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Something to Tweet About: Protecting Florida's Migrant Birds

Photo: Palm warblers are among the birds migrating between Canada's boreal forest and Florida every winter. Photo credit: Jeff Nadler
Photo: Palm warblers are among the birds migrating between Canada's boreal forest and Florida every winter. Photo credit: Jeff Nadler
May 5, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Most of Florida's "snowbirds" have hopped on I-95 for the drive north. Meanwhile, birds of the feathered variety have done the same, but it's what is greeting them at home that has scientists concerned.

A report released today by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited underscores the importance of protecting the birds' "summer homes" in the North American boreal forest in Canada. Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon Florida, says the report describes important connections for Florida.

"An investment in protecting Canada's boreal forest is also an investment in Florida's winter birds, because they're the same birds," says Wraithmell. "The birds that are breeding in northern Canada are the ones that are wintering here in Florida for us to enjoy."

She says species of popular "boreal" birds found in Florida during the winter include the palm warbler, common loon and ruby-crowned kinglet.

Canada's boreal forest encompasses 1.5 billion acres from Alaska to Newfoundland, and the report, Boreal Birds Need Half, emphasizes the need for at least 50 percent of that area to remain free of industrial development.

Jeff Wells, science and policy director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative, says the goal is achievable, despite all the logging, mining, oil and gas development also taking place in parts of the forest.

"Fortunately, in the boreal forest we have one place where that's much easier to do, because it's still 70 percent intact," explains Wells. "Most of the world is nowhere near even 50 percent intact, in the ecosystems that you're looking at."

When boreal birds winter in the Sunshine State, they play a role in Florida's ecosystem by moving organic matter from the wetlands to the uplands and pollinating various plants, but Wraithmell says they do much more than that.

"The biggest thing that comes to my mind immediately is actually an economic issue, which is that Florida is a tremendous destination for ecotourism," she says.

Every fall, 3 billion to 5 billion birds leave Canada's boreal forest and migrate south. In total, more than 300 bird species rely on the region.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL