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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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United States Legislative Update: Great American Outdoors Act Signed to Law

Posted By Nicole Becich, Monday, August 24, 2020


Assateague Island is a designated Important Birding Area in Virginia and Maryland, home to over 60 pairs of Piping Plover, as well as colonies of Black Skimmers and Peregrine Falcons. Over 400 species can be seen during migration. Photo by: Nikki Becich, DVM

One of the most significant boosts to conservation funding in decades, The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law with bipartisan support in early August. The Great American Outdoors Act will tap into funds from offshore oil and gas drilling (instead of tax dollars) and distribute them to the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Education, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and National Wildlife Refuges to the tune of $1.9 billion a year for the next five years. It will also permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year. This act aims to address maintenance and park-project funding issues, as well as create more and improved recreation opportunities for visitors. As a conservation strategy, promoting and creating accessibility to wild places teaches people to appreciate and love nature, making them more likely to contribute to its sustainable management.What does this act mean for wildlife, or more pertinent to the AAV, avian wildlife? If you are like many US citizens, you may be unclear on what constitutes “public lands” and what their rules for use are. Federal, state, and local governments are all in charge of the management of public lands, which include city parks, state parks, monuments, national parks, and more. Four major federal agencies manage approximately 610 million acres of public land held by the government:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM): 248 million acres or 10.5 percent of all land in the country
  • U.S. Forest Service (USFS): 193 million acres or 8.5 percent of the country
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): 89 million acres or 3.9 percent of the country
  • National Park Service (NPS): 84 million acres or 3.7 percent of the country

Each of these agencies have different rules to govern land use, development, and conservation. Sixty (60) national parks comprise 84 million acres of land used for recreation, culture, and resource management. One hundred fifty-four (154) national forests and 20 grasslands are managed by the US Forest Service, which provide recreation and resource protection, but also timber and mineral extraction and livestock grazing. National Conservation lands comprise 34 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and 155 national monuments also provide habitat protection for many species, and cultural significance for humans. These lands also provide homes, breeding grounds, and migratory by-ways for virtually all North American bird species. Some parks, like Big Bend in Texas and Point Reyes on California’s Pacific Shores, boast over 400 sighted and resident species in their boundaries. Birds are often relied upon by park biologists as “indicator species,” meaning that their health and success are indicative of the conditions and stability of their environment. Avian species under close observation in protected areas act as canaries in the coal mine amidst challenges of overpopulation of other species (like deer, who have lost their natural predators across most of the US), insect pests, and climate change. They define how our ecosystems are changing, and give us answers to how we can best preserve functional ecological communities.

The Audubon Society published a study in 2018 projecting that one-quarter of bird species living in National Parks could be totally different if habitat degradation and climate change continue at their current pace. Managing lands in a robust ecological balance, as so many national forests and parks aim to do, is part of the strategy to mitigate climate change and protect these habitats. Funding them through legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act is a step forward - but we have many more to take to ensure a sustainable future for birds and ourselves.

References

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Neotropical Migrant Safety Part Two: Fledgling Season

Posted By Nicole Becich, Monday, June 22, 2020

Photo credit: Pileated Woodpecker feeding chick by Pennsylvania naturalist Bill Bramble. 

The conclusion of spring migration means the arrival of bundles and nests of fledglings to wildlife centers across North America. Here at the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia in West Virginia, we have Brown Thrashers, Blue Jays, dozens of American Robins, Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Screech Owls, Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Wrens, Northern Mockingbirds, and many others in our care currently. The interns and staff are feeding around the clock, and our soft-release songbird tent outside the clinic is a bustling and constantly attended feeding station. Most admits are victims of cat attacks. Others, “failure to fledge” underweight patients that nearly didn’t make it through our cold snap in early to mid-May. Just yesterday we got a pair of Baltimore Orioles out the door from an unusual May 10th snowstorm. It was a rough start to the season for many birds out east. 

