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A Tradition of Field Biology and Conservation

The Klamath Bird Observatory’s foundation is rooted in the study of Natural History and the art of Field Biology.  As an Observatory we are an institution that supports observation based science.  We prescribe intentioned observation to meticulously document our human experiences in the natural world.  Using explicit protocols and well-designed studies we document these experiences, collecting scientific information that we use to inform and improve the way our society manages the ecosystems on which all of Earth’s life depends.

Of course, as a Bird Observatory, birds are the focus of our science.  Birds are our focus because the study of birds serves as a cost effective tool for learning about the health of our lands, air, and water.  Birds are indicators, and each different species serves as a measuring stick, its abundance and behavior providing invaluable information about specific aspects of our environment.  They tell us about the condition and function of our forests; they help to guage the health of the important riparian habitats that grow along and protect our rivers and streams.  For example, the presence of various birds tells us many things about a forest—Pileated Woodpeckers and Brown Creepers indicate a healthy mix of standing large trees, both alive and dead, while the occurrence of Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Wilson’s Warblers, and Orange-crowned Warblers indicates a multi-story mix of conifers and hardwoods and a complex of forest floor vegetation.   Along our rivers and streams nesting success of certain species serves as an indicator of the health of the riparian habitats that shade and cool the water, stabilize the banks, maintain the water table, and serve as a buffer during flooding.  Successfully nesting Song Sparrows indicate early development of healthy riparian habitats, and then, as that habitat matures we expect to see a broader suite of nesting riparian species, such as Yellow Warblers and Yellow-breasted Chats.

Ornithologists, and their scientific study of birds, have lead and formed the foundation for 20th and 21st century conservation.  Near the turn of the 20th Century professional and amateur ornithologists, through their affiliation with the American Ornithological Union, shed light on the alarming patterns of population decline and environmental degradation that their science was documenting, influencing Theodore Roosevelt’s ambitious conservation agenda, which included the creation of the United States’ Wildlife Refuge System.  Through sound science, the waterfowl community created one of the world’s most successful conservation programs—the North American Waterfowl Conservation Plan.  This plan guides protection and management of wetland habitats throughout the ranges of the migratory ducks that depend on these habitats during their entire life cycles.  And now more recently, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, through the State of the Birds reports, is bringing to the attention of our top decision makers the fact that birds serve as the bellwethers of our own well-being.  Our environmental, economic, and social well-being is inseparably tied to the fate of our birds and we have the science and tools that we need to reverse declines of at risk species while keeping our common birds common—we simply need to make the investment.

With many conservation challenges yet to be overcome, Klamath Bird Observatory is striving to keep our tradition of Natural History and Field Biology alive and well, by ensuring its practice informs effective conservation and helps us to realize tangible benefits for birds and people.

This is an extended version of the Note from the Executive Director article that first appeared in the 2014 Early Winter edition of the Klamath Bird Newsletter.