a native bird and leave with one that looks similar but actually isn't the genuine article. 

The good news is that egret numbers have rebounded, along with those of many other species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been a success, and Hollywood is still abiding by it. 

The bad news is that birds are being used in film and television that aren't native to the United States. Not only is it expensive to import a non-native bird, but it also can't be pleasant for the bird. We here at Talkin' Birds are rather conservation-minded; we don't want birds from anywhere to be harmed. 

Now, how about when we hear the wrong bird in a film or TV show? Is that also because of the MBTA?

No. That really is because of Hollywood sloppiness. 


Migration Knows No Boundaries—and That's a Problem

Imagine you're a migrating bird. You've got to get to your winter home by molting season. You and your flock need to stop and refuel. Your senses and your memory tell you that this very spot is where you landed last year for water and a quick bite. But what's that? A parking lot? Now what are you going to do? 

A new study in the journal Science reveals that more than 90 percent of migrating birds find themselves in this situation (and worse) because of poorly coordinated conservation efforts around the world. Of the 1,451 bird species studied, 1,324—91 percent—traveled through areas that were not safeguarded from development. This means these birds may well have encountered the situation above. Further, eighteen species found themselves in unprotected breeding areas, and two species had no protection anywhere they went. 

“Migratory species cover vast distances and rely on an intact series of habitats in which they can rest and feed on their long journeys," conservation scientist Richard Fuller of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the University of Queensland told the Associated Press. "If even a single link in this chain of sites is lost for a species, it could lead to major declines or even its extinction."

The United States and Great Britain signed the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1916 (with Great Britain signing for Canada) to protect birds that cross their international boundaries. Similar treaties have been made with Mexico (1936), Japan (1972), and Russia (1976). This is a good start, but habitat destruction is worst in North Africa, Central Asia, and the coastlines of East Asia. In these regions, the safeguarded areas—if any—do not overlap enough to provide a migration route for birds. One example of a bird at risk is the Bar-tailed Godwit. This well-traveled bird migrates from the Arctic to Australia and New Zealand, making stops in China, North Korea, and South Korea. Its population is dwindling because of the loss of habitat along its route.

The protection of migrating wildlife is a concern for all countries. We here at Talkin' Birds imagine it could bring about cooperation among people who don't usually cooperate. Meanwhile, if we could, we would donate all our frequent-flyer miles to the Bar-tailed Godwit.



Hawk Mountain: From Hunting to Conservation

Being at the top of the food chain, raptors—birds of prey—are key indicators of the health of our environment. As their food sources increase and decline, so do raptor populations, providing valuable information that has the potential to benefit all species. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, in Kempton, Pennsylvia, studies raptors with an eye toward conserving them and the conditions that help them flourish.

Hawk Mountain, the world's first refuge for birds of prey, was initially a hunting spot. During the Great Depression, Pennsylvania's Game Commission offered a reward of $5 for every goshawk killed, in a widespread effort to eradicate wildlife predators. In 1931, amateur ornithologist Richard Pough, who lived in the area, joined a growing number of conservationists who opposed the eradication project. When he visited the place that locals called "Hawk Mountain," he found gunners shooting hundreds of hawks for sport. The photographs he took were eventually seen by New York conservation activist Rosalie Edge.

In 1934, Mrs. Edge leased 1,400 acres of Hawk Mountain property and installed New England bird enthusiast Maurice Broun as the warden there, along with his wife and bird conservation partner Irma Broun. The shooting stopped immediately. The following year, Mrs. Edge opened the Sanctuary for the public to see—but not hunt—birds of prey. She then purchased and deeded the 1,400 acres to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association, which was incorporated in 1938 as a non-profit organization.

Today, Hawk Mountain is an education and science center. Activities year-round teach people of all ages about raptors and their role in the ecosystem. Listen to Ray's interview with Hawk Mountain Naturalist Laurie Goodrich on our show of September 20, 2015.

Spying on California Condors

Smile! These condors are on camera!  That's right: from anywhere in the world you can watch the activity in the Koford's Ridge nest at Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Female #111 and male #509 are the proud parents of a nestling who will be banded at the age of four months. This chick is an only child because California Condors lay just one egg per nest.

So--why nest cams? 

California Condors are critically endangered, and the Koford's Ridge nest cam project is part of the California Condor Recovery Program's effort to manage and learn more about their communities. All of the more than 400 condors now alive are descended from just 27 birds. These were brought into captivity in the early 1980s for what has turned out to be a successful captive breeding program; now the project's focus is on re-establishing these birds in the wild. 

For more info on this nest, its habitants, and the people studying them, listen to our show broadcast on Sunday, August 30, 2015. Our guest Charles Eldermire from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gave us all the details. Click here for the link.  And remember to listen to us every week! Click How To Listen for our live stream, radio stations in your area, and an archive of all our shows. 

To check out the California Condor nest cam project, click here.