If you are a vet working with pet birds, you probably get asked by your friends, colleagues, and clients constantly what to do if they find a baby bird. Many of you probably know the drill: install a makeshift nest for fledglings if the original one is destroyed or you can’t reach it, and watch for parents to feed the babies. If unfeathered with no option to re-nest, off to rehab. If injured, off to rehab. There are a number of excellent infographics out there to demonstrate how to assess whether a bird is a nestling, fledgling, and how to determine if they’re actually in trouble or just tired and learning to fly. I personally like the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s graphic.

If your clinic does not have connection with wildlife rehabilitators, urge your clients to google the Department of Natural Resources call line in your area or to visit the Humane Society’s database of rehabilitators in the USA.

Keep in mind: These resources are not exhaustive! West Virginia, for example, has a few permitted centers despite the Humane Society page listing us as “unable to rehabilitate wildlife” in the state. The DNR can usually direct clients to organizations to help. 

There are special cases of fledgling behavior it’s important to be familiar with so you don’t accidentally encourage clients to “bird-nap” perfectly healthy fledglings. For example, American Crows have a long and interesting fledglinghood, typically leaving the nest before they are able to fly (like many species), and hanging out in large groups of raucous juveniles through July and even August. If clients believe a crow is injured because it lets them approach and doesn’t fly away, but otherwise look healthy, have them look at the color of the bird’s eyes. Young crows have blue or grey eyes, while adults have black eyes. Similarly bird-napped are Killdeer, who often nest in conspicuous and highly trafficked areas like your local Target parking lot. Their young are precocial, and often get themselves into trouble. If approached, juvenile Killdeer often vocalize incessantly, and people feel compelled to “rescue” them. In most cases, a parent is hiding nearby and will return as soon as the potential human predator leaves the area. Sometimes, mom’s strategy of pretending she has a broken wing and limping away from the nest will keep potential “rescuers” focused on her instead. 

Once you’ve advised your clients on how to identify birds in trouble versus healthy fledglings, your next job is to discuss other big pitfalls for birds: avoiding the use of rodenticide, judicious use of pesticides, and getting rid of glue traps if possible. In our area, glue traps are increasingly set out in areas where invasive Spotted Lanternfly larvae are destroying native flora. An important way to keep glue traps catching only the insect pests they’re meant to is to put fine-mesh chicken wire cages around the traps so birds can’t land on them, and always keep them vertical in locations where herps and mammals are unlikely to encounter them. Encourage your local large, warehouse-type stores to avoid their use in rafters and sheds, where they are most likely to cause harm to wildlife. It’s best to avoid them entirely, as they cause prolonged, painful, and needless deaths for many birds and other small vertebrates. As we’ve talked about in previous Conservation Notes, rodenticides do far more harm than good to animals up and down the food chain, and pesticides can mean death for insectivorous songbirds. Learn more with the following resources, and pass them along to your clients when possible. 

Pesticides: https://abcbirds.org/program/pesticides/
Rodenticide: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/raptors-and-rat-poison/
Glue Traps: https://www.wildlifecenter.org/dangers-glue-traps

Finally, for this and next season, consider a native planting project to provide food for native insects and the other animals that eat them! Choosing native plants for our yards and clinics can restore vital habitat for native birds, and help them adapt and survive in the face of climate change and habitat destruction. My favorite resource is the Audubon Plants for Birds program. You can visit their native plants database to create a customized list of plants native to your area, and connect with greenhouses and online providers to get those plants to your yard for birds. Hummingbirds and other nectivores love flashy plantings, and your clients probably will too. The National Wildlife Federation and American Bird Conservancy also have great resources. 

