This time of the year in many parts of North America, it’s easy to find geese flying south in V-shaped flocks from their summer homes to their winter grounds.
Geese aren’t the only birds that migrate. Of the more than 650 species of North American breeding birds, more than half are migratory, often flying thousands of kilometers and crossing international borders.
That’s important because without national and international cooperation, many of these birds could vanish.
The Migratory Bird Treaty, signed 100 years ago by the U.S. and Canada, protects 800 bird species and is considered a milestone in wildlife conservation.
The treaty came about after passenger pigeons, Labrador ducks and other birds became extinct from overhunting. Meanwhile, the populations of snowy egrets, white ibises and great blue herons plummeted because their feathers were used for women’s hats.
Preserving wetlands, home to many of North America’s migratory birds, was enshrined into federal law with the passage of the 1934 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act. This law is commonly called the Duck Stamp Act, because all U.S. migratory-bird hunters 16 years of age and over must purchase and carry an annual tax stamp, known as a Federal Duck Stamp.
Sales of Federal Duck Stamps have generated more than $800 million since 1934, resulting in the purchase or lease of some 2.5 million hectares of U.S. wetlands habitat. The stamps also are popular with collectors.
International cooperation under the Migratory Bird Treaty and subsequent agreements has mostly put a stop to unregulated hunting, but today habitat loss, pollution, invasive species and other threats are taking a heavy toll on bird populations. Migratory birds don’t recognize national boundaries, so successful conservation efforts are key.
Here are some things you can do to protect birds:
Stop birds from hitting windows. Consider many effective products that are available to make windows more visible to birds.
Grow native plants. Gardens consisting of plants native to your area will preserve and increase biodiversity and provide habitat for birds and other animals.
Avoid chemical pesticides, which kill more than just pests.
Become a citizen-scientist. Several partnerships between the public and scientists link volunteer birdwatchers and scientists, including eBird, a project of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology that is one of the world’s fastest-growing online repositories of information on birds.