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Action From Your Desk

You can take many steps toward conserving migratory birds from the comfort of your home or office. Here’s how to get started.


Citizens can influence local and national policy to conserve songbirds in several ways, but the first step is to educate yourself. Many excellent resources are available that explain the status, habits, and conservation of neotropical migratory birds. Here is a list of some of the most helpful publications.

  • Finch, Deborah. 1991. Population Ecology, Habitat Requirements, and Conservation of Neotropical Migratory Birds. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-205. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, Colo. A comprehensive review of current literature concerning population trends of neotropical migrants and the factors affecting their populations across the Western Hemisphere. 26 pages. Copies available on loan at university libraries or through the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station Library, 240 W. Prospect, Fort Collins, CO 80526. (303-498-1100).
  • Finch, Deborah, and Peter W. Stangel, eds. 1993. Status and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. Gen. Tech. Rep. 229. U.S. Dept of Agriculture Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, Colo. Proceedings of a National Training Workshop at Estes park Center, Estes Park, Colo. Includes scientific papers and essays on management, monitoring, and conservation of neotropical migrants on breeding grounds. 422 pages. Available free from Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, attn: Publications, 3825 E. Mulberry, Fort Collins, CO 80524. (303-498-1100).
  • Greenberg, Russell. 1990. Southern Mexico: Crossroads for Migratory Birds.  Bilingual (English and Spanish) booklet about the biology and conservation of migratory birds in southern Mexico. 32 pages. Contact the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C. 20008. (202-673-4908). ($5.00 ppd.) ISBN 1-881230-01-5.
  • Greenberg, Russell, and Susan Lumpkin. 1991. Birds Over Troubled Forests. Booklet describing the biology and conservation of neotropical migratory birds. 32 pages. Contact the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. (See above for address and phone.) ($5.00 ppd.) ISBN 1-881230-00-7.
  • Hagan, J.M., and D.W. Johnston, eds. 1992. Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Landbirds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. Contains more than 50 scientific papers presented at the 1989 neotropical Migratory Bird Symposium hosted by Manomet Observatory. Includes English and Spanish abstracts. 609 pages. To order, call Smithsonian Press, 800-782-4612. ($19.95 plus shipping and handling.) ISBN 1-56098-140-7.
  • Herkert, J., R. Szafoni, V. Kleen, and J. Schwegman. 1993. Habitat Establishment, Enhancement, and Management for Forest and Grassland Birds in Illinois. Illinois Dept. of Conservation, Natural Heritage Publication #1. Provides technical guidance to resource managers, planners, restorationists, and private landowners in Illinois who wish to establish, enhance, and mange land for nongame forest or grassland nesting birds. 20 pages. To order, contact the Illinois Department of Conservation, Lincoln Tower Plaza, 524 S. Second St., Springfield, IL 62701.
  • Keast, Allen, and Eugene S. Morton, eds. 1980. Migrant Birds in the Neotropics: Ecology, Behavior, Distribution, and Conservation. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. Contains research papers presented at a symposium held at the Conservation and research Center, Smithsonian Institution. Includes regional studies and implications of overwintering in the tropics. 576 pages. to order, call Smithsonian Press, 800-782-4612. ($19.95 plus shipping and handling.) ISBN 0-87474-661-2.
  • Schreiber, R.L., A.W. Diamond, R.T. Peterson, and W. Cronkite. 1989. Save the Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Mass. Describes the major environments of the earth and the endangered birds that inhabit them. Proceeds from the sale of this book are contributed to BirdLife International. 384 pages. Available at bookstores, or order from Houghton Mifflin Company, 617-351-5000. ($39.95.) ISBN 0-395-51172-0.
  • Terborgh, John. 1989. Where Have All the Birds Gone? Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. Highly readable book discuss the declines in neotropical migrants by chronicling evens across the Americas. Also offers insights into bird ecology on breeding and wintering grounds. 207 pages. Available at bookstores, or order from Princeton University Press, 609-258-4900. ($14.95.) ISBN 0-691-02428-6.


You can also learn about issues relating to migratory birds by joining conservation organizations. you will receive publications that keep you informed of current environmental issues and explain how you can influence pending legislation. Here is a list of national, nonprofit, membership organizations working closely with bird and habitat conservation.