Visit Audubon’s site and type in your zip code for planting advice and providers: https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
https://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds

Native Planting Tips via National Wildlife Federation: https://www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/about

Twelve shrubs and trees that birds love from American Bird Conservancy: https://abcbirds.org/blog/native-trees-shrubs-attract-birds

You’ve talked about keeping cats indoors, planted up your yard, convinced your clinic to switch from rodenticide to screech owl boxes. All you have left to do is to learn something new about migration for next year, brush up on bird call identification, and establish yourself as a local resource for questions about songbird health and safety. Or, beyond songbirds, all migrants: some shorebirds have very different breeding habits and patterns, and may be leaving your area for their “fall” migration as early as July. Some birds, like Dark-eyed Juncos, have altitudinal migrations instead of continental migrations. Challenge yourself to learn something new each year about the birds around you. Did you know most songbirds migrate mostly at night?

Happy birdwatching and fledgling season to all, especially AAV members who are in the thick of baby season, feeding hungry beaks around the clock! 

Other Resources: 

American Bird Conservancy. “Ten Tips To Help Birds On Their Way.” Accessed online 14 June 2020. 

Audubon Society. “Altitudinal migrants.” Accessed online 14 June 2020. 

BirdLife International. “Migratory Birds & Flyways: Birds Know No Borders.” Accessed online 14 June 2020. 

US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Bird Migration” Circular Report 16. Accessed online 14 June 2020. 

National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association

International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council

Photo Credit: Mourning Warbler by Pennsylvania naturalist Steve Gosser. 

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World Migratory Bird Day, May 9, 2020: Birds Connect Our World

Posted By Nicole Becich, Thursday, April 30, 2020

Photo credits: Map of major bird migratory flyways. Zhen Jin, Avian Influenza Modelling, ArcGIS 2009; Yellow-throated warbler in song by naturalist Pablo Gutierrez Varga, Internet Bird Collection.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Spring migration!

Though many famed birding festivals are being called off this year as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, April and May hold no less magic. Avian conservationists in the western hemisphere have celebrated World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) since 1993 to highlight challenges to population health for migratory birds. To complement our connectivity in the times of global pandemia, 2020’s theme is “Birds Connect Our World.”

Here in the Americas, approximately 360 species of Neotropical migrant birds, ranging from herons to hummingbirds, raptors to warblers, are making their way back north. This time of year is the best for bird watching because so many birds are loud and conspicuous while defending their territory, sporting flashy breeding plumage. Their path each spring and fall is a dizzying demonstration of all the challenges they face across continents and oceans, from human activity, changing climate, unpredictable weather patterns, non-native predators, and more. 

For the Conservation Notes of April and May, I want to highlight several ways that you and your community can help facilitate a safe return and successful breeding season for birds in your area.

1.   Educate yourself and others with freely available technologies!

There are some incredible citizen science tools available to learn about what species are arriving near you and how to find them. Recording species, nesting data, and band numbers for birds provides invaluable data to ornithologists. 

Online

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birdcast gives real-time and projected migratory arrivals: https://birdcast.info/
  • Xeno-Canto is a huge online database of bird calls and sightings ranging the world around https://www.xeno-canto.org/
  • All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) is a great place to start for species lookup, tips on how to begin your birding journey and up your birding game https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/

Phone Applications

  • eBird (free), Merlin (free), and Sibley Guide to Birds (costs USD$20) to use as pocket guides and listing software to log your sightings. Ebird is a huge repository of citizen science data!
  • Seek (free), a futuristic image recognition software to ID birds, the plants and insects they depend on for survival, and everything else, linked to INaturalist accounts https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/seek_app
  • Birdnet (free, Android only/no iphone compatability!), the holy grail of birdsong identification apps in North America, will allow you to record and analyze calls to identify who’s singing in your yard https://birdnet.cornell.edu/

