Birding Today: Ecosystems need our help

Savannah Sparrow

For birdwatchers, we share a lot of similarities with hunters, even though we don't carry a gun. The binoculars can be just as mighty when it comes to saving lives of birds and insects, because we can spot the growth as well as the loss of viable populations.

For every pheasant hunter that wants to put food on the table, they do a lot to make certain that these introduced birds from Asia are there for the long term.  Pre-planning and having a backup plan to a backup plan has always been a good way to keep Murphy's Law at bay. History tends to repeat itself with extinctions as we all know, especially the here-today-gone-tomorrow life of the Passenger Pigeon, which numbered in the billions and was a source of meat for many. Then one day, it was gone and the effects were felt by many.

Two decades ago, we also began to watch the demise of the monarch butterfly, another plentiful pollinator in the same field as the 3-Bs (birds, butterflies, and bats). When herbicide-resistant seeds made their debut, the monarchs took a turn for the worst, as milkweed couldn't even survive on the outskirts of farms, edges of roads, buffer zones between properties, and adjacent to the rows of crops.  When the food source is gone, so goes the pollinator.

This is where the six-figure strong Pheasants Forever came to the rescue, along with “friends of” organizations, and teachers and their students. The milkweed campaign was on, because those pheasants needed to eat, too.  The stewards of the grasslands became responsible for creating seed mixes to include milkweed, which also sustained large acreages of pheasant habitat. We also know that when teachers get involved with saving lives, their hearts lead their students to organizations like and, where they can make a lasting impression because they believe in it so strongly.

Seed mixes also benefitted other pollinators such as moths, flies, beetles and grassland birds like our Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, and so many others. This beautiful swath of land known as the Great Plains can support our important grasslands and their denizens with a little help from their friends. Pheasants Forever came to our aid believing that in supporting an introduced species pollinators could benefit as well.

Hunters help our ecosystems thrive as well as those that support our land for the future of us all. We give solemn thanks to the American Bird Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center, and many others that put the needs of our animals before our own. Now that's something to crow about, especially during migration.

To donate to these worthy organizations, contact:

Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds.  Happy birding!

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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