American Birding Podcast



Calling all Conservation and Community Heroes!

Many ABA members will be familiar with the “Milestones” column that appears in each issue of Birding (and, before that, Winging It). Birders write in with their latest listing accomplishments: “Jack Thompson of Sausalito, CA saw his 700th bird for the ABA Area, a Smith’s Longspur, in central Illinois in April 2013” or “Gloria Hinojosa of Moorhead, MN saw her 5,000th world bird, a Kagu, while attending her daughter’s wedding in New Caledonia in July 2013.”

With the upcoming May launch of our all-new Birder’s Guide to Conservation & Community, we’d like to extend this idea, but with a green twist. And we need your contributions to make it a reality! So many birders are doing things large and small to build a better future for birds and for birders, and these accomplishments are just as significant sources of pride and excitement as any listing milestone–often more so. The stories tend to be a bit more complex, involving more than a simple number, species, and place, so we expect that these milestones will be just a bit longer than the listing ones. We’re also especially enthusiastic about stories that include photos and/or include contact information and other resources to help those who’d like to emulate the kinds of contributions others are celebrating.


Community Greencorps members celebrate another site makeover in Chicago.

Judy Pollock is the Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Chicago Region and has helped to form the Chicago Migratory Bird Alliance. One feature of the Alliance’s work is a series of ten “Migratory Makeovers” on Chicago’s south side. Judy has advanced the Alliance’s goals by working with community organizations, schools, and public agencies to plant shrubs and small trees that provide food for birds during the migration season in places such as vacant lots, the lawn of a state historic site, and college and grammar school campuses.  These on-the-ground projects are funded by the Alliance through the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Urban Bird Treaty program and installed by the Greencorps Chicago program, which trains urbanites for jobs in landscaping and restoration. So these projects not only provide bird habitat: they engage the local community is conservation and provide much-needed employment. You can find out more about the Alliance, view planting lists and reports on the different worksites, and contact Judy directly by going to the Alliance’s website.

In many places, subdivisions are the new norm for where people live. Homes in these communities are often surrounded by non-native landscaping, but is there a way to make them more bird friendly…more native? For Minneola, Florida resident Gallus Quigley, the answer is yes. From the moment he purchased his home in October 2009, he had great plans for making it a wildlife refuge filled with native plants. But he also knew that it would be so different from his neighbors’ yards that he’d need to becoming involved in the governing of his local home owners’ association (HOA). He was elected Secretary and, after more then two years of work, he persuaded the rest of the HOA to embrace native plants for future landscaping plans. That work included showing the other HOA members how native plantings had been successful in his own yard. Gallus says, “seeing something new makes it less scary, and explaining the benefits [of native plants], like less water use, lower maintenance costs, and more pollinators for vegetable gardens all helped in getting the board to pass the proposal. The best part is that now the community has a unique entrance; it isn’t like every other subdivision in the area. As an individual you can make changes to your community and your own yard to make it more like your nearest species-diverse conservation area. You just need to invest a little time and passion into it.” If you have any questions for Gallus, you may contact him at gallusq AT gmail.c0m.

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Native plantings in Gallus Quigley’s subdivision include (LEFT) blanketflower (Gaillardia), scrubmint (Dicerandra), silver-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum), Flatwoods plum (Prunus umbellata), and (RIGHT) wiregrass (Aristida stricta), more scrubmint, and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria).

Lots of us have heard of Cleveland’s high-energy birder, Jen Brumfield, whether it’s from her excellent artwork or dedicated big year attempts. But what you might not know is that most of Jen’s time is spent with the public, whether it’s taking inner-city kids on nature walks or leading weekend birding trips . Jen says:

We’ve been pulled so far from [the natural world]. Movies and tv make it seem terrifying, bizarre, or even UNnatural, and kids don’t know any better, because they can’t walk out their backdoor into a stunning mountain meadow. Instead, they see a tiny square yard with pigeons, starlings, a few goldenrod and other “weeds”. The lucky ones see a fox squirrel. That many urban-dwellers (particularly kids) are far and away disconnected from nature is not “new” news. It’s being covered in journals and newspapers and books and the like. But it’s mostly being only talked about, unless you’re on the front lines of outdoor education. While suburban kids have generally had a few nature experiences (some are familiar with the local parks, can tell you a trail they’ve hiked, and will have a few stories of some cool thing they’ve seen), inner city kids will either be downright nervous or even terrified to walk into the woods. And when they finally do, it’s a completely surreal experience for them. 

There comes a moment when their eyes ignite, and they no longer have fear. From then on it’s all about fun, discovery, and sheer awe. Getting to spend time not just in nature, but with someone who is head-over-heels excited about the natural world and wants to share that with them, makes them feel invited, special, and “lucky”. It’s important to relate how lucky they are to have a striking amount of diversity within even an urban landscape. And encourage them to always have eyes wide open. I don’t expect these kids to become avid birders. I don’t expect that they’ll become biologists. I don’t expect anything from them other than respect for one another. But I know that, at the end of the day, something will have changed in their hearts. And that when the time comes, they’ll reflect on their positive experiences and be far more inclined to heartily support conservation with their voices, their votes, and their efforts.

Many folks who have come on my hikes will later contact me asking where they should volunteer, how they can help, where they can donate, and how they can more deeply “tap into” additional experiences, more depth, more knowledge. At the end of the day, people are hungry—longing, even—to connect to the natural world. Discovery and adventure are innate, and the void begs to be filled.

Jen introduces some kids to a box turtle.

Jen introduces some kids to a box turtle.

Do you know someone who’s doing grassroots education with inner city kids, like Jen Brumfield? Have you landscaped your yard in native plants, like Gallus Quigley? Do you know someone who’s coordinating with local government to create wildlife habitat and engage in community outreach, like Judy Pollock? If you know someone who deserves to be lauded for zir conservation and community efforts, or you are engaged in such work yourself, please contact me at mretter AT with your story, including photos of your work, and of you. Even a photo of you or in your bird-friendly garden is worth sharing. No effort is too small or insignificant!

Please feel free to share your stories here (in the comment section), too, but please also make sure to email me so that I know how to contact you to include your contribution in the magazine. I can’t wait to see all the great things my fellow birders have been doing!