Top Audubon Stories of 2022: Conservation and Science

Audubon protects birds, people, and the places they need to live and thrive. Here, a look back at a selection of our conservation and science achievements from the last 12 months.

Throughout 2022, Audubon continued its rich tradition of advocating for and securing the space, clean air, and clean water that birds and people need to live and thrive. This past year, Audubon and the Audubon Action Fund helped more than 150,000 people make their voices heard, fighting for stronger climate actions in the Inflation Reduction Act, for Lights Out and Native Plant proclamations in cities across the country, for coastal community protections and natural infrastructure that also supports bird colonies, and for better water policies across the West. Audubon staff, chapters, and partners worked on the ground to protect and restore vital habitats and natural spaces.

Read on to learn more about Audubon’s most important conservation and science achievements across the hemisphere this year!

Audubon Launches the Bird Migration Explorer and Brings the Joy of Migration to Everyone

One of the most exciting things to emerge from Audubon’s Science team this year is the Bird Migration Explorer, an online interactive platform that showcases everything scientists know about the migrations of more than 500 species of North American birds. Not only that, the Bird Migration Explorer highlights threats to birds—and where those threats are—for each species. Since its launch in September, more than 150,000 people have checked out what the Explorer can do.

Audubon’s Seabird Institute Reports Dramatic Increase in Fledged Puffin, Guillemot, and Tern Chicks

This year, Audubon’s Seabird Institute reported that twice as many seabird chicks survived the summer and fledged from their nests along the coast of Maine compared to last year. This exciting success rate, featured on the Today Show, is much closer to what’s considered normal for Maine’s seabird colonies, following a steep decline last year as climate change dealt a blow to nesting birds like Atlantic Puffins and Common Terns. The welcome news comes from the Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group, a group of scientists from Audubon’s Seabird Institute, state and federal wildlife agencies, and other conservation groups that monitor and protect seabirds from Massachusetts to Canada.

Audubon North Carolina Restores Vital Bird Nesting Island in the Cape Fear River

Ferry Slip Island is typically home to large nesting colonies of Royal Terns and oystercatchers, but the island has been eroding away in recent years. Last spring, Audubon partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers to nearly double its size using dredged sand from the river. Within weeks, nesting birds returned to the open, sandy habitat of the island, including the first pair of nesting Black Skimmers on the river in a decade.

Largest Ecosystem Restoration Project in U.S. History Ready for Construction

The final permits are now in place to build the long-awaited Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, an epically large coastal restoration project in south Louisiana that will reconnect the Mississippi River with its sediment-starved wetlands. This milestone caps off decades of state planning and engineering, as well as science and advocacy by Audubon Delta and our partners in the Mississippi River Delta Coalition. Construction is set to begin next year, and once complete the project will build up to 27 square miles of land in the state’s Barataria Basin by 2050. The diversion is a core component of Louisiana’s 50-year $50 billion plan to shore up its coast against erosion, sea-level rise, and long-term effects of the BP oil spill.

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Releases Reach Historic Milestone

This summer, the 500th captive-reared Florida Grasshopper Sparrow was released into the wild. This sparrow is endemic to Florida and spends its entire life in dry prairies, which used to cover a much larger swath of our state. Between 2000 and 2019, biologists noticed a sharp decline in sparrow numbers, from more than 1,000 to perhaps less than 100 individuals. Thanks to the released birds, the future is brighter for this beautiful sparrow.

Audubon Researchers Report New Understandings in How Land-Use and Climate Change Affects Birds

Using CBC data that goes back 90 years, Audubon scientists were able to tease apart the different effects that land-use change and climate change have wrought upon bird populations. The study shows that climate change is a strong, driving force that explains how different kinds of birds have moved and where they live across the eastern United States. Changes in land use, such as converting native grasslands to farmland and destroying wetlands, has had an outsize influence on the birds that rely on those habitats at the local level. This demonstrates  that local conservation actions are a powerful way to positively affect bird populations overall.

