Conservation Note
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The AAV Conservation Committee is pleased to offer our avian conservation blog, “Conservation Note”! Take a look often and bookmark the page https://www.aav.org/conservation_blog. We hope to post new information at least monthly, so if you have bird conservation oriented information that you want to offer to our members contact Nikki Becich at conservation@aav.org.

 

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The Migratory Bird Treaty Act : Help Protect Birds From Industry Casualties

Posted By Nicole Becich, Friday, February 28, 2020

By now, many of you have likely heard of the changes proposed to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s century-old legislation: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Taken directly from the USFWS website: “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a rule that defines the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to provide regulatory certainty to the public, industries, states, tribes and other stakeholders. This proposed rule clarifies that the scope of the MBTA only extends to conduct intentionally injuring birds. Conduct that results in the unintentional (incidental) injury or death of migratory birds is not prohibited under the act.”

Since 1916, the act has helped guide lawmakers, industry, and conservationists, stating that  “it shall be unlawful to hunt, take, capture, kill ... by any means whatever ... at any time or in any manner, any migratory bird”. Until recently, the interpretation of the act has remained unchanged throughout various political tides and administrations, so that companies and industry accrue punishments for individuals killed in accidents of “incidental take,” such as oil spill mortality, waste toxicities, collisions, and many other causes of avian wildlife death. Now, the current administration is proposing a new rule that would eliminate punishments for incidental take, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely result in avian mortalities, as long as they were not intending that their actions would “render an animal subject to human control.” Basically, if they didn’t intend to kill birds with their operations, they are now legally unhindered to do so. The legal impetus to invest in safe industry practices to reduce mortalities would be stripped away.

The Association of Avian Veterinarians seeks to preserve species and their natural habitats, and has adopted the philosophy that veterinarians should take a leading role in preventative care for all the earth. Avian veterinarians are the voice for avian health, welfare and well-being, whether in the wild or in captivity. This new rule strips vital protections from bird populations already facing steep declines, and we should all oppose it.

We should all speak up against these changes. Each and every one of us is able to do so: the public comment period will still be open until March 19th, 2020.

It only takes five minutes to leave a comment!

How do you comment?

The USFWS is not taking direct emails or faxes for comments. Please comment on "Codification of the 2017 Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office Opinion M–37050," Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090. 

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) also has a "petition" action form page that is user-friendly and easy to submit if you'd like to do so through their page after you have left a comment:  https://abcbirds.org/action/petition-mbta  

You can read the AAV’s Legislative Update about the MTBA changes here.

Don’t know what to say about the act? The ABC has a canned-text comment you can use and modify as follows:

I strongly oppose the proposed rule on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to change the definition of "take" and exempt incidental takes from law's prohibitions.

The MBTA is credited with saving numerous species of birds from extinction, such as the Snowy Egret and Wood Duck, and it has protected and benefited the birds that I enjoy. For decades, under administrations of both parties, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has led the way in reducing preventable bird deaths by reasonably enforcing the MBTA and the broad intent of the law and the treaties to conserve the country's native migratory birds from the variety of threats they face. Bird populations are now facing a crisis, with reports documenting a decline of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970, and that two-thirds of the continent's birds are threatened by climate change.

With leadership from FWS, working with industries, state agencies, and NGOs, the MBTA has provided the incentive to adopt common-sense practices that save bird's lives, such as covering oil waste pits or retrofitting transmission lines, and the ability to provide accountability and recovery after events that kill substantial numbers of birds, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This proposed rule, like the Solicitor's Opinion before it, substantially reduces the incentives for industries to adopt these practices, and the resources to recover bird populations and restore habitat after events such as oil spills. As a result, this rule will cause significant long-term harm to the birds that I value and enjoy.

I strongly oppose this proposed rule, and the rushed public process that cannot fully analyze the significant environmental impacts it will cause, and I urge you not to move forward with a final rule that codifies the erroneous Solicitor's Opinion (M-37050).

Thank you, AAV members, for being stewards of wild bird health!

References

“Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Accessed online 20 February 2020. 

“USFWS Soliciting Public Input on MTBA.”  US Fish and Wildlife Service. Accessed online 20 February 20202. 

“Migratory Bird Treaty Act: National Audubon Society v. U.S. Department of the Interior.” Audubon Society. Accessed online 20 February 2020. 

“New Rule Severely Weakens Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” American Bird Conservancy. Accessed 20 February 2020. 

“Supporting Document for Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” American Bird Conservancy. Accessed online 20 February 2020. 

You Can Make a Difference!  

Contribute to the AAV Wild Bird Health Fund - donate today >>

 

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The Australia Bushfires: A Hard Lesson In Climate Change and Fire Ecology

Posted By Nicole Becich, Thursday, January 30, 2020

Pictured: Glossy Black Cockatoos on Kangaroo Island by Photographer Pete Nash. Tabourie Lake, home to wetland and songbird species like the Hooded Plover, burns as residents stand by. BBC Satellite Images of Bushfire Devastation in NSW and Victoria.

On behalf of our members, the AAV has donated $1000 for the avian rehabilitation and habitat restoration efforts. In addition, the AAV Australasian Committee has also committed $2500. 

