Saving Habitat, for the Love of Birds

Whiskered Screech Owl. Photo by Amanda Guercio/Shutterstock

I love birding. It is an escape from the predictability of everyday life, and provides me with a connection to the natural world that is primordially satisfying. It is at once a meditation and a sport, and a way to see the world through a lens that makes a direct connection to nature. It is the closest thing to a religion that I have, having been raised by humanist parents.

When I moved to live in the U.S. permanently in 1993, I set myself a goal of seeing every bird species regularly found here. Today, 30 years later, I have around 30 species to go to reach my goal. On my most recent trip to southern Arizona, I was struck by an interesting realization: Very few of the more than 700 bird species I have now seen in the U.S. required much of a long-distance hike. I haven't had to camp in the wilderness much; I haven't had to walk hundreds of miles carrying all my food and water. In fact, so many of the species I have seen have been within a few hundred yards of where I was able to park my car. Among the most recent additions were a Greater Pewee in a crowded Tucson city park, a Whiskered Screech-Owl only feet from an outdoor amphitheater in Madera Canyon, a flock of Chihuahuan Meadowlarks in a grazed field next to a new subdivision, and a Violet-crowned Hummingbird at a feeder at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Photo by Owen Deutsch,

I've reflected on this and concluded that birds and people can easily coexist — but what birds need most is appropriate well-managed habitat. That pewee only needed some trees to perch in for its sallies to catch insects — and the insects themselves, of course. The owl needed high-altitude oak forest, of which there is an abundance in Madera Canyon — it didn't seem to mind that a few square yards had been adapted for music and other community activities.

The fact that so many habitats have been adapted for human use, but are otherwise well-managed for wildlife gives me hope that we can still provide a place for birds in the future — even as climate changes and development continue to alter the planet, mindful habitat management for birds can make all the difference between whether we have birds and other wildlife in the future or not.

It is this habitat management that ABC focuses its efforts on, whether that habitat is in a subdivision in Arizona that could be impacted by free-roaming cats, on the remote slopes of an Andean volcano suffering from deforestation, or even in the air column that birds use during migrations that can be interrupted by poorly sited wind turbines and glass windows. ABC is all about habitat, and that's what I believe birds need most in this human-influenced world — which offers both perils and sanctuary to them. It really depends on us.

More good bird habitat is the answer. Thank you for supporting ABC in our work to provide it.