At Audubon headquarters there’s a big red button near the window looking out over a certain water tower. Every few days someone hits it and a “Bird Alert” blasts out to the whole office. A scramble ensues. When the bird perching atop the tower is a Peregrine Falcon, as was recently the case, most of the staff ends up at the window, sharing binoculars and ID tips.
We love the geekiness of our bird alert. We love witnessing a raptor stake out its own Manhattan real estate. But most of all we love this little reminder in our day that, however else we might differ, we have this one thing in common: a delight, reverence, and passion for birds.
As we explore in this issue, birds foster a powerful sense of community, yet rarely can it be summoned by simply hitting a button. Kids, for example, often find themselves to be the youngest birder on the trail—by several decades. In “The (Before) Breakfast Club,” Ryan Goldberg describes one girl’s revelation that she doesn’t have to go it alone: “There were other young birders out there, in Ohio no less, and they had a club.” Thanks to that first group of intrepid teens, at least 20 young-birder clubs now welcome kids to their ranks.
Elsewhere, birders are finding ways to break down physical barriers. Our Birding Field Guide this month is devoted to practical advice from people with blindness, immobility, and autism who’ve blazed a path into the field and found community there. “Being autistic is very isolating at times,” writes Alysa Joaquin. “In birders I’ve found belonging.”
Birds are at the heart of spiritual communities as well—most prominently in Native American cultures. Eagles are especially sacred; the Zuni in New Mexico consider them to be members of the tribe. But as George Black discovered when reporting “Mixed Blessing”, the demand for feathers for social gatherings such as powwows can also fuel a dark undercurrent of poaching—one that threatens to undermine the very birds being honored.
The pressures facing wild birds, and those of the communities they knit together, are complex—so, too, are the potential solutions. But it’s awfully appealing to hope they might begin with a well-timed alert.
This story originally ran in the Spring 2019 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.