Jessica Catto Dialogue: A World on the Wing with Scott Weidensaul
July 7, 2023
“Birds have so much to teach us if we leave enough of the Earth undamaged and untraveled so that we can learn their lessons.” -Scott Weidensaul
Thank you so much for joining us at yesterday’s Jessica Catto Dialogue with Scott Weidensaul, discussing research from his book, A World on the Wing. We were extremely grateful to have Weidensaul, author of over 30 books and Pulitzer Prize finalist, share his knowledge and passion for wildlife conservation and ornithology. Weidensaul began his writing career in 1978 and has since been published in Audubon, Living Bird, Bird Watcher’s Digest and National Wildlife, Smithsonian, The Nature Conservancy, and is a New York Times Bestselling Author.
He first became interested in wildlife as a young kid, but a trip later in life to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania was a turning point in his career. It was at Hawk Mountain that he was able to find a mentor in the field of ornithology and since then, the scientific study of birds has been the defining passion of his life. He was curious about how birds are physiologically able to migrate for such vast distances, and human threats to this centuries-long phenomenon.
One of Weidensaul’s many achievements in the world of ornithology was the co-founding of Project SNOWstorm, a research project on Snowy Owls. In this project, a cohort of researchers place GPS/GSM tracking devices on the birds to provide latitude, longitude, altitude, and flight speed of these birds, recording data every 60 seconds. With this data, researchers are able to map the migratory patterns of Snowy Owls.
Another wonderful migration tracker, Bird Cast, uses technology from the Dopler radar to track how many birds are traveling over a cubic meter of land in real time. Because most birds migrate at night, this technology enables us to view a detailed map of nighttime bird migration, depicting what bird species are in the sky and their precise locations.
In 2019, research found that we had lost a shocking third of America’s birds primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation, despite popular concern over pesticide use. Weidensaul shared that wetland birds like ducks, geese, swans, ibis, and egrets were able to make a remarkable recovery after humans prioritized restoring wetland habitats, including flooding of rice fields in the Pacific Flyway during peak migration. He highlighted that birds are extremely resilient animals and that given a fighting chance, birds will make a not-so-surprising recovery. With this, Weidensaul urged the idea that it is “never too late” to make a difference in habitat protection and restoration for birds.
Check out this Naturalist Nights talk, “Three Billion Birds Lost: The State of Our Birds and How We Get Them Back” from 2022 with Dr. Arvind Punjabi.
The fate of global bird populations is in our hands, and Weidensaul urges us to get involved through local organizations like ACES. He also suggests that one of the most effective things to do as a conservationist is to get involved in planning and zoning commissions to bring conservationist’s perspective into the dialogue regarding development. He recommends Bird Life International, National Audubon Society, and the American Bird Conservancy as great resources for learning about bird conservation.
View our most recent birding list from Morning Birding here.
Your presence, thoughtful questions, and sheer enthusiasm at last night’s event were welcomed, and we hope that you continue to participate in the ACES birding community. We thank you again for attending this great event, and encourage everyone to take action through local conservancy organizations and local politics.
Join us in the coming weeks for our own ACES birding outings, with ACES Bird Guide Rebecca Weiss!
A recorded version of Scott’s lecture is available here.
Featured photo by ACES Marketing Assistant, Eli Stoken.