You Can Count on Us

Dependability is the key to success—for birds and journalism.
Two White Ibis walk across green grass, their white plumage contrasting against their reddish-orange beaks and legs. The bird in the foreground clenches a chunk of bread in its beak. Palm trees stand, out of focus, in the background.
White Ibis eating bread thrown out by visitors to a park in Palm Beach County, Florida. Photo: Melissa Groo

“Mommy,” my four-year-old son recently asked me, “will you read me your Audubon magazines?” Heart melted, I immediately dropped whatever pressing Grown-Up Thing I had been doing. “But just a little bit,” he added. “It’s kinda boring.”

To be fair, his preferred author byline is Dr. Seuss. Also, he hadn’t yet seen the photos by Tim Flach that open our Fall 2021 issue—stunning portraits of birdlife in all its varied glory that could absorb even a preschooler’s limited attention span. 

I will offer a strong counterpoint anyway: Bird journalism is not boring because birds are not boring. They are, in fact, endlessly fascinating. They’ve evolved a breathtaking range of adaptations to occupy an extraordinary array of niches. They offer a window into a past we strive to learn from and a future we’re actively shaping. They reflect pretty much every environmental challenge also facing people today.

But birds need the world around them to be a little bit boring. They need dependability—the right resources, at the right time, in the right place. We’re still trying to understand the implications of disrupting those delicate cycles and whether birds will prove resilient.

As senior editor Jessica Leber found, some intrepid White Ibis have gravitated from the degraded Everglades to a more dependable food source—no matter that it’s under suburban picnic tables. After erosion washed away their barrier islands, Common Terns are trying out new nesting sites in Maryland. And the life springing forth in the revived Colorado River Delta hints at the possibilities that restoring a reliable water source can bring.

To survive today, birds also need dependable allies, and well-trained dogs are some of the most steadfast. With their human handlers, these working dogs are unwavering in their commitment to the job. (In contrast, John Williams and Charles Pennock may have done their part for ornithology, but dependable they were not!)

We realize you depend on us​ to help navigate the complex landscape for birds—and to provide tips and ideas for maximizing your appreciation of them. To that end, we have redesigned the Field Guide section of our print magazine to bring you more in-depth advice and a greater diversity of stories

We hope that you agree: It’s kinda exciting.

This piece originally ran in the Fall 2021 issue.​ To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.