Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni

Wood Thrush, the official bird of Washington D.C., was named to the "watch list" of bird species most in need of conservation action in the 2014 State of the Birds annual report.

Wood Thrush, the official bird of Washington D.C., was named to the "watch list" of bird species most in need of conservation action in the 2014 State of the Birds annual report.

Every year since 1968, U.S. scientists have been counting certain bird populations to see which are thriving and which are struggling. The good news, from a new report on this year’s count: wetland birds are increasing their numbers nationwide. The bad news is that in the D.C. area, the numbers in 30 local “indicator species” have declined by one-third since the count began. The director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center joins us to discuss local and national bird trends and the ways humans are damaging some habitats while conserving others.

Guests

  • Pete Marra Director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo

Transcript

  • 12:25:03

    MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor in chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Since 1968, scientists across the country have compiled an annual bird count. Their goal is to track populations and find out which ones are thriving and which are struggling. This year's State of the Birds report is a good news/bad news story. Waterfowl, once on the decline, seem to be holding steady, thanks in part to conservation of wetlands. But birds that live in the desert are facing a steep decline, racking up a continuous 44-year drop.

  • 12:25:33

    MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIHere in the Washington region, a representative group of 30 local species has seen their populations decline by one-third since the count began. Local birds like the robin are doing okay. But head over to the coast, and more than half of all U.S. shorebird species are on a watch list. Joining me to examine this year's bird count is Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo. Thanks for joining me, Pete. Welcome to the studio.

  • 12:25:58

    MR. PETE MARRAThanks for having me, Christina.

  • 12:26:00

    BELLANTONISo you do this count every year. But the last major study was published in 2009. What are the broad headlines of what's changed since that major report came out?

  • 12:26:10

    MARRAWell, I think the thing we want to emphasize is that, overall, bird populations are not doing all that well. There is definitely some success stories. But on average, our nation's report cards for birds, I'd give it a C-minus. We have some real issues facing us.

  • 12:26:26

    BELLANTONIAnd locally, what specifically are we seeing?

  • 12:26:30

    MARRALocally, we're seeing common birds that we use to see migrate through here on a fairly regular basis, species like common nighthawk, rusty blackbird, they're declining quite rapidly, even species like the wood thrush. D.C. state bird is down 60 percent from what its populations were just 45 years ago. It's a real concern.

  • 12:26:50

    BELLANTONISo -- and tell us a little bit about the study. Who conducts the count? And what really is the goal? And how should people be paying attention to this? This is very important.

  • 12:26:58

    MARRASure. It's pretty exciting because there's actually several different ways we count birds not just in the United States but also in Canada. And one of the big pieces of this count is something called the Breeding Bird Survey, something started in 1968. And it's citizens across the country and across Canada that go out in late spring, early summer and they drive a section of road and they stop every half mile or so and count the birds they hear.

  • 12:27:28

    MARRAAnd that's called the Breeding Bird Survey route and it's run by the USGS. And this enormous -- this incredible data set of species monitoring over time is something that's not done like this anywhere across the world. We have this gem of a data set. And because of that, we can really assess the nation's birds. And we combined that with other ways that we count birds like on shorelines or on islands to really look at all the birds across the country.

  • 12:27:54

    BELLANTONIAnd you've given me a nice tease for it later in the program. We're going to listen to some of our local birds and hear how those sound. So you divide the birds by the type of habitat where they live. So you're seeing certain areas thrive and certain with more decline. Talk about that.

  • 12:28:09

    MARRARight. So lumped these data, all these bird species, into particular habitats if they were specialized in those habitats. So they're sort of unique. So wetland birds, grassland birds, birds that would only be in arid lands or species in western forest or species in eastern forest like we have here. And the good news is that birds in wetlands, like ducks, and anhingas, and cormorants. They tend to be doing pretty well. And we think that that's in part because of all the conservation that's taking place in those habitats.

  • 12:28:40

    MARRAThanks to groups like Ducks Unlimited and actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, birds in other habitats like in grasslands are, on average, have declined by over 40 percent since 1968. And there are individual species in those habitats that have declined by over 75 percent. So that's quite a decline. Species like the lark bunting and Sprague's pipit and eastern meadowlark are way down from what they once were.

  • 12:29:07

    MARRAAnd then in eastern forest, right here, there -- species are down almost 35 percent. And there are some species like the wood thrush that I mentioned, which are down almost by 60 percent. And the cerulean warbler that's 75 percent less than it used to be.

  • 12:29:21

    BELLANTONIWe're talking with Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo here in studio with me. You can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850. Send a tweet to @kojoshow or email kojo@wamu.org. Tell us where is your favorite place in our area to see birds. Pete Marra, where's your favorite place?

  • 12:29:45

    MARRAYou know, I'm always amazed at how forested the Washington, D.C. area actually is. So one of my favorite places to go birding is Rock Creek Park. You know, we have this incredible ribbon of woods that goes right through the nation's capital. And birds see that as their migrating up in the spring or down in the fall. And you can go right to the Rock Creek Nature Center and in the surrounding area and see some remarkable birds right there.

  • 12:30:09

    MARRAI also like going in my neighborhood in Takoma Park because it's such a treed community that you can see remarkable birds right in your yard if you do certain things to your yard to really improve it for birds.

  • 12:30:19

    BELLANTONIThat's a nice segue to some of the environmental effects that we're seeing for birds in more urban areas, right? You know, as there's more development, what's happening to birds?

  • 12:30:29

    MARRAYou know, their populations go away. That's -- it's as simple as that. And we are really changing our landscape across the United States. We continue to expand our habitats -- our urban habitats into a more native habitat. And those birds have no place to go, so their populations decline. And what we can do is try to actually restore our habitats, our own backyards. And we can do specific things that really matters. It matters at the individual level. So what I encourage people to do is plant native species.

  • 12:30:58

    MARRASo those insects, those caterpillars that depend on those native species are there for birds that actually consume them and eat them. No pesticides. Keep your cats indoors. Put out water. Feed birds. There's all sorts of little things you can do to try to maintain these precious populations.

  • 12:31:15

    BELLANTONIAnd what's the best way to learn what are the native species to our area? It's not always that hard to grow a garden in Washington.

  • 12:31:22

    MARRAYeah. And there are some really good websites. You can go to the Smithsonian Migratory Birds Center website, you can go to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation's website on backyard habitats. And a lot of the nurseries around here have a selection of native plants that do provide information on what bugs they also provide for birds.

  • 12:31:41

    BELLANTONISo it's not just a landscaping decision, it's a decision about your environment and the habitat for all of these animals?

  • 12:31:47

    MARRAIt is, it is.

  • 12:31:48

    BELLANTONIWhat about bees. This is something you've heard a lot about over the years, bees being affected by climate change, by other factors. How much do the birds and the bees work together, so to speak?

  • 12:31:59

    MARRAWell, they are both important pollinators for a lot of the native plants that we have. Bees are incredibly important for, you know, pollinating a variety of species, the native bees. And when people think of bees, they usually think of honeybees, but there's this whole other suite of this native species of bees that have declined. And I think, you know, what I do is I think about it in an overall ecosystem sense.

  • 12:32:20

    MARRAAnd when you look at the fact that bees are declining and the fact that birds are declining, and the fact that even many species of native amphibians are declining due to a whole anther suite of things, we've got a situation on our hands that we need to deal with holistically. We need to really figure out, you know, why are we seeing ecosystems declining and species in those ecosystems? That to me is a wake-up call.

  • 12:32:42

    BELLANTONIAnd one particular species that's talked about in this report is called again the State of the Birds 2014. You can find all of these resources on our website as well, which is kojoashow.org. So you talk about one migratory bird that stops in the Delaware Bay every spring, this population is declining. This is the red knot. Tell us about the red knot.

  • 12:33:03

    MARRAYeah, the red knot is a spectacular species of shorebird that goes from Patagonia all the way up to the high Arctic throughout its annual cycle. You know, a lot of these migratory birds we're talking about, of course, are either migrating through the U.S. or breeding here but they spend the majority of their annual cycle somewhere else and usually in the tropics. In the case of the red knot, it is down in Patagonia and it migrates up through the eastern U.S. and over -- and stops over at the Delaware Bay for the short two-week period or so.

  • 12:33:31

    MARRAMany of these birds are there for three days. And it's synchronized with the horseshoe crab spawning. So there are millions of horseshoe crabs that just release these eggs in a spawning event. And shorebirds have synchronized their timing, so they stop there, feed on these eggs, fatten up so they can make that next jump up to the Arctic for their quick breeding period, which lasts maybe a month and a half at the most, and then they head back south again.

  • 12:33:56

    MARRAAnd so, what we've seen since 1968 is a decline in the red knot by over 95 percent, which is, you know, startling. So there's lots of people trying to figure out exactly what's causing the decline. And we think it might have to do with the fact that shorebird or horseshoe populations have declined a little bit, but we're not totally clear on what the factor is that's driving that decline. And, unfortunately, that's true with a lot of these declines. Because their annual cycles are so complex and they occupy so many different geographical areas, really pinpointing the cause of these declines is not a trivial matter.

  • 12:34:30

    MARRAAnd that's a lot of what we're trying to figure out is, you know, we're seeing these declines through the State of the Birds report. But, to me, the most important thing now is to figure out what is really causing these declines in many of these species and how can we address those declines?

  • 12:34:45

    BELLANTONITell us as you're planning your gardens at home, are you considering the local bird population? Do you have bird feeders at home? Join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850. Send a tweet to @kojoshow. Get in touch on our Facebook page or send an email to kojo@wamu.org. Joining us now is Andrea from Columbia, Md. Hi, Andrea, you're on the line.

  • 12:35:08

    ANDREAHi there. Well, yes, we do have bird feeders in the yard, we also have a pet bird that used to be allowed to go outside. But when West Nile came to town, we heard that at least a dozen birds at the zoo died because of West Nile virus and we decided that was our call to keep him -- to keep our bird in the house. We didn't risk losing him. So my question -- actually, I have two questions. One question is, what has the impact of West Nile been on the bird population? And the number two, after listening to what your speaker just said, are we losing all these birds because of pollution? The canary in the coal mine kind of analogy.

  • 12:35:54

    BELLANTONIThanks, Andrea. Pete Marra?

  • 12:35:56

    MARRAWe have seen population declines due to West Nile virus when it first emerged. Crows, in particular, declined by over 50 percent in some places and several other species like titmice and eastern screech owls. Also we're showing declines that we point to West Nile virus as the cause. But since then, many of these species have actually rebounded. Species that are resistant to West Nile are probably persisted in the populations and were able to breed and there was a genetic basis for that.

  • 12:36:26

    MARRASo over time, we have seen many of these species rebound due to West Nile virus. Your second question regarding pollution, yeah, there's no question that there are some serious concerns with certain pesticides, mercury, lead, these are all issues that we're trying to get a better handle on. Neonicotinoids are a type of pesticides that a lot of people are now pointing to as causing declines in a group of birds known as aerial insectivores.

  • 12:36:55

    MARRAAnd the challenge here is really pinpointing that as a cause. We can point to it. But unlike DDT in the 1960s and '70s where we saw, you know, bald eagles and peregrine falcons and eggshell thinning, it was a much easier thing to pinpoint DDT as a cause. We eliminated DDT and those populations just rebounded. Now we're dealing with a whole new suite of pesticides and pollutants that are challenging our technologies right now, but we're working on it.

  • 12:37:25

    BELLANTONIKate from Alexandria, Va has a question for Pete Marra with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Hi, Kate.

  • 12:37:32

    KATEHi. My question with regards to the time of year that residential bird feeders should be filled. I've heard that food is plentiful for birds maybe late spring and summertime and a lot of people find that's the time that they go out and fill up their bird feeders.

  • 12:37:53

    BELLANTONIThanks.

  • 12:37:53

    KATEBut it's actually more important the birds during the time when food is not plentiful like winter and early spring when they're nesting. Can you talk about that please?

  • 12:38:03

    BELLANTONII'll add to that. Kate, thank you for your call. We also had a call from Jack saying that he's heard it's a problem to have bird feeders because it disrupts migratory flights. So Pete Marra.

  • 12:38:13

    MARRASure. I'm actually a big proponent of feeding birds not necessarily because it really helps the birds. I think it does help the birds in many cases, especially in cold winters. But I am a big proponent for a bird watcher -- bird feeding because it gets people excited about birds. It gets people up close and personal with birds. And anytime that we can get people excited about nature, whether it's a frog or a bird, I'm a big, big proponent of that. You just need to do it in the right ways.

  • 12:38:41

    MARRAAnd so, I would tell you that if you wanted to feed birds in the summer, that's fine. Just do it consistently. Keep your bird feeders filled. Keep them clean. Don't have them too close to the house because you want to minimize the number of birds that might hit your house. So if it's away from your house, the chance of them hitting the house are going to be -- or the windows -- is going to be reduced. And make sure there's no cats around, because cats will also sneak up and perch or sit near bird feeders, waiting to try to prey on unsuspecting birds.

  • 12:39:12

    BELLANTONIWell, I am excited about birds and I am excited to get to hear some of these birds. And if you're excited about baseball, you might be excited about this first bird clip we're going to hear.

  • 12:39:37

    BELLANTONIPete Marra, I won't ask you translate that, but I'm guessing that you know that that's the Baltimore oriole.

  • 12:39:43

    MARRAThat's the Baltimore oriole. I don't want to pick favorites. If the Washington Nationals had a bird as a mascot, we'd play them too. But the Baltimore oriole is actually a common resident, breeding resident. It's a migratory bird, long-distance migratory bird. But it's here in our community. And every summer, I have at least 10 people that tell me they've never seen a Baltimore oriole in their entire lifetime.

  • 12:40:07

    MARRAAnd within a couple days I can point up to the trees, in the very tippy-tops of the canopies, where the orioles are nesting, building these pendulum like nests. And show people the Baltimore Oriole for the first time because it's here, it's right in our community. Right here in Washington, D.C. area and surrounding suburbs.

  • 12:40:23

    BELLANTONIYou just have to know what to look for. Let's listen to two more. We have the Eastern Wood-Pewee, which derives its name from the sound it makes.

  • 12:40:41

    BELLANTONIAnd this will be the Great Crested Flycatcher.

  • 12:40:54

    BELLANTONII heard a fly in that clip there, Pete Marra. Tell us about these two birds.

  • 12:40:57

    MARRAYeah, these are two more species, the Pewee and the Great Crested Flycatchers, that are canopy specialists and forest specialists. But they are a bit tolerant of humans. So they will, again, be in forested parks or in really treed communities for their breeding season. So they're here for two months, three months of the year. Then they spend most of the year in places like Central American and Northern South America, where they could be flying over a jaguar or flying through a Mayan village.

  • 12:41:23

    MARRABut we share these birds with these incredibly diverse communities. And that's the thing I really love to point out to people, that, you know, they're down there for eight months of the year, but then they're our backyard buddies for the rest of the year.

  • 12:41:33

    BELLANTONII should point out those wonderful clips are thanks to the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Sorry about that. I'm looking at my notes wrong. It's the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we will be right back after a short break.

  • 12:43:27

    BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we're joined her in studio by Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo. And we're discussing the State of the Birds 2014, an important report telling us what's happening with birds across the country, and, of course, in our region as well.

  • 12:43:47

    BELLANTONIWe have lots of callers on the line. So we're going to talk to a few of them. If you'd like to tell us what's your favorite local bird, join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850, send a tweet to @kojoshow or send an email to kojo@wamu.org. One of the questions that came in via email was, "What should we look for in bird feeders that are resistant to squirrels?" Pete Marra?

  • 12:44:10

    MARRAThat's a good question. You know, I'm not bothered by squirrels because squirrels are native species. And I'm okay -- I mean, their populations are probably -- are certainly supplemented by feeders, but I'm never worried about it just because they're native. I've seen some pretty interesting and creative feeders out there, including one that spins around when a squirrel lands on it to feed because it's a lot heavier, so it spins the squirrel off. And there's certainly cages that you can get.

  • 12:44:37

    BELLANTONIIt's going to provide entertainment for your children, as well.

  • 12:44:39

    MARRAExactly. And there's other feeders that are surrounded in a cage that will keep squirrels out. But, again, they're native species so I'm okay with it.

