24 March 2008

Cooperative Initiative Promotes Interest in Birds

An initiative to promote birding, habitat conservation and citizen science across the country was recently announced by the Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University.

The Birding Initiative will help show the broad audience of birders the link between the birds they watch and the important habitats protected in the National Wildlife Refuge System, according to a press release issued by the federal agency. "The Birding Initiative's 14-member Birding Team is exploring new ways to enhance birding on national wildlife refuges."

The team is comprised of the following individuals, who participate to varying degrees, according to Kevin Kilcullen, who helps coordinate the initiative in FWS headquarters office: John Schaust - Wild Birds Unlimited, George Petrides, Sr. - Wild Bird Centers, Kenn Kaufmann, Alicia Craig, Paul Baicich, Jim Williams, Wayne Peterson, Karla Hart, Bill Thompson III, David Whitehurst, Nancy Millar, Greg Butcher, Jon Andrew (FWS), and Dwight Cooley (FWS).

"The team is working on identifying how refuges can improve the quality of bird watching experiences,” Kilcullen said, “as well as making information about the latest sightings more easily available to avid bird watchers.”

The initiative will be coordinated by the headquarters' Visitor Services office, “which coordinates nationally Refuge System wildlife-dependent recreation programs, including birding,” Kilcullen said. “We work with these individuals to identify best practices and ideas for improving our birding programs.”

“Active projects underway include bird feeding stations at a few refuge visitor centers and education programs. We expect that more refuges will benefit from this program over the next 2-3 years. For example, our agreement with the Cornell Lab will help promote the use of e-Bird and other educational programs they offer.

“Discussions are already underway regarding nest watch programs, the celebrate urban birds education program, opportunities for refuge visitors to participate in citizen science projects, and the broader availability of eBird Trail Tracker, an online, interactive network of computer kiosks where birders can record sightings, consult video field guides and check seasonal lists of birds.”

Refuges in the southeast region – such as Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge – “are piloting the bird feeding station projects at visitor centers. We will also be sharing information with refuges around the country from the Cornell Lab, which include Celebrate Urban Birds education materials and Nest Watch projects.”

This initiative will “raise awareness among birders of opportunities and conservation programs on units of the National Wildlife Refuge System and help them fully appreciate the importance of refuges in the lives of their favorite wildlife.”

"Bird watching has never been more popular. With so many people across the country enjoying the wonders of birds, we are committed to providing them with great wildlife viewing opportunities at national wildlife refuges across the country," said Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife observation is one of the six priority public uses of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

"Joining forces with the world-renowned Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in support of birding, bird conservation and citizen science is a natural fit for both organizations," Hall said.

The initiative was launched by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006.

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