  • American Birding Association (ABA), P.O. Box 6599, Colorado Springs, CO 80934. (800-850-2473). The goals of ABA are to promote recreational birding, to contribute to the development of bird identification and population study, and to help foster public appreciation of birds and their role in the environment. The ABA stronly supports and encourages efforts to protect wild birds and their habitats. Publications: Birding magazine, Winging It newsletter, Directory of Volunteer Opportunities for Birders.
  • Colorado Bird Observatory (CBO), 13401 Piccadilly Rd., Brighton, CO 80601. (303-659-4348). CBO research and education programs are conducted locally, regionally, and internationally to promote the conservation of birds of the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, and western Mexico. The observatory plays a leading role in Partners in Flight and works extensively with government agencies and conservation groups throughout the west.
  • Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO), 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850. (607-254-2473). CLO is an international center for the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. The Lab supplies up-to-date ornithological information to scientists, conservationists, and the media, and specializes in programs enlisting large numbers of volunteers to collect information about birds over vast geographic areas. The Lab’s Library of Natural Sounds contains the world’s largest collection of natural sounds, including more than 5,000 bird species. Publications: Living Bird magazine, Birdscope newsletter.
  • Defenders of Wildlife (DOW), 1101 Fourteenth St. NW, Suite 1400, Washington, D.C. 20005. (202-682-9400, ext. 220). DOW promotes conservation through its National Watchable Wildlife Program, a continentwide system of wildlife viewing areas. Defenders has been a leader in curbing imports of wild-caught birds for the pet trade. Through citizen, legal, and government action, DOW’s other programs strive to preserve, enhance, and protect the biodiversity of natual ecosystems. Publications: Defenders magazine, Wildlife Advocate newspaper.
  • Long Point Bird Observatory (LPBO), P.O. Box 160, Port Rowan, ON N0E 1M0 CANADA. (519-586-3531). LPBO advances and encourages the wider understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats through studies using the skills, enthusiasm, and support of volunteers, members, staff, and the interested public. LPBO  operates one of the longest-running migration monitoring stations in North America. Publications: Long Point Bird Observatory Newsletter.
  • Manomet Observatory for Conservation Sciences (MO), P.O. Box 1770, Manomet, MA 02345. (508-224-6521). To improve the conservation of natural resources, MO collaborates with government agencies, conservation organizations, colleges, and universities on research, and conservation projects across the Western Hemisphere. These projects vary from studying the effects of industrial forestry on bird populations in Maine to researching aboriginal uses of forest resources in Honduras. Publications: Conservation Sciences Quarterly magazine.
  • National Audubon Society (NAS), 700 Broadway, New York, NY 10003-9501. (212-979-3000). NAS uses science, policy research, lobbying, litigation, citizen activism, and education as tools for conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife, for the benefit of humanity and the Earth’s biological diversity. Audubon’s Birds in the Balance is a science-based campaign that integrates national and international policy initiatives with efforts to promote public awareness of birds and local efforts to conserve their habitats on the ground in the Western Hemisphere. Publications: Audubon magazine, Audubon Activist newsletter, National Audubon Society Field Notes.
  • National Wildlife Federation (NWF), 1400 Sixteenth St. NW, Washington, DC 20036-2266. (800-822-9919). NWF aims to educate, inspire, and assist individuals and organizations to conserve wildlife and other natural resources and to protect the Earth’s environment. The Backyard Habitat Program teaches people how to make backyards more hospitable to birds and other wildlife. The NFW legislative hotline is 202-797-6655. Publications: EnviroAction newsletter, National Wildlife and International Wildlife magazines, Conservation Directory (a comprehensive list of conservation organizations), and Backyard Habitat Program guide.
  • Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO), 4990 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach, CA 94970. (415-868-1221). PRBO conducts research on land birds, shorebirds, and seabirds to monitor ecosystem health and provide credible, scientifically  based policy guidance for bird conservation in the Pacific rim. PRBO maintains collaborative projects with state and federal agencies to develop recommendations for the protection and enhancement of bird populations in a wide variety of habitats. The observatory conducts avian conservation and monitoring courses at field sites in the United States and Latin America. Publication: Observer newsletter.
  • The Nature Conservancy (TNC), 1815 North Lynn St., Arlington, VA 22209. (703-841-5300). TNC is committed to preserving biological diversity by protecting natural lands and the life they harbor. The Conservancy cooperates with educational institutions and public and private conservation agencies and works with states through”natural heritage programs” to identify ecologically significant natural areas. Publications: Nature Conservancy Magazine.


