But the forests are getting quiet.
What's happening to the birds?
In the fall of 2019, the journal Science published a paper with startling data. There are 3 billion fewer birds in the US and Canada than there were in 1970s. That’s nearly 1/3 of the number of total birds—gone. This is a well documented decline across North America. Fewer and fewer birds are making it to their breeding grounds. Your financial contribution will help me to collect data to better understand why and what to do about it.
For folks who don’t know me, my name is Nick Liadis and I am an avian conservation biologist in Pittsburgh.
Having struggled to find work through the pandemic, I’ve taken the time to think big over the past year, and I’m venturing out to start my own avian conservation work. The birds need help. And our ecosystems depend on them—from a city park to a pristine forest, and any space in between.
I’ve completed the monumental task of procuring my own bird banding permits from the Bird Banding Laboratory, a branch of the Federal Government. Before issuing permits, the BBL likes to see well founded and timely research proposals and a strong background in banding birds, both of which I have. My bi-coastal experiences between the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and the Powdermill Avian Research Center—two of North America’s most important avian research labs—have been formative, and prepared me for this moment. I can now work closely with birds as an independent scientist, developing my own unique research. Check out this video for more about bird banding.
I’ve decided to come up with a name that captures the essence of my conservation work. I’ll be doing it under the name Bird Lab! It’s mission will be to implement bird-focused conservation practices through the integration of research, education, and community science—that together—create healthy ecosystems.
Why the word “Lab”? Perhaps an image of a scientist working in a sterile white room with a lab coat and goggles comes to mind? That won’t be me. I’ll be wearing muck boots and covered in bird poop! You’ll find me in the field working with birds to collect data directly from them and their habitats. The lab will be all around me—its our surrounding ecosystems.
What I'll be doing
The pilot research project for Bird Lab will involve studying migratory birds that either stay or pass through Southwestern Pennsylvania, like the Cedar Waxwing pictured below. Migration is a perilous, energy-intensive process for birds. And humans have made it even more challenging for birds to successfully complete their journeys. Fragmented habitat, invasive species, and cities impose new challenges for birds, all contributing to their decline.
Because migration is energy intensive, I’ll be looking at how well a particular ecosystem is able to provide food for birds. In the hand, I’ll be able to visually quantify their fat reserves which they replenish often when migrating. The reserves are concentrated within the furcular hollow of the bird. It's almost like the hollow spot that people have just above the clavicle bone and below the throat. In birds, the feathers in this area can be parted, revealing a shallow depression which fills with fat as birds eat. Take a look at the Swainson’s Thrushes below. Even glancing at them, you can tell which one is bigger having eaten in preparation for the long journey to South America.
Because birds are such good indicator species, their presence and whether they are finding food or not can tell us a lot about what’s going on in the environment and how to address it. I have three sites—one urban, one suburban, and one rural—to understand the food challenges birds might face across this landscape gradient. The hypothesis is that a bird in a rural area will have a much easier time finding food than a bird in the city because cities lack the familiar habitats that rural environments have.
In addition to the overall decline of birds, the State of North Americas Birds report found that 1/3 of species in the US need urgent conservation measures. It’s important to halt that downward trend because extinction for many species is looming. The data that I’ll be collecting will help identify ailing ecosystems to make them better and more sustainable for birds. If they are better for birds, they are better for us as well.
What I hope to do with the data
I hope to publish my findings and to then work with environmental organizations and policy makers to implement solutions where they are needed. The data could also be used to inform policy changes that protect our ecosystems. It could direct conservation work and how best to conserve green spaces, particularly around cities. There are a lot of possibilities with the dataset.
Along the way, I’ll be raising awareness about migrating birds and the natural world by bringing people closer to them: from in-person bird walks around parks, opening up my field work for public viewing to see birds in-hand, and bolstering social media presence to reach a broad audience.
Why I need the financial help
The funds I'm looking to raise will help get Bird Lab started and to support my pilot research project starting in the spring of 2021. If you are in a place to contribute, whatever the amount, it would allow me to carry out this really important work. I'll be using funds to:
1. Purchase equipment:
-Nets to capture the birds
-Measuring devices and banding tools for the data
-Gas to drive to the sites
2. Offset the financials of carrying out the work, which will occupy most of my days in spring and fall. The effort to collect the data will require me working 6 days/week during spring and fall migration.
3. Continue my work around Bird Safe Design to help prevents birds from flying into windows. Most of this work has been completely volunteered.
And as always, I’ll be updating social media regularly so be sure keep an eye out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for bird and nature content:
Gift of thanks
I’ll be gifting artworks for certain donation brackets. The artwork will be watercolored feathers of North American birds that I’ve hand painted, very similar to the ones you see in the Bird Lab logo, also painted by me (:
For a minimum:
$150 donation, I’ll send you an original single feather painting
$250 donation, I’ll send you an original multi feather painting
Here are some examples of the artworks for reference: