Collision Monitoring: A Frontier in the Fight For Our Birds
Cady Netland, Conservation Communications Fellow with Bird Safe Maine, discusses the ups and downs of collision monitoring in Portland, and who is doing this important work.
“I don’t know how you get up so early to put yourself in a space where you’ll probably see your favorite animals dying.” - A text from a friend about collision monitoring
My friend has a point. So how is it that despite the nature and timing of this work, this monitoring season we had a committed team of 45 volunteers ensuring the Portland route was walked every early morning for almost two whole months?
Every day this Spring starting between 5-5:30 am, a group of volunteers with Bird Safe Maine would meet at Ocean Gateway to walk this follow-the-rainbow route below looking for birds who were stunned, striking or dead from window collisions. Sometimes a bigger group would split up and walk in opposite directions, to cover more ground faster. Some volunteers started even earlier in the morning to try to truly catch the dawn!
The volunteers we had ranged from retired folks excited to utilize their additional free time to help out, folks who had to catch a bus to work later, parents and their children, avid birders, and lots of groups in between. The common connection between everyone was the recognition of a problem and a realization of their ability to contribute to positive change.
Though the Spring migration is a much slower season in terms of collisions than the Fall migration, it is still tough work. We found a total of 60 bird strikes on route this season, which is double the collisions found last Spring. 40% of these strikes were found at just one building which shows how devastating bird-threatening design can really be. I’m in charge of logging all incoming data, which means reviewing photos and reports of dead birds, many of which I’ve never seen before in the wild. Frequently, beautiful migratory warblers strike on their way back to breed from warmer places, dead after traveling across countries.
Black-throated Green Warbler Black-and-white Warbler Black-throated Blue Warbler
This season, a Black-and-white Warbler female (pictured above middle) struck and died inches from my face. Having never witnessed a deadly strike, I burst out in tears. I dug a small grave to bury her in and said a few words. The volunteer who was with me comforted me and gave me space to grieve our feathered friend. When I wondered about her ability to hold it together, she told me feels she’s developed somewhat of a thick-skin to it having found 18 dead birds in one day last Fall and held stunned birds bleeding in her hands. But the enormity of the problem still weighs on her, knowing around a million birds are striking every day in the United States.
Grave dug for the Black-and-white Warbler
How can the people who love birds the most bear to witness their suffering without being able to do much to intervene? The volunteers I’ve worked with through Bird Safe Maine have been some of the kindest, most positive people I’ve ever encountered. They love the world around them and everything within it. Truly, those who love the world and its creatures the most are the ones in the field recording their struggles and fighting what often feels like an uphill battle.
What I’ve learned from them is that we can never let the enormity of the problem stop us from doing what we can. To continue this fight, conservationists have to find a balance between grieving what we are losing without losing ourselves or our motivation to hopelessness. I’ve had days where I’ve felt crushed, but I also feel continuously inspired by the effort of my team and supervisors, and the ever-motivating beauty and value of our birds, who call me back to this difficult work without fail. Some days it may feel like small work, but the small work of many hands can truly move mountains.
Nick Lund, co-founder of Bird Safe Maine Bird Safe Maine Volunteers
holds a Savannah Sparrow who was bringing their positive energy
killed in a local window collision. to an early morning walk.
Cady grew up in the North Shore of Massachusetts and recently earned her B.S. in Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology with a minor in Spanish at UC Davis. Within her program, she developed and cultivated a passion for ornithology, environmental law and the work of NGOs. She also was a devoted birdwatcher, chamber choir member, research intern and foster mom for 11 different rescue dogs. From assisting in caretaking for elephants at the Elephant Conservation Center in Luang Prabang, Thailand to helping construct a turtle hatchery in Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, Cady has loved her experiences traveling and having a direct impact on conservation efforts around the world. With a deep family history in and connection to Maine, she is thrilled to be bringing her passions and skills to a community she feels inherently at home in. She is particularly excited to continue to learn, discover ways to inspire her new community about positive conservation action and have a direct hand in protecting the birds she knows and loves from the threat of collision.