 

How do we, as humans and veterinarians, respond to climate crisis when it devastates species and habitats the entire world holds dear?

I’m sure that many of you have been asking yourselves questions similar to this while following the Australian bushfires. Fires have been raging in many areas since November of last year, and by now, over 25 million acres (larger than my state of West Virginia) have burned, the end not yet in sight. Because the fight to stop the fires is ongoing, the total impact on wildlife can only be estimated. Scientists say that over 1 billion individuals of various vertebrate species have been lost thus far. Beyond the immediate toll, ecologists are concerned that many habitats have suffered too much damage to recover. Valuable wildlife corridors have been lost, meaning that some populations that have evaded fires face declines in the future. Veterinarians the world around have joined with the government and local organizations to help treat survivors and evacuate animals if possible. Despite valiant efforts, BirdLife Australia estimates that at least 50 bird species and subspecies will have uncertain futures due to habitat destruction and population decimation from this event alone. 

Like we did for the Amazon last fall, let’s first put the diversity of the continent into perspective.

Australia is home to approximately 898 bird species (973 if you count visiting seabirds and vagrants recorded in the country), with over 45% endemism. 56 of these species are parrots (mostly endemic) accounting for nearly 15% of parrot species worldwide. Only about one fifth of Australia is considered forested by the government, and these habitats boast incredible plant diversity and delicate ecological communities. Southwest Australia and Eastern forests of Australia have long been recognized among the most globally important biodiversity hotspots, and in addition to their global status, the Australian government recognizes 15 total areas as critical ecosystems within the country. Virtually none of the 15 have been left unaffected by the fires, though the 5 hotspots located in New South Wales and Victoria, in the southeast corner of the continent, have been worst hit: over 12 million acres have burned and the fires are still not extinguished. Kangaroo Island off the southern coast, home to the majority of the population and a particular subspecies of the Glossy Black Cockatoos, has also suffered greatly.

How did this extreme climate event start? To understand why this year’s fires are so much worse than usual bushfire season events, a basic understanding of fire ecology and rising global temperatures is key. Many habitats require periodic fires and intermediate disturbance to maintain their delicate composition of plants and organisms that support the larger vertebrates we know and love. These fires happen with planned burnings in management areas as humans increasingly become involved in the close monitoring of disappearing natural habitats. Governments and natural resource managers worldwide struggle with fire regimes, especially in times of drought, as fires near human establishments can be dangerous when land is exceptionally dry. In 2019, the continent had experienced its most extreme rainfall deficiencies on record in many areas, which were the worst in eastern Australia at the end of the year. Some areas were not burned as planned due to drought risks, which is one of many factors contributing to the severity of the current bushfires.

Though I’m sure many of you are helping already, funds to firefighters and wildlife centers can be a great way to contribute if you haven’t already done so. The cost of fighting the fires, business and home losses, loss of tourism revenue, and recovery of affected areas ranges between $110 and $180 billion dollars. AAV members who also belong to the Association of Avian Veterinarians Australian Committee (AAVAC) have recommended that AAV members consider donating to Zoo Victoria’s Emergency Bushfire Fund and Taronga Zoo (Sydney) to help their bushfire wildlife treatment programs. The Australian Veterinary Association is also taking crisis donations towards helping all animals, domestic and wild. BirdLife Australia is also taking donations towards both immediate rescue and for planning a scientific effort in the aftermath.

BirdLife AU will be funding the following efforts:

  • Fire emergency teams to check for birds: BirdLife staff and volunteers and partners to survey birds after fires and evaluate how to best support survivors
  • Creating habitat refuges: bringing in proper vegetation, replanting, and setting up support stations for survivors in severely impacted habitats
  • Contributing to recommendations for “People-and-Bird-Safe-Burns”: making sure local governments are appropriately burning lands at regular intervals to safely reduce fuel loads. BirdLife uses the example of low-scorch techniques in areas where Southeastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo feeding trees are present.
  • Making resources available to the public on how they can best turn their backyards into wildlife support areas (by offering water, etc).
  • Citizen Science efforts once fires have subsided to estimate survivors

Finally, if you, as a vet, have tips, products, or protocols for burn treatments in birds, your expertise is needed! Our AAVAC members have suggested that burn treatment resources could be made publicly available on our AAV website for emergency responders in-country to use freely. If you have input, please email me directly at nbecich@gmail.com, and I can help get the information out.

We are one species on this planet, and caring for other species makes ours unique. We all depend on this planet for our survival. The bushfires are one example of how an extreme climate event threatens both human and animal lives; there are sure to be others this decade.

Let’s do our best to work towards a sustainable, better future by helping in the present.

References

“Australia’s 15 National Biodiversity Hotspots.” Government of Australia Environmental Bureau. Accessed online 22 January 2020.

“Drought Statement 2019-2020.” Australia Bureau of Meteorology. Accessed online 22 January 2020. 

 “Bushfires.” Geoscience Australia. Accessed online 23 January 2020.

“Kangaroo Island Natural Resources, Glossy Black Cockatoo.” Natural Resource Dept Australia. Accessed online 23 January 2020. 

“Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World.” Government of Australia Environmental Bureau. Accessed online 22 January 2020.

“Visual Guide to the Australia Bushfires.” BBC. Accessed online 23 January 2020. 

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Loss and Recovery: A Decade of Avian Conservation

Posted By Nicole Becich, Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Photo credit: The Cayman subspecies of the Cuban Amazon Parrot (Amazona Leucocephala), is stable at around 2,000 individuals inhabiting 3 islands. Photo taken through binoculars with a cell phone by AAV member Nikki Becich.

Happy holidays from your Conservation Committee here at the AAV, and best wishes for all in 2020! I hope you’re taking a minute to pause and think back on all the trials and triumphs for yourself, your practice, and avifauna as a whole this past decade. Since 2010 we’ve started to see even more extreme impacts of ongoing climate change and the geopolitics of ecology in the struggles. Not all news has been discouraging, though, and I want to take a moment here to acknowledge the birds we’ve lost and the progress we’ve made in the last decade of avian conservation. According to IUCN Red List And Birdlife State of the World’s Birds Report, one in eight bird species are endangered. Thanks to biologists, lawmakers, and veterinarians like us, though, there are hundreds of conservation success stories of birds brought back from the brink.

Though we lost the Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixi), Brazilian Cryptic Treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti), Poʻouli, a.k.a. Hawaiian Black-faced Honeycreeper (Melamprosops phaeosoma), Brazilian alagoas foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaes), and possibly the Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), Brazil’s Pernambuco Pygmy Owl, (Glaucidium mooreorum), Javan Lapwing (Vanellus macropterus), and the New Caledonian Lorikeet (Charmosyna diadema), there are many other success stories from the past decade to celebrate.

Here are just a few:

Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), New Zealand: 2019 brought a bountiful hatch with massive fruiting of the masting Rimu tree across the country for the first time in 17 years. Despite a setback with an accompanying Aspergillosis outbreak on Whena hou, one of the three nesting islands, the 142 adults produced over 250 eggs, with 72 viable chicks surviving, bringing the population to a record high of 213 individuals.

Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis), Andean Colombia and Ecuador: Fundacion Proaves and partners led a successful publicity campaign that resulted in over 16,000 hectares of land protected, nesting boxes established, and recovery of the population to over 1,200 individuals by 2012.

Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), American Neotropical Migrant: Due to intense international collaboration between breeding habitat in Michigan and overwintering grounds in islands off Florida and the Caribbean, the population has grown from 201 singing males in 1971 to 2,383 singing males in 2015. The species was recently “de-listed” and taken off the Endangered Species list in the USA in October of 2019.

White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensisi), Nepal: After a precipitous (>90% of total individuals) fall in many vulture populations due to the use of diclofenac and other agents in cattle across Eurasia and Africa, Nepalese conservationists have created successful ecotourism around “Vulture Restaurants” over the last decade and half that help provide funding for safe nesting habitat and education programs. 20,000 vultures of various species remain from the estimated 1.6 million individuals before the 1990s.

How can you help make a difference?

If you aren’t participating in a bird conservation story of your own, take a minute to learn about all the ways you can help conservation impacts locally. At the 2019 ExoticsCon conference, we learned from many of our AAZV colleagues (thanks especially to Dr. Sharon Deem of the St. Louis Zoo!) that zoos have and are building “Conservation Psychology” and “Conservation Strategy” departments to address how to spur effective, long-lasting conservation change. I strongly urge anyone interested in this growing field to read “Can Psychology Save the World?” written about how we can change human thinking to better our relationship with nature. Leading a bird walk, setting up feeders around your clinic, considering native planning, and teaching people to love the birds right where they are makes a bigger impact than you may think. 

I hope all of you have heard this quote by Baba Dioum made during an IUCN meeting in 1968. "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." By taking time to learn, love, and teach others about birds around us, we can make a difference wherever we are.

Go forth into 2020 with birdy resolutions at the ready, and all the best to you, your staff, and your clinics! May this decade have more even conservation successes than the last!

References:

Clayton, S., & Brook, A. (2005). Can psychology help save the world? A model for conservation psychology. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5(1), 87-102.

“Recently Extinct Bird Species. Wikipedia. 12 December, 2019. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_recently_extinct_bird_species

“4 Bird Species Extinct This Past Decade…” Smithsonian Magazine. 12 December, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-says-last-decade-4-birds-went-extinct-and-4-more-are-likely-gone

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Feeding Backyard Birds: Helping or Hurting Native Wildlife?

Posted By Nikki Becich, DVM, AAV Conservation Committee Co-chair, Tuesday, November 26, 2019

 

Photo credit: Photos of Chipping Sparrow (left) and Carolina Wren (right), by West Virginia Naturalist and Veterinary Technician Emily Riska.

 

Greetings to all from the frosty end of fall in North America! Winter waterfowl watching trips dot local Audubon calendars, programs like Project Owlnet target migrating Saw Whet Owls for banding, and Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and ever-present Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays are settling in for the winter. A lot of people enjoy birds in these cold months through stocking the bird feeder and keeping an eye on the local avifauna from the warmth of the kitchen window. If you’re getting really fancy, you may even keep a heated bird bath.

