Year of the Bird celebrates Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Painted Bunting.

This Painted Bunting was Jack Rogers’ Audubon Photography Awards entry in 2015. Photo courtesy National Audubon Society.

Year of the Bird celebrates 100th anniversary of Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By Barb Gorges

This is the Year of the Bird. It’s been declared by four august organizations: the National Audubon Society, the National Geographic Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and BirdLife International. A hundred other organizations have joined them.

My husband Mark and I have been members for years of the first three, and I’m on the email list for the fourth so I’ve heard the message four times since the first of the year.

The Year of the Bird celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that protects birds. Read the act at (remember “take” is a euphemism for “kill”).

The Year of the Bird is also about advocating for birds. Today you can go to the National Geographic website,, and sign the Year of the Bird pledge. You’ll receive monthly instructions for simple actions you can take on behalf of birds. The official Year of the Bird website,, will take you to the National Geographic page, and the other sponsors’ websites will get you there as well.

You may not be aware of National Geographic’s bird credentials. When the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America came out in the 1980s, it was a must-have sensation. You can find the latest edition at local bookstores and online.

The National Audubon Society,, is your portal to these articles so far: How Birds Bind Us, The History and Evolution of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, The United States of Birding and Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report. My favorite–Why Do Birds Matter? – quotes dozens of well-known authors and ornithologists.

BirdLife International,, offers ways to think about birds. When you see your next robin, think about where it’s been, what it’s flown over. Think about the people in other countries who may have seen the bird too. Think about the work being done to protect its migratory flyways.

On the other hand, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology begins the year addressing bird appreciation. At one of their websites,, Hugh Powell recommends getting a decent pair of affordable binoculars after reading this guide on how to shop for them,

Powell also recommends CLO’s free Merlin Bird ID app to get to know your local birds better (or see Then you can keep daily bird lists through CLO’s free eBird program, including photos and sound recordings.

While you watch birds from your kitchen window, drink bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee. There’s an in-depth article at

Or play CLO’s new Bird Song Hero game to help you learn how to match what you hear with the visual spectrograph,

Finally, Powell suggests “pay it forward”—take someone birding and join a bird club or Audubon chapter (locally, I’d recommend my chapter,

Here in Wyoming our lone U.S. Representative, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, has attempted to take the teeth out of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with H.R. 4239. She thinks protecting birds should not come at the expense of business.

Earlier threats to birds caused conservationist Aldo Leopold to write in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanack, “We face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasqueflower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”

I would say that people who appreciate birds are not a minority. And many of us agree with biologist and biodiversity definer Thomas Lovejoy, “If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.”

If it is too cold for you to appreciate the birds while outside, check out National Geographic’s January issue with photos by Joel Sartore. More of his bird photos for National Geographic’s Photo Ark project, studio portraits of the world’s animals, will be in a book coming out this spring written by Noah Strycker, “Birds of the Photo Ark.” Strycker will be speaking in Cheyenne May 14.

Now go to and take the pledge and find out each month what simple action you can take on behalf of birds.

Addendum: Because the paragraph about Liz Cheney was omitted from the column when it was published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, I submitted a letter to the editor that was published four days later:

Migratory Bird Treaty Act under attack

Dear Editor,

2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S., along with co-signers Mexico, Canada, Japan and Russia, agree to protect birds that cross our borders and theirs.

A hundred years ago there was a battle between conservationists and industrialists and the birds won. Industry is now held accountable for “incidental take” – birds killed unintentionally during the course of business. That has included birds hooked by long-line ocean fishing, birds attracted to oily evaporation ponds in oil and gas fields and birds hit by wind turbines.

These kinds of hazards can add up and make a population-threatening dent. Instead, the MBTA has forced industries to pay fines or come up with ingenious solutions that save a lot of birds.

However, Wyoming’s Congresswoman Liz Cheney is backing U.S. House Resolution 4239 which would remove the requirement to take responsibility for incidental take. Here we are, 100 years later, fighting the battle again.

If you would like to speak up for the birds, please call Cheney’s office, 202-225-2311. The polite person who answers the phone only wants to know your name, address and your opinion, so they know which column to check, anti-bird, or pro-bird and the MBTA.

