We are getting lots of calls from people about Pine Siskins at their feeders and concerns ranging from spread of disease to frustration with the sheer volume of seed that these little birds eat. Here are the answers to some of the questions we are hearing.
Why are there so many Pine Siskins this year? - It's an irruption year. Each year, Georgia has a few eBird reports of Pine Siskins, but every few years we have an irruption year and large numbers of siskins migrate to Georgia for the winter. Long story short, it's primarily linked to seed production in pines and other conifers in the boreal forest, but this year Georgia is seeing HUGE numbers of birds.
They are eating me out of house and home. What can I do? - There's not much you can do to discourage these hungry birds, and, as you may have experienced, they can empty your feeders in a matter of minutes. But if you'd like to discourage them, try feeding larger seeds, cracked corn, or even suet. If all else fails, take down your feeders for a few weeks. They should begin dispersing over the next month as they return to their breeding grounds further north. Personally, we prefer to enjoy them while they're here and know that they'll be moving on soon. In the meantime, we’re stocking up on bird food!
I've heard Pine Siskins can spread disease, such as salmonella and finch eye disease. How can I prevent this? - With bird species like Pine Siskins (and House Finches) that travel in large flocks, it is easy for a single sick bird to spread disease to others because of the sheer volume of birds. If you notice an ill siskin or other bird at your feeder (puffy appearance, lethargic, sunken or swollen eyes), the best thing you can do is to take down your feeder, clean it with a mild bleach solution, and keep the feeder down for a few weeks to allow any diseased birds to disperse. Otherwise, just be sure to keep your feeders clean to minimize the spread of bacteria and other diseases that can make birds ill. If you have a sick bird, you can find a list of wildlife rehabilitators on our website.
By Lauren Gingerella, President, Oconee Rivers Audubon Society
The North Oconee River flows through the heart of Athens. The forested river corridor provides important habitat for many wildlife species and a stage for the songs of Louisiana Waterthrushes and Summer Tanagers yards from downtown and the campus of the University of Georgia. A linear park system with a network of multi-use greenway trails connects the Athens community to this wonderful greenspace. It is here, along the North Oconee River Greenway, where the Oconee Rivers Audubon Society (ORAS) set out to build a bird-friendly native plant demonstration garden.
Birds need all the help they can get right now. A 2019 study published in the journal Science reported a net loss of nearly three billion birds in North America since 1970. Some of the species with the greatest population declines are common species we may see every day at our backyard bird feeder. Though this is depressing, there are easy activities we can do in our everyday lives to support bird conservation. One of the best ways to help is to add native plants to your yard or garden.
Many of you reading this are already aware of the benefits of planting natives for birds, such as more nutritious food resources, shelter, and resilient landscapes against climate change. However, more people need to be aware of the importance of native plants to help increase avian populations. ORAS wanted to target members of the diverse Athens community not typically involved in bird conservation and native plant restoration. By placing the demonstration garden along the greenway, we are able to engage audiences who use the greenway for exercising, commuting to work or school, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
In January 2020, ORAS was awarded a Burke Grant through the National Audubon Society’s Plants for Birds program to create the high-profile demonstration garden. Our ultimate goals are to emphasize the importance of native plants for wildlife, encourage community members to choose native plants in their home and garden, and create a gathering space to engage the community in conservation efforts. The garden plans consist of more than 1,500 native plants, interpretive signage, a bench, and a small water feature.
The Athens-Clarke County’s (ACC) Sustainability Office enthusiastically partnered with ORAS on this project. The location of the garden at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Parkway and North Avenue fits nicely into ACC’s plans to restore habitat along the North Oconee River corridor. The garden restores approximately 15,000 square feet of wildlife habitat in an area historically fallow and often plagued by invasive plant species. Now, this sunny patch of land will be a mosaic of native prairie and meadow perennials and grasses.
The COVID-19 pandemic added an unexpected challenge to the project. The anticipated springtime site preparation and plantings were delayed until summer and fall. Our vision of large volunteer events was scaled down to a dozen people socially distanced from another. Hand-sanitizer was readily available on workdays, and dedicated volunteers wore masks while shoveling mulch in excessive heat and humidity. By mid-November, the garden was fully planted, and all that still needs to be added are the bench, water feature, and interpretive sign.
Students from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia designed interpretive signage and helped create a list of native plant species. The sign highlights the importance and connection of native plants to birds and other pollinators, and describes the ecological importance of Piedmont prairie habitat. A QR code to access a Spanish translation is on the sign as well, so we can engage as many members of our community as possible.
ORAS purchased many of the native plants from Beech Hollow Farms in Lexington, Georgia, as well as the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Volunteers, ACC staff, and members of Lilly Branch Audubon Society added more than 30 species of perennials and grasses to the garden primarily as plugs and pint-sized plantings. We are looking forward to seeing the results of our efforts over the next few years as the garden grows, matures, and shows off all its flowering glory.
Next time you are in Athens, grab your binoculars and go for a walk along the North Oconee River Greenway. In ORAS’ new Plants for Birds demonstration garden, you may now be able to spot Indigo Buntings, Field Sparrows, or Eastern Kingbirds and be inspired to add native plants to your own landscape.
Reviewed by Steve Phenicie
If you’re looking for a biography about John James Audubon, the man for whom the Audubon network is named, you’ll have many choices. One of them is by our own Gregory Nobles, a Georgia Audubon member and Master Birder and a professor emeritus of history at Georgia Tech.
Nobles admires Audubon’s contributions to art and science, but the book does not back away from the man’s shortcomings and character flaws either. “He could be more than a little loose with the truth about his own life,” Nobles notes. One of his more intriguing fabrications is a tale about going hunting with Daniel Boone, which was entirely made up, although an elderly Boone once turned him down.
Our author tells us not to take all of Audubon’s stories literally, but we should take them seriously because it tells us what kind of a man Audubon was. Nobles says he tried to provide us with a different look at Audubon than the others, taking a more topical approach. Still, I think the book might have benefited by including a timeline of Audubon’s life, particularly for those of us who haven’t read any of the others. Here are some of the facts about the man:
Audubon had nothing to do with the founding of the National Audubon Society–it came along in 1905.
Greg Nobles obviously knows his subject because this book provides a great deal of insight into Audubon’s life and is certainly worth a read. And don’t forget: The author is a member of the Georgia Audubon “home team.”
By Josh Jackson, Fall 2020 Master Birder Graduate
Back in April, after a couple weeks of working from home, I hung a bird feeder that had been sitting unused in my garage. While missing the energy of the Paste magazine (https:// www.pastemagazine.com) office and the bands who’d stop by to perform in the new Paste Studio in downtown Atlanta, I started noticing the birds in my small, urban backyard and realized I often didn’t know what I was looking at. It turns out the colorful bird hopping on the ground just outside my window wasn’t some funny-looking Robin, but an Eastern Towhee. That flock of exquisitely colored birds with little black masks that were darting en masse from tree to tree were Cedar Waxwings. I’d lived in Atlanta most of my life, but I realized I hadn’t really paid attention to its flying fauna.
The stress of isolation—of closed offices and crashing advertising markets—was making it harder to go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night, so I began going for early-morning walks and carrying a pair of binoculars with me. I started visiting places I didn’t even know existed before the pandemic. It seemed there were as many great parks and nature reserves around Atlanta as there were birds that I had no idea ever visited my city. From the granite outcroppings of Davidson-Arabia Mountain to the marshy wetlands of Constitution Lakes to the forests around the Chattahoochee River, there are so many places to experience nature in and around Atlanta, one of the greenest cities in America. And barely five minutes from my house, Legacy Park in Decatur has turned out to be an oasis for birds of all kinds.
I used the Merlin app to identify the birds and the eBird app to keep track of what I’d seen. By the end of June, I bought a telephoto lens for my wife’s camera and started carrying it with me and soon after started the Birds of Atlanta project, seeing how many different species I could photograph and post to Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/atl_birds/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/BirdsAtl). My goal was to make it to 100 days. Thanks to all the sparrows, raptors, warblers, wading birds, ducks and colorful visitors that pass through during their migration to more tropical climates, I just posted my 150th bird in 150 days, a Mute Swan that has been hanging out in a small pond in Lawrenceville.
Along the way, I met and learned from a community of birders here in Atlanta and took the Master Birder course at Georgia Audubon, which I'd recommend to anyone wanting to learn more. My project might be over, and this strange, difficult year may be drawing to a close, but I'm looking forward to a lot more birding in the years to come—and to finding out what birding is like when we're not in the middle of a pandemic. Here are some of the photos I took along the way.
Georgia Audubon announced four new members elected by members to the Board of Directors at their virtual annual meeting on Sunday, December 13. Joshua Andrews, Robert Cooper, Marc Goncher, and Susie Maclin were elected for three-year terms, beginning January 1, 2021. In addition, Shannon Fair was elected to return for a second three-year term.
Joshua Andrews currently serves as the Manager of Environmental Affairs for Georgia Power Company, in Atlanta, where he is responsible for managing a multi-faceted team in support of environmental compliance and policy related activities related to air, water and natural resources permitting, environmental laboratory, and environmental compliance assurance. He has nearly a decade of experience working with an electric utility with a primary focus on state electric utility regulatory efforts. Joshua has worked for Georgia Power Company since 2017. Prior to this time, he worked for Southern Nuclear Operating Company in Birmingham, Alabama, and Savannah River Remediation, in Aiken, South Carolina. He earned a B.S. in nuclear and radiological engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology where he swam on the varsity swim team. Joshua lives in Powder Springs.
Dr. Robert Cooper is Professor of Ecology and Wildlife Ecology in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens. The Dennis and Sarah Carey Distinguished Professor, Dr. Cooper specializes in wildlife ecology and management, nongame and endangered species (including birds), and wildlife population dynamics. Bob’s research focuses on how human activities influence ecological systems and the services they provide. Birds are his primary focal species because they serve such important ecological roles and are often good ecological indicators, but his research has also touched on other disciplines, including conservation biology and landscape, population, behavioral, and restoration ecology. Since coming to UGA in 1997, Bob has given or co-authored more than 250 presentations at local, regional, and international professional meetings. He has also received more than $10 million in grant money for his research alone or in collaboration with colleagues. Bob holds a B.S. and M.S. from UGA, an M.S. in statistics from the University of Wyoming, and a Ph.D. in wildlife biology from West Virginia University. He is also a member of the American Ornithological Society, the Georgia Ornithological Society, Oconee Rivers Audubon Society, and The Wildlife Society. He has served as an Advisor for Georgia Audubon for the past several years.
Marc Goncher is the Environmental, Safety and Sustainability Legal Counsel for The Coca-Cola Company. Prior to joining Coke, he served in the City of Atlanta Law Department for 12 years, a large portion of which was spent advising the City on compliance with the Clean Water Act. Marc eventually became the Deputy City Attorney that managed the finance legal team, advised the City Council, and reported directly to the City Attorney. He also served as an Assistant Attorney General for the Georgia Attorney General Office's Environmental Section and started his legal career working in private practice in Savannah, Georgia. Marc grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and came to Atlanta in 1993 to attend Emory University, staying to attend Emory Law. Since his arrival in Georgia he has managed to travel to many parts of the state, helped by his participation in the 2011 Class of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership.
Susie Maclin is a life-long bird watcher and retired corporate archivist who splits her time between homes in Georgia and Montana. A native of Dallas, Texas, Susie has lived in places ranging from the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) to Kenya, Oklahoma, and New York. She has served in an advisory capacity for both Houston (Texas) Audubon and Montana Audubon, along with her late husband, John Whitmire, who also served on the board of National Audubon for eight years. Susie says that home has always been where “I am currently.” In 2015, on the recommendation of a friend, she signed up to participate in the In-town Christmas Bird Count, where she was a member of Joy Carter’s team, and so began her affiliation with then Atlanta, now Georgia Audubon. Susie participates each year in a Big Bird Day in Montana, and 2021 will mark her 20th consecutive year participating in this event. Susie has a B.S. in history, from Bartlesville Wesleyan College, and a Masters in library and information science from the University of Oklahoma. She spent her career as a curator and corporate archivist in locations ranging from the Oklahoma History Museum to the Rare Books and Health Sciences Library at Columbia University. She also served as Corporate Archivist and Curator of Special Properties for the American International Group (AIG) in New York City before retiring in 2002.
