Life Support

We’ve constructed a world that caters to humans. There’s still time to learn how to share it.
A massive beaver lodge at the edge of a foggy pond.
Beaver lodges in the thawing Arctic seem to be larger and make ponds that are deeper than typically found to the south. Photo: Brian Adams

It was certainly not what I expected to find while walking home from the candy store. “Look!” my son said, pointing to a black-and-white feathered lump on the sidewalk. “Use the app.” I opened Seek, which we typically point at mushrooms on hikes, and to my surprise it swiftly delivered an ID: Yellow-­bellied Sapsucker. My son seemed to find this answer satisfactory and moved on. But I kept turning the discovery over in my head: Why this block? This building?

These are the kinds of questions Melissa Breyer sets out to shed light on as she patrols Manhattan during spring and fall for window-­strike victims. It’s a dispiriting business, as she writes. Our built environments have created an obstacle course that birds often fail to safely navigate. However, the data collected by Project Safe Flight volunteers like Breyer point to an issue that we understand how to fix.

In our cover story, Ryan Carle and Marcela Castellino are also tracing the contours of a problem decades in the making. The scientists are studying Wilson’s Phalaropes in order to underscore the urgency of saving saline lakes, whose sources have been siphoned off. And in following her neighbor’s cat on his daily peregrinations, features editor Alisa Opar colorfully sketches the stakes of our long-held laissez-faire attitude toward these treasured pets. Though the solutions to all of these things may not be a snap to achieve (catios​ excepted!), they are relatively straightforward.

Elsewhere in this issue we see growing recognition that the best ways to help birds may involve creatively addressing the needs of ­people­, too. In California, Audubon and partners are working with farmers to create seasonal wetlands compatible with agricultural cycles. Land trusts are securing property to be used for both wildlife havens and affordable housing. And rock climbers are ensuring recreational areas benefit athletes and nesting raptors alike

Finally, we present evidence that animals may not wait for us to solve the problems we’ve set in motion. Beavers have taken advantage of a warming planet to move into the Arctic, where they are transforming the tundra. These industrious mammals are building a world more hospitable to a broad range of life—an example that, with ingenuity and resolve, we can follow.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2024 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.