Keeping a bird feeder is noted to be one of the ways people feel closest to wildlife in the USA, with 52 million citizens estimated to have a bird feeder or two at home. It is also one of the best gateways into environmental advocacy for the average citizen, according to a survey from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Initiatives for citizen science like Project Feederwatch and Neighborhood Nestwatch center around feeders and visible backyard birds, and are a treasure trove of survival data for migratory species. Despite its power to create positive engagement with birds, wildlife vets and biologists voice their concerns for contagion with feeding, where interspecies exposures occur frequently that may not happen naturally in the wild. The spread of pathogens isn’t the only concern, either. Competition for nesting areas near feeding stations and increased predation by feral cats or natural predators (that Cooper’s Hawk that uses your safflower platform as a fast food pickup) also impact avifauna. Altering bird’s survival by giving a plan B when natural food sources become scarce during migration, and allowing less fit individuals to persist may also increase disease reservoirs in wild populations. Provision of food may change the way some birds migrate, leading some species to stay the winter where they didn’t previously.  The big question is, do all of these impacts mean we should be telling our clients not to put up feeders in their backyards?

Personally, I’m airing on the side of keeping them up. We should all do our part to keep wild birds safe: as vets, we’re in a great position to warn people about proper biosecurity for their feeders. The following are five common pathogens commonly found in feeder visitors. 

 

  1. Mycoplasma gallisepticum - “Finch conjunctivitis”, spread by direct contact 
  2. Trichomonas gallinae - “Trichomoniasis” or “frounce” colloquially, common in Raptors and Columbiformes
  3. Avian Poxvirus - stable from weeks to months in the environment, spread through breaks in the skin or biting insect vectors 
  4. Mycotoxins - from contaminated seed or hummingbird nectar
  5. Passerine Salmonellosis - stable from weeks to months in the environment, fecal-oral spread

Dilute bleach solution and hot, soapy water will be sufficient to clean your feeders and suet cages. Stay away from porous, netlike feeding options like finch thistle nets. Only put out enough food for a day – if food is left over for a day or two then reduce the amount of food to prevent accumulation of rotting food that could become contaminated by shed poxvirus or mycotoxins. Bird baths should be emptied daily, cleaned, and filled with fresh water.

 

If you do see birds affected by mycoplasma or pox lesions, keep an eye on them. Take your feeder down for a while if you note an infected bird to decrease transmission risk to others. Report or catch and bring birds struggling to see or eat to your local wildlife rehabilitator or vet. 

Audubon and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have some great tips about how to diversify and secure your setup for visitors, so you can attract the widest variety of species, offer the most nutritional options, and decrease the risk of window strikes and predation. Enjoy! 

References:

Kress, Steve. “11 Tips For Feeding Backyard Birds.” Audubon News, Audubon Society, 27 September 2011,  < https://www.audubon.org/news/bird-feeding-tips > . Accessed online 16 November 2019. 

Lawson, Becki, et al. "Health hazards to wild birds and risk factors associated with anthropogenic food provisioning." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 373.1745 (2018): 20170091.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. “Backyard Birding and Bird Feeding.” USFWS. 19 February 2016, < https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-feeding.php  >. Accessed online 16 November 2019. 

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3 Billion Birds: What Can The AAV Do?

Posted By Nikki Becich, Saturday, September 28, 2019

 

Photo credit: Long Eared Owl, taken by naturalist Bill Bramble

The Conservation Committee would like to welcome everyone to St.Louis for this year’s ExoticsCon! Registrants, please stay tuned for an email summary of conservation-oriented talks, including Dr.Sharon Deem of the St. Louis Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Medicine Round table on Veterinarian Roles in One Health (3:30 pm on Wednesday, October 2nd). 

Amidst pre-conference excitement, you have likely seen articles concerning the recent Science magazine publication of “Decline of The North American Avifauna.” This massive review of the estimated abundance of 529 North American bird species concluded a loss of 2.9 billion breeding adults across many habitats since 1970. This review used a variety of different reporting methods to make these loss estimates from 50 years of data: satellite activity of nocturnal migrating populations in the last ten years, net-capture monitoring stations, field census of populations and dispersal of individuals, and citizen monitoring of breeding populations. 

The authors have harnessed the power of media to highlight avian conservation actions with the release of their findings. Maybe you have seen the hashtag #BringBirdsBack on social media, or visited the American Bird Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or 3 Billion Birds stand-alone site at https://www.3billionbirds.org/ since the release of the paper just a week ago. Collaborators on the study have offered seven basic actions anyone can take to support native and migratory North American bird species. We would like to highlight those seven points here below, and comment on how the AAV has worked to help keep birds around. 

1. Reduce window and building collisions for migratory birds.

The AAV has collaborated with the American Bird Conservancy in lobbying for bird safe glass and reducing light pollution. Visit ABC’s Bird Friendly Window Solutions to learn more.