“We are excited to welcome Joshua, Bob, Marc, and Susie to the Georgia Audubon Board of Directors,” says Esther Stokes, board chair. “These individuals bring a wealth of talents and experiences to the Board that will help Georgia Audubon fulfill its mission of building places where birds and people thrive.”
Additional Georgia Audubon board members include Linda DiSantis, LaTresse Snead, Ellen Macht, Melinda Langston, Esther Stokes, Leslie Edwards, Angelou Ezeilo, Jairo Garcia, Joshua Gassman, Gus Kaufman, Evonne Blythers Lapsey, Emmeline Luck, Paige Martin, Jon Philipsborn, and Amanda Woomer.
For more information on Georgia Audubon, visit www.GeorgiaAudubon.org.
About Georgia Audubon: Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and community engagement.
Charles Loeb was presented with the 2020 Scottie Johnson Spirit Award at the Georgia Audubon Annual Meeting on December 13. Charles has been a dedicated and generous volunteer with Georgia Audubon and has served on the board of directors since 2015, serving as treasurer for most of his tenure. Georgia Audubon would not be the organization that it is today without Charles Loeb. Under his advisement, Atlanta Audubon established and reached a number of meaningful financial milestones, including the creation of our reserve investment account, and this financial leadership placed the organization in a position to become the statewide Georgia Audubon earlier this year. Charles and his wife, Susan, are well known in the Audubon community as avid birders, sanctuary certifiers, and volunteers. We thank Charles for his dedication to Georgia Audubon.
About the Award
In 2018, Georgia Audubon lost an incredibly dedicated volunteer and dear friend, Ms. Eleanor Scott Johnson. Scottie, as her family and friends called her, was an avid birder and long-time volunteer for Georgia Audubon. There wasn’t a task that Scottie wasn’t up for, whether that was giving educational presentations, walking a Project Safe Flight route, certifying wildlife sanctuaries, or writing the Ask Chippy column. Scottie always raised her hand to help us out. She was a nurse, a mother, a Master Birder, and a wonderful human being with an amazing spirit. Although we lost Scottie to cancer in 2018, we continue to celebrate her spirit, kindness, and perseverance annually by honoring an outstanding volunteer with the Scottie Johnson Spirit Award. Anne McCallum, a long-time volunteer with Georgia Audubon received the inaugural award in 2019.
Georgia Audubon commissioned a watercolor painting of a Red-headed Woodpecker by Amanda Woomer, Georgia Audubon Board Member, to present to Charles in recognition of his service to Georgia Audubon.
by Dottie Head, Director of Communications
Visitors to Elachee Nature Science Center, in Gainesville, will notice some new window treatments on the Visitor Center windows, including images of Georgia birds and wildlife and tiny dots adorning the glass. The purpose of the treatments is to prevent birds from flying into the windows, an all too common problem. The project is thanks to a partnership between Georgia Audubon and Elachee Nature Science Center, with a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund.
The treatments are a special CollidEscape film that reduces the transparency of the glass and breaks up reflection, preventing bird-window strikes. CollideEscape film has been applied to approximately 538 square feet of Elachee’s exterior windows. Spaced two inches apart, the dots break up the reflection and alert birds that the space is not a clear flyway, causing them to stall and fly in a different, safer direction.
“In recent years, Georgia Audubon has been working with buildings and nature centers across the metro area to treat problematic buildings and protect migrating birds,” said Betuel. “Our goal is not only to educate people about the threat windows and reflective glass pose to birds, but also to show that there are many attractive solutions to make windows safer for birds.”
“The Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is designated as a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area,” explains Peter Gordon, Elachee’s Director of Education. “As Elachee Nature Science Center sits in this 1,440-acre protected green space, these special window treatments are a terrific addition to our buildings. With a mission to promote environmental understanding through education and conservation, these treatments will also be an invaluable teaching tool emphasizing the importance of bird conservation to the tens of thousands of children and nature lovers who visit Elachee and hike in the Chicopee Woods each year. Special thanks to Georgia Audubon for selecting Elachee for this beneficial project.”
