Mothering Day for Cormorants

Spring is finally here. People are starting seeds in their kitchen windows and preparing their gardens. Mother’s Day too is upon us. It’s so fitting that Mother’s Day is celebrated during spring while new life is all around us. Spring, and Mother’s Day, remind us that all new life needs to be nurtured, treasured, and protected. The caring drive that is in all of us makes us parents and guardians of the tender lives that are taking root, blossoming, hatching or being born right now.

Spring is a time to breathe a little easier, feel a little lighter as we see shoots sprouting from the ground and leaves forming on the once-barren trees. I hope that your hearts are lifted, as mine is at this lovely time.

And, I can share something else with you that will lighten your hearts even more.

This year, for the first time since 2008 Parks Canada will not be conducting their annual cull of Double-crested Cormorants on an island in Lake Erie. We have talked with you many times about this persecuted species. Like wolves and coyotes, and deer and beaver too, these native wild animals are so often targeted for killing by conservation and parks managers. You know that we will always oppose the lethal ‘management’ of wild animals, and promote peaceful co-existence with the natural world and all its inhabitants.

This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, their annual cull of cormorants has been called off.  So, a team of Parks Canada staff will not travel to Middle Island to kill birds.

This year, cormorant parents will not be shot off of their nests as they incubate their eggs. This year, mated pairs of cormorant parents will not be at risk of being left alone to incubate their eggs and then their offspring – a task too difficult to be successful. For this spring, all the birds on the island will not fly up in fear as shots ring out. Birds will not wheel around in the air, trying to return to their nests, only to be driven off again as shooting continues. This year, birds will not be driven by exhaustion at the end of the day to simply remain in their nests, even as the shooting continues, placing themselves at great risk.

For this wonderful year, here is what will happen, and is happening right now.

A vibrant, active and glorious sea bird nursery is teeming with birds of various species: our cormorant friends, as well as Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets and American white pelicans.

These colonial waterbirds are nesting, incubating their eggs in close proximity to each other in tree-top nests. Birds are flying in from the lake, returning to relieve their mates on their nests. Places are exchanged as each mate takes turns flying out to hunt for fish. The air is peaceful as the flight of the birds is unhurried. All around, birds fly to and from the island; some travelling far in small groups, others hunting for fish nearby. Birds are bringing in new nesting materials to firm up their nests. Cormorants are floating on the water, then quickly disappearing as they dive to catch a fish. Along the shoreline Canada Geese are swimming peacefully. The soft sound of bird call is mixing with the sound of the wind.

It’s a glorious time in this nursery for birds, thanks to the suspension of this year’s cull.

How do we know what is happening this year, you might ask?

And how do we know what has happened in so many previous years?

We know because each year Animal Alliance of Canada and the Animal Protection Party have hired a boat and captain to take our observers to Middle Island to monitor the cull. When Parks Canada shooters are on the island, we are anchored nearby to keep witness. This is a very expensive undertaking, but we are committed to be there when the killing is taking place. We believe that our presence makes it more likely that the shooters take more time to ensure that wounded birds are not left behind to suffer.

Middle Island cormorant cull

Wounded birds were left behind to endure prolonged deaths some years ago when the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conducted a cull on High Bluff Island at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. As several groups monitored that cull, we took video evidence of wounded birds left behind to die of starvation, too injured to dive for fish.

We have also been able to see with our own eyes how peaceful Middle Island, and other nearby island nurseries, are when shooters are not there. And, sadly we have observed how disturbed the birds are when their remote island is invaded so violently. We believe that it’s essential to let Parks Canada staff and management know that as long as they are killing birds, we will be there to keep watch.

Thanks to you we have been able to monitor and witness.

We have been able to hire those boats and send a staff member to monitor the shooting because of the generosity of so many of you. It’s not a happy assignment but a necessary one.  We will be heading to Middle Island once we’re able – to document what happens when there is no Parks Canada presence to disrupt the delicate ecosystem.  Thank you for giving us the resources to be able to make this important trip.

So, for this one year, let’s all breathe a little easier and think about a season of peace for parents and their young on Middle Island.