2. Keep Cats Indoors. 

Outdoor cats kill more birds than any other non-native threat. The AAV has a position statement on management of indoor-outdoor and feral cats here:  https://www.aav.org/page/feralcats

3. Reduce Lawn by Planting Native Species. 

The AAV encourages members to plant native species and engage in local conservation efforts at home, at your practice, and in your community. Check out advice from your local Audubon on native planting for birds in your area, or search the National Audubon’s Plants for Birds page for tips on how to transform your space. 

4. Avoid Neonicotinoid and Other Pesticides Harmful to Birds, Invertebrates, and Wildlife.

AVMA and the AAV are right now considering their position on House Resolution 1337, The Saving America’s Pollinators Act. Add your voice by contacting AVMA representatives and keeping track of the AAV’s legislative actions

5. Conscious Consumption: Drink Bird-safe Coffee. 

The AAV stresses conservation of habitat abroad for migratory birds, and urges members to choose shade-grown and bird-friendly coffee and cacao. Check out the ABC and Smithsonian’s Bird-safe Coffee Information pages, and order yourself some bird-friendly coffee for your clinic today. 

6. Reduce Plastic Consumption. 

The AAV highlighted the problem of plastic pollutants in oceans and for shorebirds in this May’s conservation note. 91% of plastics are not recycled, and can take 400 years to degrade.

7. Participate In Avian Citizen Science. 

AAV helps lead the nature walk at ExoticsCon every year. Come to Cliff Cave Park at this year’s ExoticsCon (7:30am, Thursday October 3rd departure) and hone your birding skills. Learn about Cornell’s eBird, set up your own account, and start listing anywhere, anytime. 

If you, as an AAV member (technician, student, boarded vet, international members, everybody!) have other conservation issues or actions you would like to urge the AAV to act upon, please come to our open floor member forum and committee meetings Monday, September 30th in REGENCY C from 7:30-9:30pm. 

As invested individuals with expertise in avian health, we are in a privileged position to influence the future of avian conservation. Bring your ideas and enthusiasm to ExoticsCon this year, and we look forward to seeing you at our committee meetings!

References

Rosenberg, K.V. et al. Science. Decline of the North American Avifauna. Published Online 19 September 2019.  
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/09/25/science.aaw1313

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The Amazon is Burning & Other Ongoing Threats to Biodiversity Hotspots

Posted By Nicole Becich, Wednesday, September 4, 2019

 

Many, if not all, AAV members have likely heard something this past month regarding ongoing Amazon deforestation. Whether you are opinionated about the inaccuracies circulating on social media regarding current forest fires versus fires that have been burning for decades, or are invested in your country leader’s place at the G7 summit, or maybe you were totally unaware that the Amazon region proper spans over nine countries (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana), the biodiversity and ecological importance of the region is undeniable. As avian vets, we treat many animals that owe their ecological origins to that region. Of approximately 350 world parrot species (including Macaws), over sixty call South America home, most from the Amazon. The Amazon at large is home to over 1,800 bird species (almost a fifth of all species on earth!), many of them transcontinental migrants, who increasingly find their non-breeding grounds destroyed upon their return. The Amazon covers about 2.1 million square miles of land, which is about 1.06% of the world’s total land area. Though it accounts for such a small area, it is home to almost a third of all of earth’s catalogued plant and animal species. 

The drivers of deforestation in the Amazon are varied across the countries and regions within, but the main trends are as follows: 

 

  • Ever-increasing worldwide demand for commodities like beef, soy, sugar, and palm oil, which expand large-scale agriculture and logging 
  • Government incentives within Amazonian countries that have increased state loans to fund infrastructure development, including roads, mines, and dams, both to national and international companies, with particular interest in those in petroleum and water industries
  • Increased financial power of the private sector due to growing interest in "emerging markets" such as biopharma research and raw material extraction
  • Rising domestic wealth in Amazonian countries 
     

Brazil (60%), Peru (13%), and Colombia (10%) have the majority of the Amazon within their borders, with other countries containing smaller fractions. There are many different ways to measure deforestation, but one commonly used is satellite data, which is what the Brazilian government has used since the 1970s. Brazil’s Amazon specifically has lost approximately 19.3% of its forest cover since 1970 by this metric, but that figure doesn’t account for degradation of habitat. To put current rates in perspective using satellite data, if we use the levels of 2010 forest cover as a baseline, Brazil lost 6% of remaining Amazon forest cover between 2010-2017, and Bolivia is about the same. They may be the countries of greatest concern for deforestation activity in the last decade. Consider these figures in the context of the trend: with greater forest loss accumulating over time, the integrity of much of this habitat has been diminished by what are called “edge effects” (both decreasing diversity of local species and introducing harmful new or invasive species), and the widely discussed deleterious effects of fragmentation. Accelerated loss now may be a lower rate per square miles cleared than it was in the past, but this loss has a greater effect on an ever-more-fragile state of complex and irreplaceable ecology. 

