15 Dec 2017

How Small Actions Can Make A Big Difference

2018 will be “Year of the Bird”, thanks to an exciting new campaign with National Geographic, National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We’re calling on you to “bird your world”, starting with discovering why your backyard is a jigsaw piece for an entire continent

"Spoonie" Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Critically Endangered migratory bird species © Pavel Tomkovich
"Spoonie" Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Critically Endangered migratory bird species © Pavel Tomkovich
By Shaun Hurrell

You wake up, what do you hear?

You look out the window, what do you see?

Perched up high on its favourite branch as the sun rises, singing cheerily with its red breast, the robin feels part of your local landscape, or so much a part of your routine that you may barely notice it when you’re bleary-eyed and brushing your teeth.

But that little ball of feathers in your backyard is one of billions joining an annual global movement. It’s ingrained in its DNA—it’s even in its name: Turdus migratorius.

Every autumn, the humble robin gets a migratory itch, fattens up on juicy worms from your lawn and begins its long journey south. From northern Canada in the summer, to southern Mexico in the winter, the American Robin’s range touches almost all of the North American continent.

Such is the wonder of bird migration, in which an estimated 50 billion birds embark on immense and hazardous journeys along many different routes, or flyways, worldwide each year.

American Robin <i>Turdus migratorius</i> © Nature Lady

They don’t have a choice: it’s “fly or die”, with the birds living on an energetic knife-edge, and many hit the ground exhausted.

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It’s a worldwide phenomenon, this ultimate road trip, and along the way birds encounter many difficulties before reaching their destinations and being able to breed: tiny Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus have to find enough flower nectar to supercharge their rapidly-beating wings; soaring White-backed Vultures Gyps africanus may have to avoid electrocution on poorly-located buzzing transmission lines; White Stork Ciconia ciconia dodge bullets in the Mediterranean; and Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus have to spot patches of sparsely remaining Pampas grasslands in South America to refuel on insects.

Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea literally migrate from pole to pole every year (the longest bird migration): imagine flying through storms on that epic journey over the entire Atlantic Ocean with a wingspan of less than three feet.

BirdLife loves the international Arctic Tern, and that’s why it’s in our logo: representing the power birds have to connect people around the world.


Migratory birds go beyond borders

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The conservation of a huge group of birds with massive ranges requires a coordinated response across many countries and continents. This is why BirdLife uses a “flyways” approach—conserving a species by joining local people from many countries across the whole length of its migratory route, and with Partners in over 120 countries worldwide (including Audubon in the USA), BirdLife is ideally placed to achieve this.

It also allows money to follow the birds, which are “on loan” from our neighbours: from more affluent northern countries with breeding sites, into biodiversity-rich countries where conservation funding of important passage and wintering sites may need a boost, ensuring people’s favourite garden birds return next year.


Small actions

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea is a Critically Endangered shorebird that migrates from the Russian tundra down the Western Pacific coast of Asia to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Less than 200 pairs are left in the wild, as their favourite stopover sites are being reclaimed for industry, infrastructure and aquaculture, and the mudflat feeding grounds that remain are getting heavily polluted.

This video shows the journey of “Spoonie”, with every frame coloured by a different child from a country along its flyway:

Conservation starts with awareness. From the small action of schoolchildren colouring a frame, to working with governments to protect Spoonie’s important refuelling sites along the shores of the Yellow Sea, flyways conservation starts with the awareness of the concept of migration.

From a migratory bird’s eye view, an entire continent is a patchwork of green, food-rich habitat interspersed with roads, degraded land, overfished seas, and dark bitumen development. That’s why piecing together a safe route gets harder every year, and many migratory bird species are in serious trouble. More than 40% of migratory bird species are declining, and over 200 are now classified as globally threatened.

From the morning robin’s perspective, your backyard is a local nature reserve and you’re the warden.

In fact, your backyard or local area could be the last piece that completes The Great Migratory Bird Jigsaw Puzzle.

And with any jigsaw, you only see the full picture when the last piece is in place.

Migrating Whooper Swans © Nick Ford

You look up at the sky? What do you think?

Today we embark on the 2018 “Year of the Bird” Campaign with National Geographic, National Audubon Society, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a year-long effort dedicated to celebrating and protecting birds and their habitats. As Thomas E. Lovejoy, Tropical Conservation Biologist and National Geographic Fellow, says:

“If you take care of the birds, you take care of most of the big environmental problems in the world”.

So like the robin joining billions of other birds on an annual movement, we’re calling on you to join the movement to #BirdYourWorld by starting with a simple consideration:

  • Don’t take bird migration for granted.
  • Next time you see that robin, a hummingbird, a crane, a hawk—any migratory bird—spare a thought for its epic and testing journey across the globe, and what it sees from up high in the sky.
  • Think about people from other countries who will be watching the very same bird in just a few weeks’ time.
  • And think about the work being done to protect habitat along the bird’s migratory flyway, all adding pieces to The Great Migratory Bird Jigsaw Puzzle.

2018 Year of the Bird

Take the Pledge at www.birdyourworld.com