And, we ask you to take an ACTION to protect Double-crested Cormorants from a misguided law that has been proposed by Ontario’s provincial government, one that has the potential to kill thousands of cormorants in just one year.

Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford, and his government have started to implement one of the most regressive wildlife “management” programs in Canadian history.  The proposed changes are rooted in an irrational hatred for cormorants that will fuel their persecution and drive them back to the brink of extinction, or worse, in the province.

What Ontario’s government is proposing is to allow hunters to kill 50 cormorants a day! Once all the proposed legislative changes come into effect, one hunter will be able to legally kill over 14,000 cormorants in just one season. 

It wouldn’t take many people very long to wipe out most cormorants in the province. Cormorants would be reduced to just a tiny remnant of their population in a few protected areas. Double-crested Cormorants, a native migratory bird, could be driven back to near extinction in just one year.

You can learn more about this outrageous proposal by clicking here.  You can also read our rebuttals to the sorry excuses being given for what comes close to a provincially- sanctioned extermination plan, and learn more about how to help.

There’s still hope for cormorants if we act:

Canada’s federal government can, and should, protect Double-crested Cormorants under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act, paralleling the U.S. listing, a reasonable and scientifically sound request.

Help Cormorants:  Oppose Ontario’s Plan!

Call or Write to the Honourable Jon Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Ask him to amend the Migratory Bird Convention Act to include Double-crested Cormorants who are migratory and should be protected under the Act.

A quick phone call or a brief email are the most effective.

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A6

Telephone: 613-995-1225
Fax: 613-992-7319

Bird Therapy: On The Healing Effects Of Watching Birds


An uplifting and hopeful memoir and social commentary about how becoming deeply connected to the natural world through bird watching helped teacher and author Joe Harkness to deal with serious mental health issues, and could help many others, too

Bird watching teaches mindfulness and helps people lose themselves in something bigger than themselves and their troubles. (Credit: Joe Harkness / Bird Therapy / via Twitter)

Bird watching teaches mindfulness and helps people lose themselves in something bigger than themselves and their troubles.
(Credit: Joe Harkness / Bird Therapy / via Twitter)


As we go through life, we all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at some time or another. Loss of a loved one. Divorce. Illness. Unemployment. A domineering boss. Co-workers who steal credit for your ideas or work. Money problems. Bullying neighbors. Fear of what the future may bring. Social isolation. The list goes on and on. Although common, events such as these can trigger mental health challenges for anyone.

In fact, mental health issues affect one out of four people every year, as we’ve learned during the month of May, which has been observed as Mental Health Month in the United States since 1949. Yet, despite how common — how shared — mental health problems are, the subject still remains taboo. It’s rarely spoken of.

The most common mental health problems are depression and anxiety, which often show up together. As we learn in the book, Bird Therapy(Unbound, 2019: Amazon US / Amazon UK), these two unwelcome guests, along with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eventually ended up causing Special Educational Needs Coordinator, Joe Harkness, to suffer an emotional breakdown that nearly drove him to suicide in 2013.

Cover for Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness and published by Outbound Books (2019).

Cover for Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness and published by Outbound Books (2019).


The opening paragraph of this book is difficult to read, especially for anyone who has been in a similar situation. But the honesty and vulnerability of the writing resonates deeply and keeps you reading, almost like following a delicate golden thread through a dark labyrinth and out into brilliant light again.

This somber beginning provides the context upon which Mr. Harkness builds his argument that being part of nature in some meaningful way is an essential element in an emotionally healthy life. In Mr. Harkness’s case, birds are his ticket to the outdoors, and birding is the elixir that saves him from his secret anguish. Mr. Harkness shares the (sometimes harsh) reality of his mental health struggles, but we learn how bird watching positively impacts his life, how it provides a special place to where he can escape the maelstrom of modern life, and how it increases his social connectedness by providing the opportunity to meet others with a similar passion for birds. We see how birding heals him.