Elachee Nature Science Center was chosen as a demonstration building because they were experiencing bird collisions and also because their high visitation rate presents a unique opportunity to educate the public on steps they can take to reduce bird-window collisions at home.
Elachee Nature Science Center is the seventh building to be treated by Georgia Audubon using grants received from the Disney Conservation Fund and from the Georgia Ornithological Society. Other buildings include the Melvin L. Newman Wetlands Center, Chattahoochee Nature Center, the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, the Trees Atlanta Kendeda Center, Southface Institute, and the Sawnee Mountain Preserve Visitor’s Center.
Each spring and fall, millions of birds migrate between wintering grounds in Central and South America, the southern U.S., or the Caribbean to breeding grounds throughout North America. Sadly, many never arrive at their destination due to a man-made problem—building collisions. Attracted and/or disoriented by night-time lights or confused by day-time reflections of trees and grass in shiny windows, many birds become disoriented and fly into the buildings, ending their journeys and their lives prematurely. A 2019 study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ranked Atlanta number four during fall migration and number nine during spring migration for the potential for bird-building collisions due to high numbers of birds being exposed to nocturnal lighting.
Georgia Audubon has been studying bird-building collisions in the metro area through its Project Safe Flight Program since 2015. Since the program began, volunteers have collected more than 1,700 birds of over 115 different species that have perished due to building collisions. Since we only patrol a few limited routes during times of peak migration, we know that this is just a small sample of the number of birds that are actually perishing as they fly through the metro area, says Betuel.
In 2018, Georgia Audubon was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) as part of the Fund’s focus on reversing the decline of threatened wildlife around the world. The conservation grant recognizes Georgia Audubon’s efforts to reduce bird-building collisions across the state. Georgia Audubon recently announced that it has received an additional grant from the Disney Conservation Fund to treat four additional buildings beginning in 2021.
About Georgia Audubon: Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and community engagement.
About Elachee Nature Science Center: Elachee Nature Science Center promotes environmental understanding through education and conservation.
With the pandemic resurging across the state, Georgia Audubon is hosting a lineup of virtual and digital events for new and veteran bird enthusiasts during the holiday season. With a variety of free and paid events, everyone is sure to find something of interest. Here’s what is in store for the next few weeks:
Friday, December 4, at 9:00 AM: Virtual Field Trip with Georgia Audubon
Georgia Audubon Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/georgiaaudubon/)
Join us on the Georgia Audubon Facebook page for a virtual field trip with Georgia Audubon staff and volunteer trip leaders as they explore their yards or nearby birdy patches and talk about what they're seeing.
Webinar: Climate Watch Information Session
Thursday, December 3, at 7:00 PM
Georgia Audubon will be hosting a FREE info session on how to participate in Climate Watch, a nation-wide community science effort for bird conservation, on Thursday, December 3, at 7:00 PM. Learn more or register at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/digital-resources.html.
Webinar: The Effects of Urban Noise and Light Pollution on Avian Species
Tuesday, December 8, at 7:00 PM
With the increase of people moving into urban areas every day, anthropogenic (human-produced) sources of light are having a drastic effect on near and inhabiting wildlife. Birds have been particularly useful to study when looking at these urbanization effects, specifically urban noise and light pollution. Join Lauren Pharr, Master of Science student at North Carolina State University, for a discussion of her findings and how urbanization continues to affect local bird species. Learn more or register at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/digital-resources.html.
Webinar: eBird Workshop
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
6:30 to 8:00 PM
Georgia Audubon Member: $10
Non-member fee: $15
Locating birds, trip planning, record keeping, and participating in community science have all become easier thanks to new, easy-to-use technologies. Join Adam Betuel, Georgia Audubon’s director of conservation, to learn the various uses of eBird, the free online checklist program that is revolutionizing the way information about birds is collected and shared. This workshop will cover how to submit a checklist, track your sightings, explore the vast database of eBird, and more. Additionally, you will receive a brief introduction to the program Merlin, which aides in bird identification at home and abroad. No prior experience needed. Learn more or register at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/workshops.html.
