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Ways To Help Migratory Songbirds

January 2005

The numbers of many neotropical migratory birds are declining precipitously, but a state wildlife biologist says people can help by taking some simple steps.

Neotropical migratory birds are those species that nest in North America and migrate to

the tropics in winter. In South Carolina 47 percent, or 53 species, of our nesting land birds are considered neotropical migrants. They include such familiar birds as purple martins, ruby-throated hummingbirds and whip-poor-wills but also less-well-known groups such as warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, flycatchers and thrushes. Neotropical migrants are among our most beautiful and musical birds.

"Neotropical migratory birds are facing a triple whammy," said Lex Glover, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Section of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "Their habitat is being degraded on the breeding grounds here in the United States, in the tropics where they spend the winter, and on the migration corridors in between. So these birds are getting hit coming, going and in the middle."

Neotropical migratory birds are highly sensitive to highways, powerlines, urban sprawl and other development that subdivides and fragments habitats. Other hazards include pesticide poisoning, especially on the wintering grounds, and excess mortality from flying into tall buildings, windows and tall towers, especially during migration.

Despite the litany of woes suffered by these birds at the hands of man, Glover said there are many ways average citizens can help neotropical migratory birds:

Drink "shade-grown coffee." Research shows these older-type coffee plantations in the tropics support far more neotropical migrants in winter than the newer "sun-grown" coffee plantations. Shade-grown coffee tastes better too.
Keep cats indoors. Unconfined cats kill millions of birds each year in the United States.
Support wise land-use practices and get involved in planning and zoning issues that protect forests, fields, wetlands and other neotropical bird habitat.
Support conservation organizations that protect bird habitat and conduct monitoring, management, research and education programs. Some good ones (most with state chapters) are The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and the American Bird Conservancy. Local land trusts in South Carolina actively protect undeveloped land and other open space that protect birds.
The creation of greenways, parks and forest and wetland corridors in urban areas can help birds, especially during migration. Conserve native plant communities and forests in home landscapes.
Be aware of development projects in migration flyways such as tall towers, buildings and other structures that may increase bird mortality. Conservative estimates show that 100 million birds are killed annually in the United States by flying into glass windows.
For a brochure or more information on South Carolina's neotropical migratory birds, write Neotropical Migrants, DNR, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202 or call wildlife biologist Lex Glover at (803)419-7747 in Columbia.

- Written by Greg Lucas -

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