Although I’m a lifelong birder, I was particularly interested to learn how birding develops mindfulness. Birding is a meditative practice that immediately appeals to all your senses — listening to bird sounds and songs, looking at their plumage colors and patterns, observing their complex and often subtle behaviors, identifying their habits and habitats — but weirdly, I’d not made this connection between birding and mindfulness before.

Nonetheless, even if you aren’t a bird watcher (Mr. Harkness didn’t start out a birder, either), you will be captivated by the story, and will find yourself becoming more aware of the birds around you — their sounds and behaviors and relationships — and noticing the positive impact that regular bird watching has on your mental health.

Writing this memoir was almost certainly therapeutic. The author is a careful observer and his thoughtful descriptions of his own mental state likely served as a valuable roadmap of his progress towards healing. The author’s lucid prose tracks his recovery, along with his setbacks, and provides encouragement to the reader to discover similar effects for themselves. To ensure that the main points are clear, there is a list of useful tips at the end of each chapter. By following the author’s journey back into the light, you can become conscious of common themes in your own inner conflicts and uncover unexpected connections with countless others who share these same struggles.

The author reaches out to others, too. Throughout the book, Mr. Harkness includes data and responses from an online survey that he conducted on his blog, and interweaves findings from published scientific studies revealing that birding (or even just getting out into nature) is correlated with improved mental health. This observation is not new: it was introduced and popularized by biologist, theorist, and author, Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book, Biophilia, where he defined the Biophilia Hypothesis as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. More recently, Richard Luov breathed new life into this idea by referring to it as “nature deficit disorder”.

But this book is more than a personal journal and more than just homework. In addition to advice and information for how to deal with mental health issues, it is candid and accessible and, at times, amusing. Fans of Richard Mabey’s popular book, Nature Cure, and Kate Bradbury’s lovely and often introspective The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, will find much to ponder in this memoir. The book also includes exquisitely beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations by artist, Jo Brown.

Although Mr. Harkness (and his birds) are British, mental health issues — like birds — respect no boundaries. Whether you enjoying bird watching or wildlife photography or just being in nature, this book provides a useful examination for how these quiet interests can bolster and support your mental and emotional wellbeing. Further, this uplifting and insightful book will provide inspiration and new ideas to mental health professionals and much-needed comfort and hope to everyone struggling with mental health issues.

Joe Harkness has written his Bird Therapy blog for the last three years. His writing has appeared in Birdwatch magazine and in the literary journal, The Curlew, amongst others. Mr. Harkness recorded three ‘Tweets of the Day’ for BBC Radio 4. He works as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator and has worked with vulnerable groups for nine years. He lives in Norfolk.

Bird Therapy: On The Healing Effects Of Watching Birds | @GrrlScientist

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Although I look like a parrot, I am an evolutionary ecologist and ornithologist as well as a science writer and journalist. As a writer, my passion is to use words and i…

Migratory Bird Treaty Act under threat

1/18/2018 | 0

The declining Golden-winged Warbler is one of many species protected by the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by By Jayne Gulbrand/Shutterstock

In 1916, the United States and Canada reached a landmark agreement to
protect migratory birds, many of which were being hunted to the brink for
fashion or food. The Migratory Bird Treaty became U.S. federal law in 1918
as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the nation’s earliest and most
influential pieces of environmental legislation. Passed in the nick of time,
the act saved herons, egrets, waterfowl, and other birds from going the
route of the Passenger Pigeon and other now-vanished species.

Now the act itself is under attack, facing proposed changes that would undo
the safeguards it provides for birds. The U.S. House of Representatives is
considering an amendment eliminating protection for migratory birds that
fall victim to oil spills, wind turbines, and other energy infrastructure.
The language is part of a bill called the SECURE Act, HR 4239. In addition,
the Department of the Interior has drafted a new legal interpretation of the
law, changing a long-standing policy that the act covers these deaths.

The act does not put too heavy a burden on industry. It encourages energy
companies to adopt best-management practices, like covering oil pits with
screens to keep birds from being trapped and killed. In practice,
enforcement of the act has only occurred when companies failed to adopt such
practices — and ignored government warnings.