Barb Gorges


Bird field guide choices many

Peterson field guideSibley field guideSmithsonian field guideStokes field guideNatl Geographic field guideGolden field guideKaufman field guidePublished April 5, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Field guide choices now are many. Years ago, you pretty much had a choice between Peterson’s and Peterson’s.”
2014 Update: In addition to new editions of the field guides mentioned, we also now have “Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America” by Ted Floyd, 2008, Collins. We’re waiting for the western version of the “Crossley ID Guide – Eastern Birds” by Richard Crossley.

By Barb Gorges

Field guide: A reference book small enough to be carried outdoors yet comprehensive enough to answer most identification questions for a group, such as birds, mushrooms, rocks, etc.

For us bird watchers in the Rocky Mountain West, Roger Tory Peterson’s “A Field Guide to Western Birds” has long been a standard. Published in 1941, it was the first book with a systematic approach to bird identification and small enough–at 4½-by-7 1/4 inches and 300 pages–to drop into a pocket, squeeze into a pack or throw onto a dashboard.

Twenty-five years later the Golden guide came out, about the same size, but including all of North America–very handy for us living on the eastern edge of the West.

Golden was an improvement on Peterson’s, because cheap modern color printing allowed bird pictures, descriptions and range maps to be printed on the same page: one-stop-look-up.

Another twenty years later, in 1983, we got the National Geographic guide. More drawings for each species of juveniles, females plus obscure species made it measure 5-by-8 inches and 460 pages. Audubon came out with the first photographic guides for Eastern and Western birds, but no one I know uses them as a primary guide.

In the last five years interest in bird watching has skyrocketed, and so has the number of general field guides. (I haven’t room to mention all the specialty guides for groups of species or particular locations.)

First was Stokes in 1996, followed by the American Bird Conservancy’s radical guide organized by bird feeding behaviors, National Geographic’s third edition and Peterson’s third edition of the Western guide.

Last fall everyone was talking about advent of “The Sibley Guide to Birds.” At 9½-by6½ inches and 544 pages, it would be huge for a field guide, but doesn’t pretend to be a “field” guide.

Advanced birders love the way David Allen Sibley distinguishes details such as the five populations of horned larks and various feather molts of other species. He spent years sketching birds up close while they were being banded.

I like the range maps and the thumbnails comparing similar birds in flight, but for the casual birder, 26 variations on the dark-eyed junco may be overwhelming.

I once identified Kenn Kaufman, author of my favorite “Lives of Birds,” at an Audubon conference without being close enough to read his nametag because I noticed the flock of binocular-wearing females surrounding him. He’s one of few bird book authors with his picture on the back cover–and it doesn’t need digital enhancement. He does, however, use digital technology to improve the bird photos in his new field guide, taking away misleading shadows and cropping distracting background.

Kaufman’s guide has the usual accouterments: quick index by generic name, color coded pages, introduction to bird watching basics and comments on habitat and voice for each species. His range maps are exceptional. Not only do they depict summer, winter, year-round and migration ranges in different colors, but where a species rarely occurs or is rare, the colors are paler.

The only disconcerting thing for a veteran field guide user is that Kaufman deviates somewhat from organizing his book in ornithological order. His color-coded table of contents had me stumped when it listed “medium-sized land birds,” but immediately following was a photographic table of contents to show what he meant.

I still check off my life birds in the back of a first edition Golden guide my mother gave me in 1973. I bought the next edition in the 1980’s and it’s still the one I grab for field trips.

Now a new Golden edition is out. Names are updated, descriptions have been reworked by new authors and a quick index has been added–though they forgot the check boxes in the regular index. What I wish they had added are state lines in their range maps. It was one thing to bird in the corner of the country formed by lakes Superior and Michigan back in my youth, but it’s pretty hard to eyeball Cheyenne’s location in relation to the Canadian and Mexican borders.

So, had I researched the newest field guides sooner, I probably would have chosen copies of Kaufman’s as the prizes for the Audubon Award winners from the school district science fair this year.

Oh well. I just hope when I start hinting that I’d like Kaufman for Mother’s Day, my family understands it’s for the range maps, not the back cover.

A Field Guide to Western Birds, Roger Tory Peterson, 1998, Houghton Mifflin.
All the Birds of North America, American Bird Conservancy, 1997, Harper Perennial.
Birds of North America, Golden Field Guide, 2001, St. Martin’s Press.
Birds of North America, Kenn Kaufman, 2000, Houghton Mifflin.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, National Geographic Society, 1999, National Geographic Society.
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (western volume), 1994, Knopf.
The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley, (National Audubon Society), 2000, Knopf.
Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Western Region, Donald and Lillian Stokes, 1996, Little Brown.