Making donations is crucial to conservation groups actively working on bird conservation. Your financial assistance to the organizations listed above supports their ability to publish information about conservation issues, to initiate and continue valuable research projects, and to offer governing officials and organizations the information they need to make decisions about land-use planning and practices.

Many state natural resource agencies also need financial support. Traditionally these agencies have received funding primarily for managing game species. Recently many state agencies have received increased funding for nongame wildlife, including migratory songbirds, but most of these programs remain critically underfunded. In some states, conservationists are now working for “line item” funding for nongame programs. You may be able to help fund nongame and endangered species research, habitat management, restoration, and acquisition programs in your state by checking off a donation on your state income tax form. Contact your state’s conservation agency to find out which nongame programs exist in your state. You can also help to educate the public about the value of these programs by volunteering to create an advisory council or develop educational programming for your state conservation agency.

To learn of still more organizations that would benefit from your financial support, see the National Wildlife Federation’s 1994 Conservation Directory (information under NWF in the list of organizations above).


Once you have learned about issues affecting migratory birds and have identified some of particular interest to you, you can start making a difference by writing letters to the editors of local newspapers and to local, state, and federal officials. you can multiply your efforts by establishing letter-writing networks and telephone trees among your friends.

Writing letters to legislators about pending legislation on specific issues is always a top priority. But you can also write to support the strengthening of existing laws and funding. Here are a few important topics.

Migratory Bird Management. Wildlife managers should strive to maintain balanced populations of migratory birds throughout large geographic areas, rather than imposing blanket management policies on every area. If, for example, each wildlife area were managed for the edge-loving woodcock, then birds of mature forests, such as Ovenbirds, would disappear.

Also, bird management practices on all public land, including state-run hospitals, prisons, federal military facilities, and property maintained by departments of transportation (highway interchanges, center roadway divides, wide shoulders, rest areas) should take into account the needs of migratory birds.

Federal Appropriations. Congress appropriates funds for migratory bird and other nongame programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and other federal programs. Your senators and representatives need to hear about the importance of these efforts. Here are just a few of the related bills and programs that will come before Congress.

  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): The CRP is a land retirement program that pays farms to remove from crop production highly erodable areas and other land and to reestablish grassland vegetation. Research has shown the benefit of this program to migratory birds — they are 20 times more likely to nest in CRP fields than in crop fields. Thrity-six million acres are managed under this program, and more funding is needed.
  • Wetland Reserve Program (WRP): Also a land retirement program, the WRP encourages farms to reestablish wetland communities on land drained for use in agricultural production, with great benefit to wetland bird species. Farmers’ demand for the program is close to 10 times greater than the appropriated funding will allow. Both the CRP and WRP are important parts of the 1995 Farm Bill.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund: The money in this fund comes from offshore oil drilling operations. It is used by federal agencies such as the National Park Service to purchase environmentally sensitive land. During the 1980s, much of the money was directed toward other operations. Millions of dollars need to be redirected to be used as originally intended.

The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Interior and Related Agencies welcome comments. For details on the above issues and other upcoming appropriations issues critical to migratory birds, and for a list of subcommittee members, write to Jim Waltman, National Audubon Society, 666 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC, 20003.

Fish and Wildlife Diversity Funding Initiative. The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and other conservation organizations have created the Fish and Wildlife Diversity Funding Initiative. If this initiative is approved, state fish and wildlife agencies would receive up to $350 million to manage the 1,852 nongame species no now eligable for such attention. (Currently, these agencies receive $342 million annually to manage 100 game species.) The initiative has not yet gone before Congress. For more information, write to International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Suite 544, 444 N. Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. It is also important to write letters to your representatives and senators urging them to back legislation supporting nongame conservation.