 

The good news? Many local, national, and international groups are hard at work reforesting land that was once pasture. Countries like Costa Rica are leading the way as examples of how preserving biodiversity and reclaiming forests can be beneficial to the country’s pride and economy. Sustainable development practices, like shade-growing coffee in multi-crop farms, or limiting extraction practices for logging, are helping slow the rate of habitat destruction, and providing some species with usable habitat fat the frontier of human-wildlife conflict. Those working at the front lines of Amazon deforestation try to take hope from Costa Rica’s impressive reclamation statistics: from a country that was reduced to 35% of its 1940 forest cover by the 1970s, nearly 17% of that has been reclaimed in 40 years of concerted effort. Native flora and fauna inhabit spaces that were once ranchland: monkeys, macaws, and even amphibians are reclaiming reforested space at a faster rate than scientists, farmers, and locals could have expected. 

 

If you are looking to learn how you can contribute your specialized avian veterinary knowledge to contribute to conservation in the Amazonian region, there are many bird-oriented organizations at work to conserve this incredibly important biodiversity hotspot. We are always at a place to use our professional voices for education and social change. 

 

Other organizations hard at work to spread awareness and spur action to combat threats to the region: 

 

 

References: 

 

  1. “Biodiversity Hotspots”. Conservation International. Article accessed online 20 August 2019. https://www.conservation.org/priorities/biodiversity-hotspots
  2. Myers, Norman, et al. "Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities." Nature 403.6772 (2000): 853.
  3. “Amazon Forest Destruction”. Mongabay. Article accessed online 20 August 2019. https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_destruction.html#
  4. “Amazon Birds”. Mongabay. Article accessed online 20 August 2019.  https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/birds.html
  5. “Top 10 Biodiverse Countries”. Mongabay News. Article accessed online 20 August 2019. https://news.mongabay.com/2016/05/top-10-biodiverse-countries/
  6. “Amazon Rainforest”. Wikipedia. Article accessed online 20 August 2019.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_rainforest
  7. “South American Parrots”. World Parrot Trust. Article accessed online 20 August 2019. https://www.parrots.org/encyclopedia/category/south-american-parrots/ 
  8. “Reforesting the Amazon.” The Nature Conservancy. Article accessed online 29 August 2019. https://www.nature.org/en-us/explore/magazine/magazine-articles/april-may-2016-issue-reforesting-the-amazon/
     

 

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Conservation Advocacy: Legislative Update for the United States

Posted By Nicole Becich, Tuesday, July 30, 2019

 

It’s hot here in the U.S.A. as July takes its toll. We celebrated our independence day some weeks back, which can prompt some of us not usually involved in policy and government to think deeper on the state of our country and its laws. This month, I would like to urge AAV members in the U.S. to set a goal to keep abreast of the state of current legislation affecting wild, domestic, and captive wild bird populations.

 

If you are reading this as part of the international membership, we would love to hear about legislation that is helping or hurting birds in your country, and possibly do a companion piece in the coming months to update other members of important legislation for birds worldwide.

 

Legislation can both be a powerful driver of conservation and can lead to irreversible damage. When we educate ourselves and speak up regarding conservation policy, our voices are often considered “expert” opinions, and can carry some extra weight. Laws and bills can seem overwhelming in scope, and many of us feel out of our element at political committee meetings. Despite these challenges, we must understand that speaking up can make a big difference, especially in the age of social media influence. 


For those of us in the U.S.A., I would like to draw attention to a very recent piece of legislation: the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (House of Representatives, bill 3742), put forth on the 12th of this month. Currently, all 50 states rely on only $65 million in State Wildlife Action Plan grants to fund targeted wildlife conservation efforts. This funding is available through each state’s fish and wildlife (or game) organization, and has to be stretched across funding for over 12,000 species, 1,600 of which are currently listed as threatened or endangered. Of the approximately 1,100 species of birds registered across the 50 states, over one-third are considered at risk. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a proposal to help species that are below the level of extreme conservation measures needed under the Endangered Species Act (which is also suffering from edits and budget cuts; see Recent Attacks on the ESA). It will empower states, territories, and tribal entities with an increased funding of $1.4 billion annually. This funding not only serves to protect at-risk species, but also at-risk habitats that support an $887 billion outdoor recreation economy and funds 7.6 million jobs. It is a sound investment towards a more sustainable future for our natural places and the animals we share them with. 


That’s just one piece of legislation. You want to learn more. Where can you start?

 

  • Contact your state congress and ask them to support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. You can also do so easily online through the Audubon Action Center: HELP birds: Support Recovering America's Wildlife Act.
  • The American Bird ConservancyInternational Foundation for Animal Welfare, and The Nature Conservancy are other organizations that frequently champion legislation that convey positive protection for wild bird species, and fight legislation that harms native habitat and bird populations. Check out their action centers and legislative summary pages in the links above.
  • Learn about veterinary-oriented Political Action Committees that are currently active in Washington, D.C., such as the AVMA PAC and the Humane Society Legislative Fund. Whether or not you are a member of these organizations, you can find committee meetings or contact representatives with your specific concerns for birds. If you don’t know what a Political Action Committee is or does, check out the AVMA web link above to learn why they are an important part of legislative power in the United States government.

 

For information on other current legislation that affects avian species, please see our AAV Legislative Updates posted bi-monthly by our AAV Legislative Committee.  