2.   Keep Cats and other pets indoors, on leash, and away from protected wildlife habitat.

  • Birds are particularly susceptible to predation when in breeding plumage, when nesting, and when fledging. Cats kill more than 2.6 billion birds annually in the USA and Canada (between 18-26% of each year’s total individuals of all species). As a veterinarian, your voice is important in the fight to protect bird lives: urge your clients to keep their cats indoors and enriched at all times, and if you can’t convince them of that, at least keep their cats indoors from April through July when most songbirds fledge, and keep them indoors at night when birds are more vulnerable.
  • See 3 billion birds for tips and statistics:
    https://www.3billionbirds.org/7-simple-actions
  • Pass on the “Indoor Pet Initiative” from Ohio State University to clients trying to enrich their indoor cats’ lives: https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats
  • Keep dogs (even leashed ones!) out of sensitive breeding habitat, such as Audubon protected land, dunes and beaches where shorebirds nest on sandy ground, sensitive island habitats, etc.

3.   Turn off lights at night and put up UV tape or decals on windows to decrease collision risk.

Lights out! Did you know that most birds migrate at night? Artificial lights can confuse birds and increase the risk that they will fly into buildings at night. In your personal home or at your veterinary clinic, Audubon recommends these steps to help reduce risks:

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting, extinguish pot and flood-lights, substitute strobe lighting wherever possible, reduce atrium lighting wherever possible, turn off interior lighting especially on higher stories, substitute task and area lighting for workers staying late or pull window coverings, install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible, and more. Learn more at Audubon: https://www.audubon.org/conservation/project/lights-out
  • Learn the best techniques for applying decals and UV-visible tape to windows with the American Bird Conservancy’s anti-collision initiative: https://abcbirds.org/program/glass-collisions/

4.   Lead a bird walk in your area & encourage others to get outside!

  • There’s no way around it: teaching people to love birds is the key to their conservation. Getting people involved in birding is a great way to foster that love. Contact myself (Nikki Becich, AAV Member) if you’d like tips on how to get your clients and friends involved in birding! World Migratory Bird Day is an ideal opportunity to educate people and engage the next generation of conservationists. If your local organization would like to sponsor migratory bird celebrations this or next year, check out the resources available at https://www.migratorybirdday.org/.

Stay tuned for more tips on helping migratory birds in May.

Additional Websites and Resources for Migratory Bird Information:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/the-basics-how-why-and-where-of-bird-migration/

https://www.partnersinflight.org/ 

https://www.flap.org/

https://birdsafepgh.org/ and https://birdmapper.org/app/ window collision mapper 

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Emerging Zoonotic Disease and the Wildlife Trade

Posted By Nicole Becich, Monday, March 30, 2020

Grey-cheeked Parakeet (Brotogeris pyrrhoptera) seized from a raid on suspicious bus cargo in Ecuador. The Pan-American Highway provides an easily accessible route through the Andes to traffic animals from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and other countries into Central America and beyond.


Greetings and best wishes to AAV members during this time of unprecedented change.  March has been a big month for the world, and here in the USA, our trial is only beginning. I know everyone has had their fair share of reading COVID-19 articles by now, but I still want to take a moment to dwell on the topical: the potential for zoonotic disease spread from wildlife. As veterinarians, we know this story well.

By now you have probably seen the reports investigating possible reservoirs for COVID-19. Bats, pangolins, and snakes have all been implicated by various groups, but pointing fingers at a single species oversimplifies the issue. In our schooling, we all learned how pathogens can make the jump between animal and human hosts: changes in the environment, in either host, or in the pathogen itself. It is easy to see how rapid development and deforestation, increasing domestic livestock and poultry reservoirs, and of course, the illegal wildlife trade stress individual animals and expose humans and other species to those they would normally never contact. Wildlife markets and the illegal trade create the perfect storm: the mixing of bodily fluids, offal, and excrement of stressed, overcrowded, ill, and neglected or abused animals invites the mixing of pathogens and increases the chances of mutation. Epidemiologists studying emerging infectious diseases since the late 1800s have found an increased rate of emergence between 1940 and 2004. In 335 cases of novel pathogen discovery over this time, 60.3% of emerging pathogens were zoonotic, and 71.8% of the zoonoses originated in wildlife.

Reports from Interpol and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2016 estimated that the illegal trade in wildlife worldwide is worth around $20 billion, nearly as lucrative as other large-scale organized crime in drugs, arms, and human trafficking. More pertinent to us in the AAV: Birds are the most common contraband. Despite laws attempting to decrease poaching and the illegal trade, the US State Department in 2018 estimated that 2-5 million wild birds, from Asiatic songbirds to neotropical hummingbirds, to our beloved parrot species, to rare Fishing Eagles, are still trafficked to buyers yearly. Not only is this a huge welfare and conservation concern, but now we are living the threat that an emerging zoonotic disease poses to human health. Through programs like UNEP and PREDICT/EcoHealth Alliance, veterinarians, public health officials, biologists, and human medical professionals are monitoring emerging diseases, and it is not a new effort. We have known about the high possibility for a novel, pandemic-level pathogen emerging from wildlife for decades.

We have seen it happen in the recent past, again and again, with SARS, MERS, and other diseases. In 2004, Avian influenza (subtypes subtypes A(H5N1), A(H7N9)) had a stunning mortality rate amongst infected individuals: reports ranged anywhere from 4% to 60% in Southeast Asian countries. The Ebola outbreaks in 2001-2003, and again in 2014, shone light on the risks of bushmeat consumption, and the need for vaccination for humans and endangered great ape populations alike. As we continue to cut further into forests, trawl deeper into oceans, and experience rapid glacial and permafrost melt, we are exposing our species and others to new pathogens, new parasites, and a new paradigm of globalization and progressive climate change. One thing can be certain: COVID-19 may be the worst pandemic we have seen in our lifetimes, but it will not be the last.

So. How can we, as veterinarians, join the effort to decrease the risks of the next pandemic? The EcoHealth Alliance’s PREDICT network divides their actions into five categories: increasing biosurveillance, decreasing deforestation, teaching One Health, funding pandemic prevention and containment efforts, and most importantly, wildlife conservation. Quoted directly from the PREDICT network intro page, “Ecosystem integrity can help regulate diseases by supporting a diversity of species so that it is more difficult for one pathogen to spread rapidly or dominate.” Balanced ecosystems and biodiversity are great shields against the rapid emergence of novel pathogens. Certainly, in a post-COVID world, more funding will be placed into biosurveillance efforts and studies of wild populations that can act as disease reservoirs. It is an unfortunate teaching moment for the rest of the world, and a critical time to decry wildlife trafficking as professionals. In China, policymakers have already taken first steps to decrease and eventually stop the consumption of wild animals in open markets. This will not stop the illegal trade by a longshot, but it is a step in the right direction.

As ever in the USA, make sure to stay up to date on changes proposed to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA). Support valid research and science-based evidence for listing, management, and delisting of species at risk.

Best wishes to all still working hard to ensure the health of their patients and study populations out there. Stay safe and sane, and continue to reach out to fellow AAV members in these trying times!

A sign from the Guatemalan authorities (CONAP) on the edge of the Biosphera Maya Reserve, one of the largest intact tropical forest tracts in Central America.

References:

CITES 2019 Wildlife Trafficking Meeting: “The world’s biggest conference on wildlife trade....” Maron, D.F. and Fobar, R. National Geographic. Accessed online 20 March 2020.

EcoHealth Alliance PREDICT Network. Accessed online 20 March 2020.

UNEP Frontiers 2016 World Report. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Accessed online 20 March 2020.

New Partnerships to Stop Illegal Wildlife Trade. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Accessed online 20 March 2020.

Coronavirus outbreak highlights need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Accessed online 20 March 2020. 

TRAFFIC Wildlife Trade Specialists. Accessed online 20 March 2020. 

World Health Organization Coronavirus Situation Report 2020. Accessed online 20 March 2020. 

Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress: New Laws Regarding Wildlife Trade and Consumption in the People's Republic of China. Accessed online 20 March 2020.

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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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