In a remarkable show of support for keeping the act strong, a bipartisan
group of 17 high-ranking officials from previous administrations sent a
letter to the interior secretary opposing the change. The new interpretation
“needlessly undermines a history of great progress, undermines the
effectiveness of the migratory bird treaties, and diminishes U.S.
leadership,” they wrote.

Migratory birds have inherent value. They also drive economic growth.
Birders spend millions of dollars on wildlife-watching equipment, backyard
birding supplies, and birding tours. Birds also provide essential services
to people, from natural control of insect pests to crop pollination.

According to the 2016 State of the Birds Report, a third of North America’s
bird species are in decline. Now is the time to increase protections for
migratory birds, not undercut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other
bedrock laws that sustain them.

Sign the American Bird Conservancy’s petition opposing changes to the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act

A version of this article will appear in the April 2018 issue of
BirdWatching magazine.

This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3),
not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and
their habitats throughout the Americas.

The Hills Are a-LOUD with the Sound of Shooting

As seen in the fall 2016 issue of the C.A.S.H. (THE COMMITTEE TO ABOLISH SPORT HUNTING) Courier


Living as I had for nearly the past decade in Washington State’s Willapa Hills near the mouth of the Columbia River, that refrain all too often comes to mind with the first light of dawn this time of year. Nothing is more miraculous than a huge flock of dusky or cackling Canada geese passing right overhead. But every morning in the fall and winter this awe-inspiring scene is accompanied by the nerve-shattering sounds of self-important nimrods blindly blasting through the fog. Whether for fun or to fill their freezer with flesh, the slaughter is all really in the name of sport. While spring is the season for baseball in this country, fall seems to be the in-season for killing.

If only more hunters would be like Canadian author, Farley Mowat, when he turned his back on the carnage for good: “…and then the dawn was pierced by the sonorous cries of seemingly endless flocks of geese that drifted, wraithlike, overhead. They were flying low that day. Snow Geese, startling white of breast, with jet-black wingtips, beat past while flocks of piebald wavies kept station at their flanks. An immense V of Canadas came close behind. As the rush of air through their great pinions sounded in our ears, we jumped up and fired. “One goose fell, appearing gigantic in the tenuous light as it spiraled sharply down. It struck the water a hundred yards from shore and I saw that it had only been winged. It swam off into the growing storm, its neck outstretched, calling….calling….calling after the fast disappearing flock. “Driving home to Saskatoon that night I felt a sick repugnance for what we had done, but what was of far greater import, I was experiencing a poignant but indefinable sense of loss. I felt as if I had glimpsed another and quite magical world–a world of oneness–and had been denied entry into it through my own stupidity. I never hunted for sport again.”

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2014. All Rights Reserved

Birders rejoice as Oregon standoff comes to close

With David Fry’s surrender to FBI agents Thursday morning, birders and environmentalists breathed a collective sigh of relief.

They’d grown increasingly anxious watching as the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife refuge that began Jan. 2 dragged on for weeks and then for more than a month. Fry was among a group of four holdouts who dug in after the departure of most occupiers Jan. 26 and 27.

With each passing day, the standoff posed a greater threat to the spring migration that draws millions of shorebirds, waterfowl and songbirds to the 187,000-acre bird sanctuary.

“This couldn’t have ended soon enough,” said Harv Schubothe, president of the Oregon Birding Association.

Spring thaw is just around the corner, and Schubothe worried what might happen if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel couldn’t be present to direct the flow of melting water. He feared northbound swans, geese and sandhill cranes might arrive at Malheur to find dry meadows where wetlands should be. Unmanaged melt of this year’s copious snowpack could also cause flooding that might breach levies and wash out roads.

The standoff also threatened the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, an April event that offers a major tourism boost for the county.

When the last occupier exited the refuge Thursday morning, all those threats disappeared. Their minds eased, refuge supporters turned to the formidable task of moving on and mending relationships frayed by the occupation.

“There’s a consensus that we never want this to happen again,” said Chris Gardner, who serves on the board of the nonprofit Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. “We want to make sure the refuge and Burns and the Harney County community are in partnership going forward, so it doesn’t happen again.”

For Gardner’s group, the occupation came with an upside. Bird lovers and environmentalists angry about the standoff channeled their feelings into action. The Friends of Malheur grew from 40 members to more than 700 over the course of the occupation. The group took in more than $25,000 in donations.

“Our treasurer has just gotten flooded with envelopes,” Gardner said.

The 41-day standoff began when Idaho businessman Ammon Bundy led a band of militants in an unannounced seizure of the refuge headquarters. Bundy’s insurrection fizzled on Jan. 26 when he and other occupation leaders were arrested on a highway north of Burns. LaVoy Finicum, a spokesman for the occupation, died in the encounter.

Known among birders and environmentalists as the crown jewel of the national wildlife refuge system, the vast preserve surrounding Malheur Lake is a rare source of abundant water in the arid Great Basin and a crucial point along the Pacific Flyway. Its importance to migratory birds can’t be understated, Schubothe said.

“The number of different species that depend on that oasis is just astounding,” he said.

In a way, the occupation leaders had fortuitous timing. Malheur’s wetlands are relatively empty in winter, with fewer birds present save the occasional hawk, quail, raven or owl. But the refuge comes alive in the spring as hundreds of species ranging from grebes and pelicans to warblers and finches arrive to feed and breed in its wetlands.

The standoff has likely ended with enough time for refuge staff to prepare for the migration, but cleaning up the occupiers’ mess could continue for weeks or months.

In a statement Thursday, Fish and Wildlife officials said they’ll be working to “assess and repair damages.”

In addition to the big task of managing water, refuge staff have been kept from the mundane duties of checking fish screens that keep invasive carp from tightening their grip on the refuge habitat, fixing fences and getting contracts in place for the summer.

“All that stuff that goes into making a place like Malheur function optimally, that’s stuff you can’t do on the spot,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. “You need to be prepping throughout the year.”

Sallinger quietly visited the bird sanctuary weeks into the occupation. Hoping to avoid the flurry of protests, counter-protests and news cameras, he brought little more than his binoculars and a bird list.

“I felt it was important to see for myself,” he said.

The swans had already arrived and the first sandhill cranes were coming in. Other waterfowl will arrive soon.

Although Sallinger was alone during his visit, other birders are planning trips to Malheur now that the occupiers have left. Hundreds have answered the environmental groups’ call for volunteers to assist in the cleanup effort.

Alan Contreras, a Eugene educational administrator and avid birder who began visiting the refuge as a child, plans to be among those returning this spring.

A lifelong Oregonian whose roots in the state go back to 1871, Contreras, 60, had taken the refuge occupation personally. He resented its out-of-stater leaders, who seemed to feel they had more right to the land than he did.

“I have asked my family to place my ashes there when the time comes,” he said. “It’s that kind of place.”

–Kelly House

Distance from the Oregon standoff to D.C. isn’t that far

Seizure of federal building in Oregon is the product of a dangerous political movement to privatize our public lands

This op-ed is was first published Jan. 8, 2016 in The Hill.

It would be easy to dismiss the armed standoff near Burns, Ore., as simply the work

Photo: Snow by Jim Robertson

Photo: Snow geese by Jim Robertson

of fringe, anti-government fanatics. But what’s happening there is a logical extension of the anti-federal government, anti-public land movement that’s been growing for years in the West and, more recently, in Congress. The tactics may differ but the underlying notion is the same: dismantling our public lands—places like national forests — in favor of a system that prizes profits over conservation.

For several years, there’s been a concerted effort in Congress — which has gained some steam with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, at the helm of the House Natural Resources Committee — to hand federal land over to the states. The inevitable result, would be opening up these lands for more logging, mining, grazing, fossil fuel development and anything else that cuts a profit for a few (and ignores the natural value for many).

While people like Bishop and several Republican presidential candidates have rightly condemned the dangerous tactics of those in the Oregon standoff, they can’t distance themselves from the movement that’s been pushing to “give back” or “transfer” federal lands to the states.