National Biological Service (NBS). The NBS, a new bureau in the Department of the Interior, is designed to gather, consolidate, and organize information about the biota of the United States. Biological surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), previously housed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have been moved to the NBS. Appropriations bills and other legislation related to the NBS will be scrutinized by Congress. Controversy has arisen over the use of volunteers to gather data. Some people are concerned that the rights of property owners could be abused. Currently, NBS is limited to using volunteers only to gather data in existing survey programs. The dedication and professionalism required of volunteers involved in the BBS and the need for more ornithological research are crucial topics for writing letters to legislators.


Writing to elected officials, including the president, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to influence public policy on behalf of the environment. During the two-year term of a congressperson, the House clerk will record your representative’s votes on more than 250 issues. In a very real sense, these will be your votes, too.

Writing letters is easy. Here are some tips put forward by Congressman Morris K. Udall. These suggestions can be used when writing to any public official at any level of government. If you are unsure of who to write about a specific issue, contact local conservation activists, consult the publications with the organizations listed above, or ask for assistance at the reference desk of your local public library. Your library or the League of Women Voters can also tell you who your local state legislators are and give your their correct address.

  • Address your letter properly to ensure your letter is delivered to the right person.

President William Clinton

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable ___________

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable ___________

U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20510

  • Identify the bill or issue. About 20,000 bills are introduced into each Congress, so it is important to ive the bill’s number or describe it by a popular title (for example, “Endangered Species Act”).
  • Make the letter timely. Write your elected officials while there is still time for them to take action.  Some of the periodicals listed under Conservation Organizations (p. 9) alert you when a letter or phone call is appropriate.
  • Focus on your own delegation. As a constituent, your views are most valued by the members of Congress from you locality.  Focus your energy on your House member and two senators.
  • Be Brief. Keep your letter concise.  Try to stick with one issue.
  • Write your own views. A personal letter is more effective than a form letter or signature on a petition. Your representative usually knows what the major lobbying groups are saying, but does not know your personal experiences or observations or how the bill will affect you.
  • Give your  reasons for taking a stand. Your representative may not know all the effects of the bill and what it may mean to an important segment of his or her constituency.
  • Be broad-minded. Try to show an awareness of how the proposed legislation would affect not just the environment, but also your community and other people’s health and jobs.
  • Be constructive. If a bill deals with an important issue but you believe it takes the wrong approach, offer an alternative.
  • Ask for specific action. If your questions or concerns are general (e.g., “I hope you are for clean air”) you will most likely receive a form letter. Ask for specific action, such as cosponsoring a specific bill or supporting an amendment.
  • Share expert knowledge with your representative. No one can possibly be an expert in all fields; many constituents are experts in some of them. Members of Congress welcome expert advice and counsel.
  • Use a personal or business letterhead whenever possible. Include a complete return address on the letter and envelope. Be sure to sign your name over a typed or printed signature.
  • Say “well done” when deserved. Members of Congress appreciate an occasional “well done” from their constituents. And even if you think your representative voted the wrong way on an issue, a constructive letter stating your disagreement may help later on another issue.
  • Some “Don’ts”:
    • Don’t make threats or promises.
    • Don’t berate your representative.
    • Don’t pretend to wield vast political influence.
    • Don’t try to write on every issue that comes up (don’t be a pen pal)!

The letters-to-the-editor section of your local newspaper presents an ideal forum for getting your message to its readers, be they local citizens or members of your congressional delegation. More people read the letters to the editor section than any other part of the paper (except the comics, of course). Here are a few guidelines for getting your letter to the editor printed.

  • Keep your letter short and to the point – 250 words maximum.
  • Writing on behalf of an organization gives your letter more weight.
  • Avoid rambling sentences and big words.
  • Type the letter — double-spaced, one page maximum.
  • Limit the number of points you make, and stay on the same subject.
  • Be as factual as possible without being dull.
  • Localize your letter — explain how the issue will affect your area.
  • Accentuate the positive. When you criticize, propose alternatives or solutions to the problem.

Your letter stands the best chance of being printed when it responds to something recently printed in that publication — a news story, column, editorial, advertisement, or other letter. You can use the reference to the first items as a springboard for stating your case. Your letter can support and expand on news items, make a point that was omitted, or disagree with and correct misinformation in whatever form it appeared.
And don’t be afraid to ask for action — tell readers, including your senators and representatives, what you want them to do. You get their attention by putting their names in the letter and asking for action.

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