Great Lakes Piping Plovers Have Record Breeding Season

The Great Lakes population of endangered Piping Plovers had a breeding season for the record books thanks to many organizations, partners, and volunteers working to protect them. This year, 150 chicks fledged in the wild, the greatest number of chicks fledged since the population was listed as federally endangered in 1986 and halfway to the recovery goal. Audubon Great Lakes also launched an engagement and outreach pilot program aimed at educating Michigan beachgoers about the importance of sharing the shore with our beloved plovers. The public was encouraged to take the Plover Pledge, which entailed a promise to keep dogs off nesting beaches, carry out trash, give plovers space to nest and rest, and spread the word about sharing the shore. The program was a success, gathering nearly 500 pledges of people joining a united effort of "good eggs" taking action for birds. 

Audubon Great Lakes worked with partners to monitor the population of Piping Plovers at Cat Island in Green Bay, WI. This year the site successfully fledged 11 wild chicks out of 12 chicks that hatched, which is an impressive 92 percent fledge rate.

Audubon Americas Helped Support Mangrove and Coastal Wetland Conservation and Sustainable Management in Panama and Chile
Science is at the heart of Audubon Americas Coastal Resilience projects, and two core countries are leading the Americas pack: Panama and Chile. The Blue Natural Heritage project in Panama, in partnership with the Panama Audubon Society, validated a methodology with the Ministry of Environment for the measurement of blue carbon in mangroves, to be accounted for separately from inland-forest carbon. This US$2.3-million project, backed by the United Kingdom's Blue Carbon Fund and administered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), initiated its implementation through the establishment of monitoring units in the Bay of Parita pilot site (which is crucial for migratory birds, like the Panama Bay) and carrying out the corresponding laboratory analysis to determine the existing carbon stock.

Further south, in Chile, Audubon Americas is advancing the implementation of a Conservation Action Plan for the Rocuant-Andalién IBA, Concepción, by supporting efforts to reduce human disturbance and strengthening partnerships for shorebird conservation with strategic partners and the Chilean Government. On a similar note, Audubon Americas Chile recently started a partnership with the Fundación Cosmos to work at the Humedal del Río Maipo Natural Sanctuary, also an IBA, during 2023. This is one of the key sites for migratory shorebirds and other resident bird species.

Audubon Delta Helps Restore Least Tern Breeding Habitat

This past April, Audubon staff, volunteers, and Gulfport High School students restored habitat along a stretch of recreational beach in Harrison County, Mississippi. The work took place in a globally recognized Important Bird Area in Gulfport which is vital to the life cycle of a small but mighty bird, the Least Tern. Every summer the IBA hosts between 400 and 500 pairs of breeding Least Terns. Thanks to a grant from Restore America’s Estuaries, who partnered with Citgo Petroleum, a total of 2,500 new beach plants were installed to help stabilize the mainland beach habitat. Audubon Delta worked in partnership with Gulfport High School to provide a field-based opportunity to students who were eager to help build back their community’s resilience. In addition to the plantings, Audubon designed and produced “Dune Restoration” signs that will stay up year-round to protect the new vegetation and habitat.

Lights Out Gains Momentum Across the Country

Lights Out continues to gain momentum across the country, with several city and statewide programs launched this past year to ensure safer skies for birds, thanks to the work of Audubon chapters and state teams. The network now includes more than 40 cities, with the following recent additions: Greensboro, NC; Harrisburg, PA; Miami, FL; Nashville, TN; and regional efforts in Connecticut, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and the Dakotas. With the recent launches, we now have Lights Out efforts underway in 18 out of the top 20 cities most threatened with light pollution.

Lights Out For Birds in Colorado

Last spring, Colorado Governor Jared Polis proclaimed April 2022 Lights Off for Bird Migration Month, just one year after the launch of Lights Out Colorado, which was started by Audubon Rockies, Denver Audubon, and International Dark-sky Association–Colorado.

Chapters pass five local Lights Out policies in North Carolina

Momentum is growing for Lights Out programs across North Carolina, thanks to advocacy from local chapters and campus chapters. Since last fall, five North Carolina cities—Asheville, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Matthews, and Raleigh—have adopted Lights Out programs to darken the night skies during migration.