Their very concept is premised on a serious flaw. America’s federal public lands — our national forests, national parks and the Bureau of Land Management’s grasslands, sagebrush steppe and deserts — never belonged to the states to begin with. When Western states entered into the compact of statehood with the United States, in exchange for receiving a very large amount of federal public land among other stipulations, they agreed to forever disclaim all right and title to those federal public lands.

As to transferring federal public lands to Western states, that would be tantamount to U.S. taxpayers handing over $1 trillion worth of land and assets. Assuming a conservative value of $1,500 per acre, multiply that by the total federal public lands of 674 million acres = $1.0 trillion at fair market value. Importantly, that figure doesn’t begin to account for the incalculable value of watersheds and clean water (our national forests produce half of the water in the West), wildlife habitat, carbon stored in soils, plants and trees, flood control, and recreation and tourism revenue.

Make no mistake, if our federal public lands were given to the states the intent is to privatize and sell to the highest bidder America’s natural legacy. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, as well as the likes of Bishop and others, intend to turn these irreplaceable lands over to those who view them only as sources of profit for mining, logging, grazing and burning fossil fuels.

The states would have to privatize these lands, not only because they want the money, but also because they can’t afford to manage them. The fact is the federal government provides very large subsidies to the livestock industry, timber, mining and fossil fuels. The very reason that the national forests came into being was to protect lands and watersheds from robber barons who were stripping the West of its natural resources. The very reason we have laws today that govern federal public lands was to turn the tide against extractive industries and their rapacious appetite for oil, gas, minerals, grass and timber while laying waste our forests, rivers deserts, grasslands and tundra.

The recently occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, for example, is a critically important area for many unique species of birds that frequent the Pacific Flyway. Some 47 million birdwatchers in this country spend $40 billion a year. Those at the center of the controversy in Oregon, including the Bundy and Hammond families, have used public lands to graze their livestock. Nationally, public lands grazing generated $125 million less than what the federal government spent on the program in 2014, according to a report by natural resource economists commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity. Federal grazing fees are 93 percent less than fees charged for non-irrigated Western private grazing, or just $1.69 per animal per month for each cow and calf that grazes the public land (it costs more to feed a house cat).

We all own these public lands and we should all have a say in how they’re managed. What’s happening in Oregon is deplorable — armed seizure of a federal building to bully the government and threaten violence — but there’s a larger movement here in D.C. that, for the future of our public lands, is deeply troubling as well. Once you privatize our irreplaceable natural heritage, there’s no going back.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is for the birds


“Malheur’s for the birds”

That’s the slogan that read across a T-shirt I wore back in the late ’70s, when I worked there for the summer in the maintenance department for the Malheur Field Station. A branch of Oregon’s Pacific University, the “Field Station” was where they held month-long courses in botany and ornithology.

I also took their anthropology/wilderness survival course, called, “Aboriginal Life Skills of the Northern Great Basin.” There, we learned how the Paiutes lived off the land, hundreds of years before ranchers claimed it for themselves and their ubiquitous cows. Their armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building is apparently part of an effort to re-assert their “constitutional rights.”

As an avid birdwatcher, I know the refuge and its headquarters well. Possibly second only to Yellowstone National Park for biodiversity, wildlife can be found throughout the refuge. The Wildlife Department headquarters office is practically a required stop for die-hard birders, due to the oasis-like edge effect the treed property has in the midst of an otherwise contiguous sagebrush habitat.

Say’s the Portland Audubon Society of the unique national refuge:

This area is one of the premiere sites for birds and birding in the U.S. The refuge consists of over 187,000 acres of habitat which include wetlands, riparian areas, meadows, and uplands.

 Location: In the center of the southeast quarter of the state, 30 miles south of Burns in central Harney County.

Description: This area is one of the premiere sites for birds and birding in the U.S. The refuge consists of over 187,000 acres of habitat which include wetlands, riparian areas, meadows, and uplands. Refuge lands are configured in roughly a “T” shape, 39 miles wide and 40 miles long.

Ornithological Highlights: Malheur’s varied habitats, abundant resources, and location on the Pacific Flyway are utilized by a variety of migratory and resident birds. Over 320 species of birds have been observed at Malheur, including numerous watch-listed species such as Western Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Franklin’s Gull, Short-eared Owl, Greater Sage-Grouse, Bobolink, Trumpeter Swan, and Brewer’s Sparrow.

The refuge’s riparian habitat supports the highest known densities of Willow Flycatcher, up to 20% of the world’s population of White-faced Ibis, and significant breeding populations of American White Pelican and Greater Sandhill Crane. Breeding populations on the refuge also include a variety of gulls and terns and hundreds of pairs of various duck species. The first Oregon breeding record of Cattle Egret came from Malheur Lake in the mid-1980s. Black-crowned Night-Heron pairs nesting on the refuge generally number in the hundreds.

During migration, the Refuge regularly supports hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and tens of thousands of shorebirds, including a significant proportion of the total populations of several species. Malheur Refuge is also a winter concentration point for raptors of many species.

Thousands of birders come to the refuge annually to take part in the spectacle, whether they come for the waterfowl, songbirds, or both. Due to the high birder coverage and concentrated bird habitat Malheur Headquarters may have the highest all-time bird list of any single location in Oregon.

For more information on Malheur, please see the Technical Site Report in the National IBA database.


Yes, contrary to the cow-pushers who are now trying to take it over again, this time from the rest of the US citizens, Malheur’s for the birds…and for us bird watchers too.

The girl who gets gifts from birds

The girl who gets gifts from birds

Eight-year-old Gabi Mann sets a bead storage container on the dining room table, and clicks the lid open. This is her most precious collection.

“You may take a few close looks,” she says, “but don’t touch.” It’s a warning she’s most likely practised on her younger brother. She laughs after saying it though. She is happy for the audience.

Inside the box are rows of small objects in clear plastic bags. One label reads: “Black table by feeder. 2:30 p.m. 09 Nov 2014.” Inside is a broken light bulb. Another bag contains small pieces of brown glass worn smooth by the sea. “Beer coloured glass,” as Gabi describes it.

Each item is individually wrapped and categorised. Gabi pulls a black zip out of a labelled bag and holds it up. “We keep it in as good condition as we can,” she says, before explaining this object is one of her favourites.

There’s a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.

Gifts given by the crows
Gifts given by the crows

She didn’t gather this collection. Each item was a gift – given to her by crows.

She holds up a pearl coloured heart. It is her most-prized present. “It’s showing me how much they love me.”

Gabi’s relationship with the neighbourhood crows began accidentally in 2011. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food. She’d get out of the car, and a chicken nugget would tumble off her lap. A crow would rush in to recover it. Soon, the crows were watching for her, hoping for another bite.

As she got older, she rewarded their attention, by sharing her packed lunch on the way to the bus stop. Her brother joined in. Soon, crows were lining up in the afternoon to greet Gabi’s bus, hoping for another feeding session.

Gabi’s mother Lisa didn’t mind that crows consumed most of the school lunches she packed. “I like that they love the animals and are willing to share,” she says, while admitting she never noticed crows until her daughter took an interest in them. “It was a kind of transformation. I never thought about birds.”

In 2013, Gabi and Lisa started offering food as a daily ritual, rather than dropping scraps from time to time.

Each morning, they fill the backyard birdbath with fresh water and cover bird-feeder platforms with peanuts. Gabi throws handfuls of dog food into the grass. As they work, crows assemble on the telephone lines, calling loudly to them.

Gabi feeding birds in her garden

It was after they adopted this routine that the gifts started appearing.

The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray; an earring, a hinge, a polished rock. There wasn’t a pattern. Gifts showed up sporadically – anything shiny and small enough to fit in a crow’s mouth.

One time it was a tiny piece of metal with the word “best” printed on it. “I don’t know if they still have the part that says ‘friend’,” Gabi laughs, amused by the thought of a crow wearing a matching necklace.

When you see Gabi’s collection, it’s hard not to wish for gift-giving crows of your own.

“If you want to form a bond with a crow, be consistent in rewarding them,” advises John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. He specialises in birds, particularly crows and ravens.

