Translating an Appreciation of Birds into Action on Private Lands

Acorn Woodpecker

The stories that private landowners tell me often reflect a land ethic with diverse roots.  These stories draw from their experiences with family, or from time spent gardening, farming, or hunting, and they nearly always reveal an appreciation of the natural world.  Many first-time landowners develop a new awareness of their surroundings.  Owning land can facilitate an unintentional, yet intensive, self-study of a person’s place, whether it is their yard in the city or 20 acres in the country.  Quite often this awareness includes the birds that are singing melodies in the early hours of the day, and it directs attention to the seasons, marked by the arrival of brightly colored birds and then marked again by their all too sudden departure.  The combination of understanding and appreciating a piece of land can lead to conservation actions, both small and large.

Klamath Bird Observatory works with private landowners to encourage bird-friendly practices.  Working with our partners, we also guide and assess restoration on private lands.  We use birds as indicators of the health of the environment because they are diverse and individual species represent specific ecological conditions.  Similarly to each individual landowner, each bird species has its own story to tell.  By listening to those stories we can learn about the quality of the habitats that birds inhabit and identify restoration actions that can improve the health of the land.

For private landowners considering restoration of their land, understanding the existing and potential future bird community is a good way to grasp the ecological changes that are possible through restoration.  Recently, KBO has been working with a number of landowners who are implementing oak restoration.  When we visit lands prior to restoration, the bird community we hear tells us about the current habitat characteristics.  For example, in a mixed-conifer forest with an oak component we will detect a mixture of birds that prefer both conifers and oaks, or sometimes only conifer-associated birds, such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Spotted Towhee, Hermit Warbler, and Pacific-slope Flycatcher.  If a landowner’s goal is to restore the historic oak woodland, we would expect to see a dramatic shift in the bird community after restoration, to bird species such as White-breasted Nuthatch, California Towhee, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Ash-throated Flycatcher.  After learning to identify some of the common birds, landowners begin to see the links between birds and their habitats, and also the possibilities for their land.

This article appears in KBO’s Summer 2013 Newsletter.


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