  • 12:44:48

    BELLANTONIWhereas the cats aren't necessarily what the birds would be used to.

  • 12:44:51

    MARRACats are non-native, invasive species. So, yeah.

  • 12:44:54

    BELLANTONIAll right. We've got Jennifer on the line from Vienna, Va. Hi, Jennifer, thanks for joining us.

  • 12:45:00

    JENNIFERHey, thanks for taking my call. I wanted to ask about the flip side of the -- planting native species issue, which is the invasive species issue. Kudzu and English ivy and (unintelligible) rose and so many species are proliferating, not only on the sides of roads and other rights of ways, but in people's yards and they might not even know that can really destroy the bird population by destroying the trees.

  • 12:45:26

    BELLANTONIThanks, Jennifer.

  • 12:45:28

    MARRAIt's a really good point. I am haunted by English Ivy. Every time I see it I pull it out. It's a really, really good question, Jennifer. And I encourage all of our listeners to -- any time they see a tree that's covered in English Ivy, I -- all you need to do is go and cut that English Ivy off around the base. It is killing our trees. Kudzu is just really proliferating in certain areas. So, you know, planting the natives is really important and removing the invasives is critical.

  • 12:45:55

    BELLANTONIWhich, again, you should research what, in fact, those are. So you have said, Pete Marra, that you are optimistic about our ability to stem the decline the bird populations. How can you be optimistic, given the unsettling results from some of this in this report?

  • 12:46:10

    MARRAYeah, you know, I think that we -- if we look at our history, we've been very, very successful with our conservation action. I should bring up this is actually the 100th year we're sort of celebrating the extinction of the passenger pigeon. September 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. And it's actually on display down at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum. And the passenger pigeon is sort of -- it symbolizes the threat of extinction that we face for so many species.

  • 12:46:45

    MARRAIt was once thought to be the most abundant species on -- in the entire United States. Their numbers were 3 billion to 5 billion. There are accounts in the 1800s of people watching passenger pigeons -- flocks of passenger pigeons blanket the sky from sunrise to sundown. But then we slaughtered them. They were shot. They were harvested. There were, you know, piles and piles of passenger pigeons. It was -- the passenger pigeons were thought to really be important for supporting out -- the Civil War, the Civil War effort and feeding soldiers.

  • 12:47:16

    MARRABut in half a person's lifetime, 50 years -- let's hope it's half my lifetime -- we saw a species go from one of the most abundant species to none. It just disappeared from the planet. Since then we have seen other extinctions. Eskimo Curlew, Bachman's Warbler, but we've also seen some successes, bald eagle, the Peregrine falcon, the California condor. We know what to do now. And I think that -- I think there's a lot of motivation to not let another passenger pigeon happen.

  • 12:47:44

    MARRAAnd I'm confident that we can put in place the things that we need, the knowledge, the management, and the habitat protection to ultimately see the protection of many of these species because I don't want my kids and my kids' kids to grow up in a world where there isn't a Baltimore Oriole.

  • 12:48:00

    BELLANTONIWell, thank you for that. We have a caller from Winchester, Va. Hi, Linda. You're on the line.

  • 12:48:06

    LINDAHi. Thank you very much for this program. It's very informative and I hope it helps an awful lot. But I'm going to make a comment. And it's been very unpopular with people. I'd like to know why governments are not addressing the problem of over-population of humans. We're losing habitat to everything because of the demands that humans require. Not only land, but resources. And it seems that people just don't want to face up to the fact that, you know, humans cannot keep reproducing without having some impact on nature and all the natural species, both plant and animal. So…

  • 12:48:43

    BELLANTONIThanks for your…

  • 12:48:43

    LINDA…if you could make a comment I'd really appreciate it.

  • 12:48:45

    BELLANTONIThanks for your perspective, Linda. How much are human affecting this?

  • 12:48:49

    MARRAWe're the biggest cause of these declines, in so many ways. You know, our -- we're seeing -- the rate of extinction that we're seeing in birds, you know, is unlike anything we've ever seen in the history of the Earth. In the past 500 years we've seen 163 extinctions of birds. That's an average -- you expect one bird species to go extinct every 1,000 years or so, if you look back in our -- in the history of the fossil record.