Crow on feeder

What food is best? “A few peanuts in the shell,” he says. “It’s a high-energy food… and it makes noise when you throw it on the ground, so they hear it and they quickly habituate to your routine.”

Marzluff, and his colleague Mark Miller, did a study of crows and the people who feed them. They found that crows and people form a very personal relationship. “There’s definitely a two-way communication going on there,” Marzluff says. “They understand each other’s signals.”

The birds communicate by how they fly, how close they walk, and where they sit. The human learns their language and the crows learn their feeder’s patterns and posture. They start to know and trust each other. Sometimes a crow leaves a gift.

But crow gifts are not guaranteed. “I can’t say they always will (give presents),” Marzluff admits, having never received any gifts personally, “but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people.”

Not all crows deliver shiny objects either. Sometimes they give the kind of presents “they would give to their mate”, says Marzluff. “Courtship feeding, for example. So some people, their presents are dead baby birds that the crow brings in.”

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Hunter criticized for video guide showing how to kill parakeets in back garden


3:04PM GMT 02 Dec 2014

The video, created by hunter James Marchington for the Fieldsports Channel, shows him shooting ring-necked parakeets after creating a fake bird to entice them.

The clip, named Shooting Parakeets in London, is part of a series of videos providing advice on shooting animals.

According to the online description of the video on YouTube, “The flocks of ring-necked parakeets that ravage the fruit farms and vineyards of the south-east of England are at last under threat.

“They went on the quarry list in 2013. Now they are in the telescopic sights of pest controllers, including the owner of The Bird Table Of Doom himself, James Marchington.”

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds criticised the video’s creators for glorifying hunting.

He told the Standard: “I’d urge others not to follow this advice. Those who act like this could find themselves with a criminal record. Under the general licence, there is a defence for the ultimate sanction ONLY if crops or public health are at risk. The presenter says the birds are damaging his fruit tree.

“The tree is leafless with no sign of any crop. It is clearly not a commercial operation. He even lures the poor parakeet in with food. Under the general licence, if you can’t prove there is just cause for your actions, you’re not safe from prosecution; especially if you’ve not explored alternative forms of control.”

He continued: “London is not the Wild West. London is a densely packed place where no one should be firing a weapon from their window. I would seriously hope that all right-minded, experienced marksmen, would support my call for this sort of behaviour to stop and for the video to be removed.”

Parakeets, which originate from the foothills of the Himalayas, have soared in number in London over the last two decades and they can now be found across the wider south east, especially large parts of Kent, Surrey and Sussex.


Tell Minnesota Vikings: Don’t Kill Birds

 [Sponsored by the National Audubon Society]‏

The Minnesota Vikings should focus on swatting down passes — NOT BIRDS!

Their new stadium could kill thousands of migratory birds unless the stadium’s builders take immediate action to incorporate bird safe measures.

At issue is the type of glass being used in the largely-glass exterior of the massive new stadium. Current plans call for a type of glass that birds are less likely to see, which will invite deadly collisions.

Over 50,000 people have joined with Audubon to pressure the Vikings to do the right thing. Join them and urge the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) to use safer glass.

The cost of using bird friendly glass is less than one tenth of one percent of the overall cost of the new billion dollar stadium. The site of the stadium is less than a mile from the Mississippi River, along which tens of millions of birds fly between their breeding and wintering grounds every year.

Unless the Vikings and the MSFA reverse course, the new stadium could become a serious threat to America’s birds.

Please act today to urge the stadium’s builders to make the right choice — use safer glass!

Change Glass, Save Birds

The Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium could kill thousands of migratory birds unless the stadium’s builders take immediate action to incorporate bird safe measures.

Please act today to urge the stadium’s builders to make the right choice—use safer glass! Send an email to the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority urging them to take a leadership position in building a stadium that is great for both football and birds. You can send the sample letter below, or edit the letter with your own words for even greater impact.

NOTE: Your name and address will automatically be added to the bottom of the letter.

Help us reach our new goal of 100,000 letters!

Please act today to urge the stadium’s builders to make the right choice — use safer glass!