I saw the long, yellow-legged bird feeding in the mudflats during a recent work trip. There, Environment for the Americas, fondly known as EFTA, was training interns who would conduct shorebird surveys along the Pacific coast during migration. Our goals were to get them ready for fieldwork and to teach them how to communicate with the public about bird conservation through International Migratory Bird Day.
The conversations that followed our siting were the usual…which Yellowlegs? Greater or Lesser? Just how long was that bill? It was February, and this individual was en route to breeding sites in North America’s Boreal Forests, where more than 80 percent of Yellowlegs nest. The bird was active, moving quickly in search of its prey. As we watched, it was refueling before continuing its journey, a part of migration that is critical to a bird’s survival.
The importance of stopover sites, the places where birds stop to rest and refuel, is also the conservation theme of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) this year. IMBD recognizes that many people are not aware of the complexities of bird migrations and need greater opportunities to learn about birds and their life cycle. IMBD provides the scientific information and educational tools and materials many organizations use to introduce youth and adults to the birds that live in their communities, the threats to their populations, and how everyone can get involved in bird conservation.
Created in 1993 by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, IMBD became the keystone education program of Environment for the Americas in 2007. I have been coordinating this hemispheric celebration since 2000, and my passion for it has not subsided. It offers our young interns a first opportunity to explore community-based conservation, focuses attention on the birds and habitat public lands protect, and it unifies our voices for conservation from Argentina to Canada. Almost 90 percent of IMBD host sites say the event creates new opportunities to communicate with the public – with a focus on birds. And a favorite part of IMBD is the excitement before the release of the annual poster. With a new conservation focus every year, the creative juices flow as the EFTA team develops the materials that will highlight the issue.
For organizations and initiatives such as the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, IMBD offers a mechanism and tools for reaching new audiences – children who are excited to get outdoors, adults who are new to birdwatching, and families looking for a unique activity. Let’s face it, going birding with experienced birdwatchers can be intimidating for some, but at an IMBD event, most participants are typically beginners. Our educational materials are designed to share the important science and conservation work of the bird conservation community, but make them understandable for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
After some debate, we used bill length and some other characteristics to conclude that our Yellowlegs was a Lesser, a species that is featured on the IMBD 2017 poster. It was aptly chosen because of its long migrations between non-breeding and breeding areas and its dependence on important stopover sites in between.
One of the many aspects of IMBD I like is that while it introduces newcomers to birds and conservation in their communities, it also connects people across the Western Hemisphere…like the Lesser Yellowlegs. International Migratory Bird Day was established on the second Saturday in May, but recognizing that birds don’t migrate at the same time, this date was removed long ago. Every day is “Bird Day”, and IMBD events happen almost every month of the year. Join us this year as we get ready for fall events, when groups will be saying farewell to nesting birds as others prepare to welcome them back to wintering sites.
And of course, as they stop along the way.