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A Bird's Eye View of Conservation?

07/29/2013 11:43 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2013

While on a recent trip to Portugal, I was lucky enough to get a sighting of the fantastically colorful European bee-eater. While researching more about this bird, I was struck by how many different requirements it has throughout its life. It is a bird that spends spring and summer mostly in continental Europe, but come late summer and fall -- much like Monarchs (the butterflies) -- it migrates to different parts of Africa, depending on where it starts its travels. According to National Geographic, "bee-eaters from Spain, France, and northern Italy cross the Strait of Gibraltar, on their way over the Sahara to their wintering grounds in West Africa. Bee-eaters from Hungary and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe cross the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Desert to winter in southern Africa."

WOW. Think about it: These birds (again, much like Monarchs) face a multitude of adversities during their journey -- predators, bad weather, strong wind currents -- until they arrive at their destination, where they will find mates before flying back to Europe to build a nest to start a family. Throughout this complex life cycle, this multitude of adverse factors can become more severe as a result of climate change. For instance, brush fires and river habitats -- both described as playing important roles in the bee-eater life cycle -- are likely to suffer significant changes.

I couldn't help but think what effects climate change would have on these birds, as well as many other migratory species. We know that many birds in North America are facing trouble due to land changes and habitat destruction, sea level rise, and other disruptions. When one adds migration to the equation, the scale of the problem multiplies -- different conservation laws and priorities in different countries, political inclinations, and human perception can team up with climate change to create an international (unintentional) conservation problem. For instance, what good is it if a species habitat is protected in one end of the migration, but not on the other end? What is the value of the unilateral effort in the long run? Organizations like International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are of major importance when international conservations efforts are needed.

I really don't have an important take-home message. I was just thinking how huge a problem it is to deal with conservation on a multinational scale. Oh wait -- it is a huge problem just in the U.S. But natural wonders, such as the bee-eater, remind us constantly of the importance of perseverance, no matter how difficult.

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