  • 12:49:16

    MARRASo that's a really, really high extinction rate. And you -- we're seeing this in a lot of other types of animals, as well. So in the age of humans, we're having a massive impact. How we can deal with that, that's a very complicated issue, obviously.

  • 12:49:30

    BELLANTONINow, Larry, who has a place on the Eastern Shore, has seen some of this impact. Hi, Larry. Thanks for joining us.

  • 12:49:37

    LARRYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to comment. I was intrigued by the commentary on horseshoe crabs and migratory birds. We bought a place on Maryland's Eastern Shore about 10 years ago. And at that time I was amazed at the thousands of horseshoe crabs that would come onto the beach to lay eggs in the spring. So many that at times there would be mounds of their little aquamarine eggs floating in and out with the surf. And the interesting thing -- or disturbing thing I guess I would say, is that in the last four or five years there's been a radical decline.

  • 12:50:15

    LARRYAnd in the last two years, it's almost uncommon that we see a horseshoe crab on the beach laying eggs. And my question is -- I had read that horseshoe crabs were being harvested for their blood, which apparently is used in the production of plasma or something like that. And I wondered whether the decrease in the horseshoe population has anything to do with that or whether there's any insight into that.

  • 12:50:45

    BELLANTONIThank you, Larry.

  • 12:50:48

    MARRAYeah, Larry, thanks for the call. I'm sorry that you're witnessing your own decline in your own backyard like that because it's quite disturbing to see that sort of thing. Yeah, and the horseshoe crabs, that's actually quantified. Those declines are seriously quantified. And we think that is probably the smoking gun. I think there's probably a few things that are contributing to the population declines that we're seeing in Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones and Lesser Yellowlegs, all these species that synchronize their migrations to that phenomenon, that spawning that happens with horseshoe crabs.

  • 12:51:19

    MARRAAnd this is another case of competing demands. And really trying to figure out what our values are and what our priorities are and, you know, hopefully, we'll figure that out and bring horseshoe crab populations back to what they once were and we'll see these shorebird populations restored.

  • 12:51:37

    BELLANTONILauren, from Washington, D.C., emailed kojo@wamu.org, to tell us that, "Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is a hidden gem in D.C. for birding. The Red-winged blackbirds and egrets are just fascinating and you forget you're in a city." We also have two questions coming in via email. Louise, in Alexandria, is asking about "rats feeding at the ground of our birdfeeders. Is there another way to feed birds to appreciate them without adding to a rodent problem?"

  • 12:52:03

    BELLANTONIAnd then Susan is emailing saying, "Please tell people not to feed bread to birds. It's harmful for them." Is that correct?

  • 12:52:10

    MARRAYou know, I haven't heard that before. So it might be. I wouldn't be surprised. Learn something new every day. I have a rat problem, too. Or I have in the past. And what I typically do is try to -- I'll stop feeding for a little while. But I don't have any real solutions to that problem.

  • 12:52:27

    BELLANTONIOkay. And then what about the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, have you been to that spot?

  • 12:52:33

    MARRAI completely agree. And the National Arboretum is also a spectacular place. And so is the National Mall. You know, when you're walking along the National Mall, there are some great places to sit and spot birds. And also, the National Zoo. Our zoo is just a spectacular place to bird watch. It's embedded right within the Rock Creek area and the birdhouse, in particular, has a lot of great trees. And you can see a colony of black-crowned night herons. A wild colony of birds that breeds there, about 100 pairs every yea. And it's just a great place to bird watch.

  • 12:53:03

    BELLANTONISo we'll keep up with the plugging of the Smithsonian Institutions. Pete Marra, again, is director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. So the Smithsonian has been trying to encourage preservation of bird habitats through certification of bird-friendly agriculture, like coffee and wine. And maybe eventually through certification of bird-friendly backyards. Tell us about the coffee and agriculture issues.

