Landbird Conservation: “Per Ardua ad Astra”

By Trevor Lloyd-Evans, Director Landbird Conservation  

 

Before Manomet became a 501c3 (a tax-exempt non-profit organization), before I came across the pond after working for the British Trust for Ornithology, Manomet banded birds. It was what we did—carefully and in standardized net locations.

 

Fall 2015 marked our fiftieth season. The birds we have banded have shown us incredible things about our changing world. As I am wont to say, “Birds vote with their wings.” They are sensitive environmental indicators—when they detect changes in the environment, they can adapt, often moving great distances, as contrasted to say earthworms or orchids. Fifty years ago, we didn’t really appreciate the rate of climate change, but over time, the standardized banding data could detect changes in population dynamics: spring migration of White-throated Sparrows is two and a half days earlier per decade and many fall migrants move south significantly later in warmer years.

 

In 2016, our Landbird Conservation Program will continue to build upon our dataset, interpret the new and evolving stories that birds are telling us, and share our findings with the research community, our local community, and students across the nation.

 

Why Our Data Matter

 

Perhaps serendipitously, although we would like to think not, we greatly enhanced the value of the spring and fall migration banding by standardizing our 50 net locations and keeping careful track of effort (birds per net per hour).  For more than 45 years, we have “sampled” migrants from mid-April through mid-June, removed the nets for the breeding season, and then banded again from mid-August through mid-November.  Changes in numbers over the years correlate well with independent measures of population change such as the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

 

Bringing it into the Classroom 

 

Teaching has always been an integral part of our banding lab, but we have amplified these efforts with our National Science Foundation-funded Climate Lab project. With our project partner TERC in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we have developed a research program to work with teachers and middle-school students in the field and in the classroom.  In 2016, we will continue to expand our reach within New England using distant learning through webinars, YouTube instructional videos, and online data sharing.

 

Through working with science coordinators, teachers, and our project partners at TERC, I am greatly encouraged that the education system is moving toward an integrated approach to learning. Climate Lab fits into this new “STEM” approach to education as students experience field techniques in science and technology, the math to analyze their data, and learn about the global climate systems, which are changing the world around them.

 

To me, and other ecologists, this integrated approach to learning is nothing new—it is how we have been operating for years. Yet, I am excited for the potential of bringing the magic of fieldwork and data-based ecology into classrooms around the country. Students will have the opportunity to think holistically about the world around them, while building fundamental skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.

 

We hope all of you will be a part of our 2016 seasons—whether it be as a banding lab guest, a twitter follower, or an event attendee. Speaking of which, we have three great nature walks coming up! Learn more here.