 

References:

 

Audubon Policy Office, 2019. “Historic Wildlife Conservation Crisis”. Article accessed online 17 July 2019. Audubon Society. <https://www.audubon.org/news/historic-wildlife-conservation-crisis>. 


Conservation Policy Pages, 2019. “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act”.  Article accessed online 25 July 2019. The National Wildlife Federation. <https://www.nwf.org/Our-Work/Wildlife-Conservation/Policy/Recovering-Americas-Wildlife-Act>. 


United States Congress, 2019. “H.R. 3742”. Article accessed online 25 July 2019. United States Congressional District.  <https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3742/cosponsors?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR3742%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=1 >. 

 

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Answering the Call: Avian Veterinarians in Conservation Medicine

Posted By Nicole Becich, Friday, June 28, 2019

Dr. Pilar Fish with Andean Condor

 

June greetings to all AAV members from the Conservation Committee! Here in North America, the month is heating up. Juvenile birds are arriving in droves to wildlife centers, and we’re in closer contact with other groups invested in avian health and medicine than in winter months. Summer for many biologists, zoos, and wildlife rescue centers means field season, the peak of insect-borne disease season, nestling season: a time of increased need for veterinary input on matters of wild and captive-wild avian health. As veterinarians, our input is vital to the success of many of these groups, as is their knowledge of our deeper understanding of avian health challenges on a local and global scale.


In the theme of insect-borne disease, veterinarians in Pennsylvania and West Virginia have recently been involved in identifying how zoonoses such as West Nile Virus (an Arbovirus first identified in the USA in 1999) are responsible for rapidly declining Ruffed Grouse populations. This problem is one of many examples of how as a vet, even if you are not involved in avian clinical or field research, you can help train diverse groups (ecologists, grouse hunters, government wildlife officials) surveying a population on proper sample collection, storage, and submission. On the clinical research side, further development and testing of West Nile Vaccine protocols in various avian species could provide an invaluable conservation tool. 


During natural disasters and large-scale wildlife disasters, vets also play central roles. Avian veterinarians from all parts of the world rallied to aid abandoned Lesser Flamingo chicks during a severe heat wave in South Africa earlier this year; without the collaboration with rehab facilities and local governments, none of the almost 2,000 chicks would have survived. No less than 537 vultures of five species were killed in Botswana earlier this month after ingesting elephant meat poisoned by poachers. Developing emergency treatment protocols for raptors with anticoagulant rodenticide toxicity, vultures with NSAID toxicity, lead toxicity, and others, and then sharing those protocols with groups attempting rescue efforts can save avian lives on large scales. 


The examples go on. Researching safe ectoparasite control methods for insect larvae decimating warblers and finches on the Galapagos Islands could help save irreplaceable island endemics. Training biologists in safe capture and wing tagging in vultures, safe avian microchipping techniques for long-term population monitoring, and helping zoos and sanctuaries write biosecurity and quarantine protocols for species coming from different continents are all tasks avian veterinarians could lead. The challenges in designing transcontinental, multi-species exhibits in zoos to limit endoparasitic exposure to  Sarcocystis sp. and Capillaria sp. that affect taxa differently, or training parrot shelters and sanctuaries on the risks of Pacheco's and Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, call for the input of avian vets. We are needed at all levels of safe wildlife and captive-wild avian management. 


If you are from ANY country and want to get involved with avian conservation medicine:

  • Volunteer for the International Foundation for Animal Welfare for communities in need and learn how you can help wildlife and domestic animals in the event of natural disasters. https://www.ifaw.org/africa/programs/disaster-response
  • Help train veterinarians in areas without access to residencies, internships, and specialty programs in avian medicine!
  • If you speak multiple languages, visit areas where you can put your skills to work.  Check out this article by AAV member Dr. LoraKim Joyner: https://lafeber.com/vet/ten-things-every-avian-veterinarian-should-know-about-conservation-medicine/
  • Donate supplies and time to provide additional diagnostics and treatment options to clinics in areas in need. 
  • Network within the Association of Avian Veterinarians to find projects looking for veterinary volunteers. Contact the Conservation Committee, Research Committee, or International Committee. Contact Now>>


From the USA specifically: 


References:

 

 

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Island Biodiversity Threats – Taking Action

Posted By Julia Ponder, Thursday, June 6, 2019

Galapagos hawks

Photo credit: Galapagos hawks by Dr. Julia Ponder.

Left: Perched on Dr. Ponder's lab/research notebook with supplies nearby; Center: Adult, close-up; Right: Juvenile.

 

By: Julia Ponder, DVM MPH, Executive Director, The Raptor Center,

Principal Investigator, Partners for Wildlife,

University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine

 

Just a few weeks ago, the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services starkly warned that we are facing an unprecedented loss of biodiversity and it is happening at an accelerating rate. A million species are threatened with extinction, a biodiversity crisis of immense magnitude.  While this is a global phenomenon, islands bear greater than their proportionate share of contemporary extinctions. Although accounting for only five percent of the earth’s land mass, islands harbor extreme endemism and unique species; 19% of known avian species are confined to islands and over one-third of the IUCN threatened bird species are endemic to islands. Ninety percent of the avian extinctions that have occurred in the past 400 years were on islands.

