Audio file: Prairie Warbler–Setophaga discolor
ALBANY, NY – With growing interest in this globally-rare habitat, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has joined an international effort in bird conservation that will provide important research and data on migratory songbird populations.
As part of this research effort, the Commission has initiated two breeding-season bird banding stations in the Preserve – a New York State designated Bird Conservation Area – in coordination with the MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship), a program coordinated by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The findings will also contribute to a global investigation of environmental contamination by the Biodiversity Research Institute and The Nature Conservancy.
“The fact that we are participating in this international bird conservation effort speaks volumes about the importance of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve’s ecological standing and the quality of science and research coming out of our Science department,” noted the Commission’s Executive Director, Christopher Hawver.
“The scientific community is beginning to understand how important the Pine Bush is to bird conservation. Birds are not only colorful and gifted singers, but they are also great indicators of ecosystem health. They can tell us a lot about the condition of the pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and the effects of our efforts to conserve this unique shrubland habitat,” said Neil Gifford, Conservation Director and USGS Licensed Bird Bander. “Sound science has always been the keystone of Preserve management, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to know that the data that we collect contributes to our partners’ national and international efforts to conserve birds.”
One in eight bird species are at risk of extinction according to a recently released report by Birdlife International.
Carefully capturing and banding birds with uniquely-numbered lightweight USGS leg bands offers Commission scientists the opportunity to repeatedly identify individual birds and record their age, gender, reproductive status, and weight before releasing them, and it answers critical questions about bird reproduction and survival in the Preserve. According to Gifford, “Providing this demographic data to the USGS, USFWS and IBP also contributes to their efforts to understand trends in the status of these species in New York, the northeast and throughout the United States. We’ve committed to collecting this data for at least five years, but because the birds can tell us so much about our conservation, we hope to continue beyond 2017.”
Evan Adams, Migratory Bird Program Director at the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) said, “Birds are also useful sentinels for contaminants that can harm entire ecosystems.” In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, BRI is monitoring birds’ mercury exposure levels in a variety of habitats around the country. “By combining these data with the productivity monitoring,” said Adams, “we hope to further understand how contaminants affect ecosystems and impact bird populations. The bird banding in the Preserve presents an opportunity to understand the long-term effects of mercury contamination on songbirds, and that is incredibly valuable for the conservation and management of the affected species.”
According to Gifford, “The numbers are compelling; in only ten mornings we’ve banded more than 300 individual birds.” The data show that the Preserve’s pine barrens support robust populations of many birds that are declining throughout the northeastern U.S., especially birds like the prairie warbler, brown thrasher, and eastern towhee that depend on what the Northeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies calls young forest habitat.
“During the last 40 years, nearly half of the young forest bird species in the Northeast have declined and become increasingly reliant on young forest habitat management,” said Randy Dettmers, migratory bird expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Albany Pine Bush Preserve makes significant contributions to these species by managing one of the largest remaining patches of young forest habitat in the Northeast. Through their participation in the MAPS program, they will help to guide conservation actions to sustain young forest birds throughout the region.”
Young forest birds are also a conservation priority for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Audubon New York. “The Albany Pine Bush is an incredibly unique habitat that supports a number of at-risk shrubland-dependent birds, which are declining across their ranges,” said Erin Crotty, Executive Director of Audubon New York. “We applaud the efforts of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to actively manage this area to maintain this amazing habitat and ensure the effectiveness of their stewardship activities. We look forward to working with them to protect this New York State Bird Conservation Area in the future and encourage more area residents to visit this outstanding community resource.”
“For 25 years, public-private partnerships have been essential to the Commission’s efforts to create and manage a viable Preserve,” said Hawver. “From our internationally-recognized controlled burn program to our work to eradicate invasive species and from our success in recovering rare and endangered wildlife to the high quality of recreational and educational opportunities available at the Preserve, our success is directly tied to the relationships we’ve built with state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and the private sector. Our bird research is just the latest example of how these partnerships are building a strong future for the Preserve and its wildlife.”
Located within the Capital District Region, the Albany Pine Bush’s gently rolling sand plain is home to a variety of rare plants and animals. The 3,200 acre Preserve also provides visitors with an assortment of non-motorized recreational opportunities including hiking, jogging, nature study, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and canoeing.
The Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center transforms this globally unique destination into an exciting adventure where learning comes naturally through hands-on activities. As the gateway to the Preserve, the Discovery Center introduces visitors to everything that makes the Pine Bush rare and adventurous. With the help of many volunteers, the Discovery Center offers numerous programs about the ecology, natural and cultural history of the Pine Bush area. Admission is free and program fees are $3 per person or $5 per family. The center is open Monday-Friday 9AM-4PM, Saturday and Sunday 10AM-4PM, and on most holidays. The Discovery Center space is also available for private events and meetings. For more information, visit www.AlbanyPineBush.org or call 518-456-0655.