Saturday, December 12, at 10:00 AM: Virtual Birdability Field Trip with Georgia Audubon,
Georgia Audubon Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/georgiaaudubon/)
Georgia Audubon is partnering with Birdability to host virtual field trips highlighting accessible trails, birders who experience accessibility challenges, and birds from around the country. Birdability focuses on removing barriers to access for birders with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, intellectual or developmental disabilities (including autism), mental illness, being Deaf or Hard of Hearing or other health concerns. Join us as we explore trails with the following guests in the following locations: Virginia Rose, Birdability founder and wheelchair user, Austin, Texas; Corina Newsome, host, Atlanta, Georgia; Freya McGregor, Occupational Therapist with a dodgy knee, Louisville, Kentucky; and Joe Watts, an Alabama Audubon board member, along with a guest who uses a wheelchair and crutches, Birmingham, Alabama.
Birdability is dedicated to making birding accessible for everybody by addressing the exclusion of people with disabilities in outdoor recreation. Learn more at audubon.org/birdability.
Webinar: Georgia Audubon Annual Meeting and Virtual Holiday Party
Sunday, December 13, 2020
3:30 to 4:30 PM
Join Georgia Audubon for our Annual Meeting and Virtual Holiday Party on Sunday, December 13. We'll have a short annual meeting where we will introduce our newly installed Board of Directors and bid a fond farewell to our outgoing Board members. We'll also hear updates on Georgia Audubon's work from Jared Teutsch, executive director, Adam Betuel, director of conservation; Melanie Furr, director of education; and Corina Newsome, community engagement manager.
We'll have door prizes and the event will culminate in our raffle drawing for a two-night stay for two at The Lodge at Little St. Simons Island! You don't have to be present to win. Sign up for the event or purchase raffle tickets at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/monthly-meetings.html.
Georgia Audubon Bird Stories: Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen
Friday, December 18, at 9:30 AM
Join us on December 18, at 9:30 AM for Georgia Audubon Bird Stories! We will be reading Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen and learning about our favorite nocturnal friends. Don't forget to bring your imagination. Learn more or register at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/georgia-audubon-bird-stories.html.
Georgia Audubon Bird Stories: Beauty and the Beak, by Deborah Lee Rose
Friday, January 22, at 9:30 AM
Join us on January 22, at 9:30 AM for our first Georgia Audubon Bird Stories of 2021. We will be starting off this year with some non-fiction as we dive into Beauty and the Beak, by Deborah Lee Rose. We will be learning all about how technology can be used for wildlife rescue. Bring your curious mind! Learn more or register at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/georgia-audubon-bird-stories.html.
Webinar: Georgia Audubon Monthly Meeting
Sunday, January 24, at 3:30 PM
Audubon’s American History with Gregory Nobles
In addition to being a remarkable painter of birds, John James Audubon was a lively teller of tales. In Ornithological Biography, his five-volume, 3000-page companion to The Birds of America, Audubon interspersed dozens of stories about the American people, ranging from their environmental habits to their social behaviors to their race relations. While some of these stories are more true than others, together they give us a fascinating view of the ways Audubon understood his adopted country. They also invite us to look at Audubon himself as a writer of both myth and history. In this session, we will explore several of Audubon’s stories to discuss—and no doubt debate—how we understand his portrayal of the past from our own perspective of the present.
Gregory Nobles is Professor Emeritus of History at Georgia Tech and the author of John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). He divides his time between Atlanta, where he is a member of Georgia Audubon, and Northport, MI, where he is a member of Michigan Audubon.
Copies of the book are available for purchase via our website. Learn more or sign up at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/monthly-meetings.html.
In-person Field Trips (multiple dates and locations): Georgia Audubon has resumed limited in-person field trips around the metro area with social distancing measures in place. The field trips are free to attend but registration is required and guests are asked to adhere to certain safety precautions, including wearing a mask. Learn more or sign up at https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/field-trips.html
Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and community engagement.
By Corina Newsome, Community Engagement Manager
I’ve been thinking about community a lot lately. I, along with many of you, are feeling the effects the extended physical isolation, making us long for closeness with others more than usual. I also recently took the new position of Community Engagement Manager here at Georgia Audubon, a job centered around connecting, building, and enriching communities of people around a common goal: building places where birds and people thrive.
I’m also a scientist. I ask questions about the natural world and go to great lengths to find patterns that shed light on the answers. In those efforts, I’ve gotten a front row seat to witness just how many problems for which nature has created its own solutions. However, those solutions haven’t stopped at providing behavioral or morphological survival adaptations for the species which possess them—humans have started to key-in on nature’s playbook that is millions of years in the making.
Biomimicry, defined by the Biomimicry Institute as the “practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design problems” has brought about some of the very greatest advances in human technology. In the energy sector, the physical shapes of maple seeds and kingfishers provided the blueprint for harnessing wind energy. In the agricultural industry, food production has been maximized by learning from the natural growth pattern of prairies. Termites mounds have helped inform sustainable architecture. Mosquitoes’ adaptations for blood extraction have informed new technologies for medical equipment. There are countless examples of the ways in which nature has directly informed how we optimize our structures and operations across disciplines.
Humans are facing challenges that we have no real precedent for solving. Our solutions must address energy, food, medicine, along with many other dimensions of human survival. But there’s one dimension that encompasses them all: community. Every solution we craft, every plan we implement, is done so by people and for people; by communities and for communities. This necessarily begs the question: What can nature tell us about the best ways we should live, work, and problem solve in community? As you might guess, nature has quite a lot to tell us.
Billy Almon, a friend, incredible science storyteller, and astrobiofuturist, recently shared some of the most profound insights I have ever heard regarding this question, and looked to the birds for the answers. During a presentation earlier this year for the 100Kin10 Summit, Billy dove deep into the science of murmurations, a phenomenon seen in European Starlings. Anywhere between hundreds and tens of thousands of birds will fly together in highly coordinated formation. The problem they are trying to solve? Avoiding predation by a raptor that is threatening the flock. They fly in extremely close proximity with one another, turning on a dime to accomplish this feat.
How do they do it, and what can we learn from them? Billy described two major elements of flock dynamics during a murmuration that were particularly applicable to human communities. First, he explained that there is never a single bird that leads the flock’s direction for the entire duration of the murmuration. Different birds will take the lead depending on a number of factors, such as being the most familiar with the location through which they are flying at any given time. This allows the flock to move dynamically and nearly instantaneously. This element of flock coordination was particularly profound and has direct implications for communities collectively responding to problems. The ability to surrender leadership when another person’s strengths and perspectives are best suited to lead in a given moment gives that community the ability to respond quickly and most efficiently to the needs at hand; such agility can be crucial in times of crisis.
The second murmuration characteristic Billy described is that these large flocks of starlings are made up of individuals who are all responding and paying the most attention to the movement of birds closest to them. This allows for the accumulation of smaller, precise movements that produce the beautiful, fluid progression of the flock as a whole. I have begun to understand now more than ever the importance of knowing and responding to the needs of the communities immediately around me. In a society of stark divides, whether they be socioeconomic, racial, or of other natures, people can live completely unaware of the state of their own neighbors, being most drawn to solving problems far away. I can only imagine the kind of large-scale progress we could achieve by building relationships with and addressing the needs of the people in our own communities.
We have a lot of problems to solve, and a big world to think about. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to seek out and apply the solutions that nature has already crafted. My hope is that in this time of urgent problem solving, we would continue to ask: “What can nature tell us?”
Georgia Audubon was disheartened and dismayed by the recent article in Politico detailing a history of “intimidation and threats towards women and people of color” within National Audubon Society. Despite sharing the Audubon name, Georgia Audubon is an independent organization with separate membership, board leadership, finances, and strategic focus. As an organization, Georgia Audubon is working proactively to center equity, diversity, and inclusiveness throughout our operations.
Just as we value and recognize the critical importance of biodiversity for healthy ecosystems, we recognize that the diversity of communities across this nation must be represented in all levels of leadership within our organization. It is imperative that we intentionally integrate these values throughout our events, programs, and outreach.
Georgia Audubon is committed to building an equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization and to reflecting this commitment throughout our operations. We acknowledge that while we have made some progress in this space, there is much work left to do both as an individual organization and as part of a larger network of conservation organizations. We look forward to continuing these conversations and to holding ourselves accountable to historically marginalized communities and people groups by positioning our resources to best serve those communities.