  • 12:53:24

    MARRASure. So coffee can be grown in a couple of different ways. It can be grown in a sun situation, so you're just pretty much clear-cutting an area and planting coffee plants. That provides minimal habitat for birds. But coffee can also be grown in a shade or even a tropical forest canopy, which is really good for birds and other wildlife. And some scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center actually certified that and said, "If you keep a minimum of 30 percent cover and a certain amount of canopy cover, and a certain amount of shrub cover, then we -- you'll get these certain amounts of species.

  • 12:53:56

    MARRAAnd we certified that. And so it's called Smithsonian Bird Friendly coffee. And we brought it to the marketplace so people can make a choice to either drink sun coffee, uncertified coffee or they can drink our Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center coffee, which is Bird Friendly coffee, which is also organic and fair trade. And you can be confident when you drink that coffee you're doing something that's actually also good for the environment.

  • 12:54:19

    BELLANTONIIs this something you can find in everyday stores, as well?

  • 12:54:22

    MARRAYou can. Whole Foods has it. Mom's has another brand, Birds and The Beans, that says -- sells our coffee. The one at Whole Foods is Allegra Coffee. But it is a coffee that is 100 percent Bird Friendly coffee.

  • 12:54:35

    BELLANTONISo, of course, being the editor of a newspaper that covers Congress, I have to ask you how the federal government has been involved. You know, are they helping to fund preservation of wetlands, thinks like that? Are there things that the federal government is doing or should be doing?

  • 12:54:48

    MARRAFederal government is doing an enormous amount through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through setting of regulations and protecting of habitats, through refuges. And the USGS is doing all sorts of things through research, National Park Service, all kinds of things, through the protection of lands.

  • 12:55:04

    BELLANTONIWe have several questions about pesticides. And we talked briefly about this, but one caller is asking about lawn. His lawn is overtaken by weeds. Is there sort of an environmentally friendly approach you would recommend?

  • 12:55:16

    MARRAWell, I have a lawn that's -- it's probably not the prettiest lawn, not your traditional lawn. But I've never used pesticides on my lawn. And I do a lot of weeding by hand. But my goal is actually to reduce lawn entirely and really put in mostly native plants I have a kid who loves football and baseball, so I need to have some area where that kid can, you know, run around and catch a ball and everything. But I think my goal is to get rid of my lawn entirely because I don't want to deal with pesticides and have a habitat that's really non-native.

  • 12:55:47

    BELLANTONINow, we have Clayton, in Westminster, Md., with an observation about one of our local birds. Hi, Clayton. You're on the line.

  • 12:55:54

    CLAYTONHi. Thank you. Sir, what impact is the exploding populations of the Cooper hawk having on our bird populations in this area?

  • 12:56:06

    MARRAYeah, it's an interesting question. In our cities we used to have a lot more Sharp-shinned hawks, but this larger accipiter, as it's known, hawk has moved into a lot of urban and suburban areas. They're quite common. But I don't think we have -- I don't have any evidence to point to them as having an impact on any species in particular. They may have. I just don't know. We aren't quantifying that, per se.

  • 12:56:29

    BELLANTONISo we're just coming to the end of the hour here, with Pete Marra, from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo. Mr. Marra, do you have a favorite bird?

  • 12:56:37

    MARRAI have several. The one I study the most is a species known as the American Redstart. It's a very small bird, weighs about as much as a quarter. And it's a long-distance migratory bird that spends part of its year in Jamaica, where I go and study the bird for, oh, sometimes several weeks throughout the year. And then it breeds right around here in our forests or also up in the Northeastern U.S.

  • 12:56:59

    MARRABut I also love the Wood Thrush. The Wood Thrush is a bird that's right here in Rock Creek Park. And you can experience it in the summers. It's got this beautiful, flutely song. And it's a bird that winters in Central America. Those are probably two of my all-time favorites.

  • 12:57:13

    BELLANTONISo, and again, this bird count will continue going year after year, and then we should expect another State of the Birds Report five years from now. And perhaps your optimistic outlook will be played out.

  • 12:57:23

    MARRAI hope so.

  • 12:57:24

    BELLANTONIThanks very much to Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo. Thanks for being here. Again, I'm Christina Bellantoni, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. In our next hour we'll be joined by Nicholas Kristof to talk about his new book, which has an optimistic approach to philanthropy and giving. We'll be back.

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