Today, I can walk outside my suburban home and see bald eagles nesting around the local reservoir. Just a few years ago, that would have been virtually impossible.
Once a common sight, by the 1960s there were only a few hundred bald eagles left in existence in the United States. Tragically, our national symbol was on the brink of extinction, and it wasn’t alone.
Ospreys, peregrine falcons, California condors, pelicans, and many other birds were decimated throughout the latter half of the 20th century. These birds were the victims of widespread use of DDT, a pesticide which thinned their eggshells, making it impossible for them to reproduce. Thankfully, just before many amazing species of birds went extinct, Congress and the White House stepped in to create the first Endangered Species List in 1967.
This year, the Endangered Species List will be 50 years old, and according to a recent study by the Center for Biological Diversity, 85% of the US Continental birds that have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, have stabilized or populations have significantly increased. In fact, the average increase was a whopping 624%.
It’s sobering to think of what would have happened had the Endangered Species Act not been enacted. Today, the most visible results of the Endangered Species Act successes are the many birds that fly overhead through rural villages, towns, and big cities across North America.
Like the canary in the coal mine, birds tell us when our surroundings have become toxic or are healthy. Birds are good indicators that the land we live on can support wildlife and human life. Birds also enrich our spirit, give us joy, and bring the natural world –too often thought of as existing off in distant wilderness–closer to us.
Along with the increase of endangered bird populations, the numbers of birdwatchers have significantly increased as well. In fact, CBS News highlighted that birdwatching was the second fastest growing hobby in the United States, and a recent US Fish & Wildlife study found that 48 million people are bird-watchers, and that number continues to grow.
The best part about birdwatching is that anyone can do it. There’s no need to spend a lot of money or book an expensive trip. Just pick up a bird field guide or download a free bird guide app, install a bird feeder in your backyard, or go birdwatching in your nearest park. It’s greatly rewarding because it inspires kids and the whole family to go outside and connect with the natural world.
Once you start birdwatching, you will discover some of the most beautiful, colorful, and diverse wildlife on the planet, and you’ll surely want to keep looking for more. Get out there, the eagles, hawks, owls, seabirds and songbirds are waiting!