Freedom to Move

Photo © Christine Vaufrey

You and Your Neighbors are Key

More than anything, birds need access to habitat. Your yard is the place to start, but every yard, park, farm, garden, school, and office that uses YardMap to grow habitat helps. It’s about working together to create more safe places for birds to forage, hunt, and nest. Giving birds the freedom to move safely across their territories, to gain access to enough food, is part of providing habitat.

It Takes a Community

Neighborhoods working together can have cumulative positive impacts for birds (and communities)

Photo © Ed Aisela

Residential Space is Special

The potential for residential yards to contribute positively to bird habitat is staggeringly large given the amount of space devoted to private residences in the U.S. alone 1. It’s even more hopeful when you consider that many of these backyards are located in urban areas, which often occur along coasts, deltas, and rivers representing some of the most biologically productive spaces on Earth (what can we say, people have good taste and are attracted to build in the same resource-abundant locations that animals find attractive) 2.

Scale Matters

Freedom to stretch their wings helps support healthy populations. The individual garden, while an important contributor to urban biodiversity, is usually much smaller than what is needed to sustain a viable population of plants and birds 3. It is important to get out there with your neighbors and work to create habitat at the scale of the neighborhood.

Researchers note that ‘scale mismatches’ 4 often occur in urban ecosystems– these are places where the scale at which land is being managed does not match the scale at which ecological processes occur. For some organisms, like soil dwellers (snails, nematodes, etc.), an entire healthy population can exist in a backyard. But, for larger organisms, especially ones that move, a single garden is not sufficient to meet all needs. These creatures, the ones pollinating and dispersing seeds, need more space (several gardens knitted together along with adjacent green spaces).

Migration Matters

Once a bird leaves your back yard for parts unknown, you can’t control what happens along its journey. And make no mistake, migrating is hard work! That’s why the things you do in your back yard and green spaces are so important to birds. Here are just a few of the obstacles to successful movement:

Cool It

Are you ready to cool it on the fossil fuels? We can help.

Photo © Mark Cox

Climate Change

Over the past century, and the past 35 years in particular, global temperatures have been rising more rapidly than at any other time during the last 1,000 years 5, 6. According to a recent study, birds in the U.S. already seem to be expanding their distributions northward by almost 1.5 mi/year (2.35 km/year) in response to this change 7. Will the protected areas that we have established be sufficient if the birds themselves are moving north? Temperatures along migratory routes are very important for birds 8; will they be able to adjust the timing of their migration and breeding behaviors to coincide with changes in peak insect or plant abundance? With its effects on phenology, species interactions, and species distributions, climate change is reassembling our bird communities before our eyes 9, with some species being left with nowhere to go. You can help by committing to 10 tiny steps towards big change. There are even some simple changes you can make in your own backyard to contribute to our collective ability to slow rising temperatures: start a compost pile , plant a garden, paint your roof white or plant it green, or make a statement and invest in some solar panels.

It's a (concrete) jungle out there

This Nashville Warbler, a Neotropical migrant, did not make it back to its breeding territory.

Photo © Sara Scharf


Surprisingly, the majority of birds migrate at night, using moonlight and starlight (in part) to navigate to and from their breeding grounds. For this reason, the reflectivity of windows in urban areas combined with artificial lighting actually disorients birds and draws them towards towering buildings. An estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die each year from colliding with buildings in the United States and Canada. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) of Toronto, Ontario estimates that 1-9 million birds die every year from impact with buildings in Toronto alone 10. We think that’s too many.

The Lab of Ornithology is piloting a project called BirdCast that will “forecast” peak migration times using weather and terrain data. Among other things, the BirdCast can be used to identify critical periods when we should dim down our lights and keep a special watch for injured birds. If you find an injured bird that is not moving, carefully place it inside a paper bag and transport it to a safe, dark place where it can be released. Don’t forget to turn out as many lights as you can at night, especially during Spring and Fall migration.

Can you hear me now?

At what cost communication?

Photo © brotherlywalks

Communication Towers

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that many millions of birds are killed each year from collisions with communications towers, of which there are >100,000 in the US alone 11. Birds may fly into the towers or their guy wires during the day, or become confused during nocturnal migration when towers are lit up for safety reasons (overcast conditions raise the death toll). While some scientists point out that communication towers are not the biggest threat facing birds of conservation concern 12, it turns out that there may be a simple solution. Data has shown that not all towers are equally dangerous to night-migrating birds. Researcher Joelle Ghering has found that taller towers, towers with guy wires, and towers with steady-burning lights (i.e., non-flashing) are responsible for significantly more avian collisions than their shorter, self-supported, flashing counterparts 13. Simply extinguishing the steady-burning lights on some of the most dangerous towers could reduce fatalities by up to 70% 14.

Scientists are working with regulators to change policy so that people and birds can safely navigate around towers. Be aware of the proliferation of lighted towers, and voice your concern about tower kills to the Federal Communications Commission. Speak up about communication towers in your town, and motivate industries to adopt voluntary strategies to reduce bird collisions.


If only wind energy were a breeze!

Photo © Changhua Coast Conservation Action

Wind Turbines

Windmills generate clean, renewable electricity from wind energy. They offer a promising alternative to dirty power-producing technology like coal plants, and that’s great. But the Lab of Ornithology is concerned about their drawbacks, which include potential for bird collisions, habitat loss, predator attraction, and vegetation clearing. Researchers are busy investigating how to mitigate these impacts on birds and other wildlife through better technologies and proper siting. As the nation moves forward with renewable energies, it’s important to voice your support for bird-friendly development in your community.

To see a map of wind resource potential in your area, click here. If it seems likely that new turbine installations are coming to an area near you, push for projects to be sited on marginal lands instead of prime wildlife habitat. Anywhere that migratory birds congregate should be avoided. Keep in mind that the number of birds dying from collisions with wind turbines pales in comparison to those that fall to habitat loss, free-roaming cats, pesticide poisoning, and window collisions.