Three Fun Ways People Are Spreading the Word on Climate Change

These offbeat projects are raising awareness about climate-threatened birds—and getting artsy in the process.

Talking about climate change and its effects on birds can be a drag. But a bit of creative—or even whimsical—thinking can make the topic engaging and informative, and can empower people to make small but significant steps in their own lives. Read on about three projects in the Audubon network that show new and unexpected ways to get the word out about climate change.

Moonlit Beach Walks, Puppets, and Zine-making in Florida

On Florida’s Gulf Coast, St. Petersburg Audubon Society started Project Shorebird to educate the community about the impacts of climate change on coastal birds. The project includes more traditional elements like training teachers and visiting classrooms, but volunteers also bring a handmade Black Skimmer puppet to community events, where children hold silver fish for the puppet to scoop up and feed to its chicks. Many people don’t realize that skimmers and other shorebirds nest on the beaches right near them, says Andrea Andersen, the climate change chair for the board of St. Petersburg Audubon, so teaching people about the birds around them is the first step to getting them involved.

Project Shorebird also led a series of nighttime beach walks by moonlight to talk about sea-level rise and birds. Last month, the chapter welcomed the advent of shorebird nesting season with procession of 300 paper lanterns lit with glowing LED lights, accompanied by live music along the city’s downtown waterfront. The chapter is planning a zine-making workshop where local artists and college students will create booklets filled with illustrations about climate and birds. Andersen notes that the effects of climate change are not some far-off future for Florida, but are already affecting the state now. “People get it,” she says. “We’re in Florida—climate change is here.”

Homemade Costumes and a Polar Bear Plunge in Maryland

Patterson Park Audubon Center in Baltimore, Maryland, teaches and engages middle school students about climate change through its Green Leaders program. This pilot after-school program teaches scientific basics about global warming and birds, then puts this knowledge into action through activities like planting native gardens and giving presentations to community organizations. One of the students’ favorite props for these presentations is a homemade Baltimore Oriole costume featuring a beaky hat and “wings” attached to the sleeves. Alexa White, co-teacher for Green Leaders, says she was afraid the students might be “too cool” to get excited about the costume. Instead, they fought over who got to wear it.

This spring, the Green Leaders are making a video about climate and birds. To raise donations for the video, the students jumped into the icy waters of the National Harbor outside Washington, D.C., this January as part of the “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge organized by Chesapeake Climate Action Network. The Green Leaders participating (with help from University of Maryland, Baltimore County Shriver Peaceworker Fellows) raised almost $2,000. And yes, someone wore a giant, fuzzy polar bear costume. Also spotted: a young man playing trombone while up to his bum in river water, two gentlemen swimming in bow ties and cummerbunds, and a woman dressed as an oil spill with a long black wig and makeup.

Chalk Art Flash Mob in California

Last month, Golden Gate Audubon Society hosted its second annual Chalk Art Flash Mob in Oakland, California. Just after dawn, dozens of local artists drew vibrant chalk illustrations of herons and egrets on the sidewalks and started conversations with passersby. In the treetops above the drawings, more than 100 Black-crowned Night Herons and Snowy Egrets were busy raising their young.

The Black-crowned Night Heron is climate-endangered—Audubon’s science predicts that only 12 percent of its North American breeding range will remain stable as far as climate suitability. These Oakland herons are under additional pressure from habitat loss and development. In recent years, they began nesting in street trees in downtown Oakland, with no cushion separating the nests from the concrete sidewalks and busy traffic below. Flightless young birds are injured by falls, says Cindy Margulis, executive director of GGAS. Those that survive may be hit by cars, be unable to find food, or become prey to free-roaming cats. The heron parents are likely too spooked by the traffic and noise to fly down to their fallen young.

To protect these city transplants, GGAS started a volunteer docent program in 2014 to keep an eye on the rookery and educate the public toward a greater appreciation of the birds (despite their loud squawks and tendency to poop on the sidewalk). The volunteers scoop up fallen heron and egret chicks, transfer them to local wildlife rehabilitators such as International Bird Rescue, and monitor the colony’s size.