In the Global Assessment Report, invasive alien species were ranked as one of the top five drivers of the biodiversity crisis. They are particularly relevant on islands with 86% of recorded extinctions on islands linked to invasive species. In particular, four species of rodents (Rattus rattusRattus norvegicusRattus exulans and Mus muscularis) have been introduced to islands around the world, precipitating population declines, causing extinctions and altering ecosystems. Eradication of invasive rodents from islands is an increasingly used strategy with important conservation outcomes for biodiversity. The most common eradication methods utilize broad scale delivery of a second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (in particular – brodifacoum) in cereal bait. Rodents have been successfully removed from over 831 islands.

While the elimination of invasive rodents on islands has been shown to have positive impacts on endemic species and ecosystems, the use of this tool presents a dilemma. We can solve one problem (extinction risk) by permanently removing rats on islands, but there are penalties to be paid – some known, others we cannot forecast. Brodifacoum is non-specific and highly toxic to both mammals and birds, which can be exposed through both primary and secondary exposure pathways. Reducing risk to non-target species requires careful planning and significant resources. Tactics used include avoidance of risk (bringing non-targets into temporary captivity), minimization of risk (rodenticide choice, bait characteristics, bait application methods) and mitigation of impacts (increasing population resilience, providing alternate food sources or antidote). Despite best efforts and planning using the best available knowledge, uncertainty exists in predicting all possible outcomes. And because uncertainty can lead to negative impacts, it needs to be accounted for in planning, particularly when endemic or threatened species are involved.

Consider islands with endemic species – there are well-documented successes that have saved species and there are undoubtedly situations where the consequences are unknown. Post-eradication monitoring varies tremendously and is critically needed to identify negative outcomes. Project plans must have built-in systems for intervention and adaptation when the unexpected happens and project managers just be prepared, committed and adequately resourced to take quick action. Eradication projects should only proceed if ethical discussions between conservationists, governments, local communities and other key stakeholders are open, honest and transparent, identifying risk and the potential cost of brodifacoum use.

Until more specific and safer rodent eradication tools are developed, the race in time against extinction will have to be balanced against the risk of doing harm. As scientists and veterinarians, we are in a unique position to educate ourselves and bring informed perspectives to the highly charged conversations about this critical conservation work. There is no one simple answer. Each situation must be critically assessed for risk, benefit and, most importantly, uncertainty.

References:

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Earth Day 2019: Protect Our Waterways, Protect Our Species

Posted By Heather W. Barron, Tuesday, April 23, 2019

 

As I write this Conservation Note, it is Earth Day, 2019 and the theme is “Protect Our Species.” It’s been nearly 50 years since the first earth day in 1970. In that time, we’ve seen some changes for the better, like the introduction of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, but also some changes that are less encouraging. One thing is abundantly clear, humans are not being good enough stewards of wildlife. We are amidst the largest period of species extinction in the last 60 million years. Normally, between one and five species will go extinct annually. However, scientists estimate that we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate, with multiple extinctions daily! Forty percent of the world’s bird species are in decline, with 1 in 8 being threatened with global extinction. Water pollution is one of the things contributing to these steep declines in global wildlife diversity.


Clean water is critical to sustaining environmental, human and animal health. Worldwide, over a million people are killed every year by polluted water, making it the leading cause of sickness and death in humans. But the cost to wildlife and domestic animals is largely uncounted. It is estimated that 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste are discharged into U.S. waters annually. As a result, over 40% of U.S. rivers (and in Florida, over 97% of bays and estuaries) are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life. Not surprisingly, aquatic animals have faced an estimated extinction rate five times greater than that of terrestrial animals.


The United States is experiencing a massive and multi-pronged attack on federal environmental statutes, regulations, enforcement, and funding by our government. The Clean Water Act is particularly under threat and the comment period on the proposed changes ended last week. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the new rules will remove federal protections for 18% of stream and river miles and 51% of wetlands in the United States, putting protections at their lowest levels since the Reagan administration and leaving millions of Americans and an untold number of animals vulnerable to polluted water. Despite the administration’s claims, the proposed Waters of the United States rule would not simplify the regulatory process or provide any clarity for farmers. It would just give industries greater license to pollute our waters with impunity. Voice your displeasure to your elected officials now and pressure them to stop this One Health disaster.


If you'd like to get more involved with local clean water efforts and legislation, check out federal and local laws on water quality protections, local plans to address chemical and oil spills, and local river or watershed stewardship groups. The links below are a good starting point. Educate yourself and your clients on eco-friendly waterway use, and be aware of potential polluters near you.


"Clean Water Action." Accessed 23 April 2019. https://www.cleanwateraction.org/

 

"Environmental Protection Agency: Clean Water Act Summary." USA EPA Website. Accessed 23 April 2019. https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act

 

"Freshwater Habitat Sensitivity to Pollutants." USA EPA Website. Accessed 23 April 2019. https://archive.epa.gov/emergencies/content/learning/web/html/freshwat.html

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