Lights Out, Texas! campaign 

Earlier this year, Audubon Texas became the lead facilitator for the Lights Out Texas campaign. The state office worked with partners to produce all new outreach and social media toolkits, Spanish language resources, and much more. Due to that investment, #LightsOutTexas messages since the beginning of fall migration have reached more than 6 million people online.

Chapters involved in Lights Out work in 2022 include Wyncote Audubon (PA), Valley Forge Audubon (PA), Houston Audubon (TX), Bexar Audubon (TX), Tropical Audubon (FL), Appalachian Audubon (PA), Menunkatuck Audubon (CT), Cumberland-Harpeth Audubon (TN), Mesilla Valley Audubon (NM), Tucson Audubon (AZ), Sonoran Audubon (AZ), Desert Rivers Audubon (AZ), Maricopa (AZ), UNC Asheville Audubon on Campus chapter (NC), Blue Ridge Audubon (NC), and T Gilbert Pearson Audubon (NC).

Audubon Conservation Ranching Now In 15 States

As illustrated by the 2022 State of the Birds Report, the decline of grassland birds continues to be precipitous, and grassland habitat and grassland birds are in desperate need of conservation solutions. After several years of piloting in the Great Plains, Audubon Conservation Ranching launched nationally in 2017. Today, 99 ranches, covering 2.7 million acres across 15 states, have met bird-friendly standards, and 166 retailers carry products with the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal, which informs consumers that the beef and/or bison products  grazed on lands managed for birds and biodiversity. Audubon’s partnership with Panorama Organic Meats is a big market leap in connecting consumers with grassland conservation.

Audubon Connecticut Restores Critical Marsh Habitat Along Long Island Sound

This year Audubon Connecticut completed the Great Meadows Marsh restoration project, restoring eight acres and creating 12 additional acres of high marsh habitat. The restored tidal marsh, which contains the largest block of unditched salt marsh remaining in Connecticut, provides healthy habitat for horseshoe crabs and blue crabs, the beautiful and endangered Marsh Pink flower, Saltmarsh Sparrows and other migratory birds, and fish like Atlantic Silverside and Menhaden.

Audubon Dakota Protected Vital Prairie Habitat

By providing financial and technical assistance through the Prairie Management Toolbox, Audubon Conservation Ranching program, the Edward M. Brigham Alakali Lake Sanctuary, and the Conservation Forage Program, Audubon Dakota improved wildlife and bird habitat on 63,941 acres.

Connectivity, Science, and Regenerative Agriculture Provide Key Insights and Paths Forward in Colombia
In support of regenerative cattle ranching in Colombia, Audubon published “Cattle Ranching for Birds,” a practical and beautiful manual for ranchers and extensionists on how to plan land use to increase productivity while preserving birds and biodiversity. In parallel, this year Audubon worked on identifying the best trees and shrubs that benefit birds for restoration projects and implementation of bird-friendly practices and supported two community-led nurseries that will supply the demand for these plants while improving local livelihoods. Audubon is working with more than 10 local partners across Colombia to ensure our work is included in regional conservation and sustainable development projects.

To better understand bird movements across Colombia, Audubon Americas deployed a Motus monitoring system for migratory species, tagged 10 Lesser Yellowlegs and installed two towers in the Cauca Valley. Audubon also adapted the Bird Friendliness Index (BFI) from the Working Lands program in the United States to be used in Colombia, with the first results of monitoring data combined with BFI calculations to evaluate the potential of artificial wetlands for waterbirds while increasing productivity and profit for farmers.

New Naturalist Program with Audubon Rockies Supports Conservation in Wyoming

In 2021, Audubon Rockies co-launched the Wyoming Naturalist Program with the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute. This year, the second cohort completed their training and work. So far, 40 people have completed the initial training and contributed more than 1,250 hours of service to conservation projects throughout Wyoming, estimated to be worth more than $35,000 of work.

Restored Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary Has Great Nesting Season

Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary had a successful inaugural nesting season, hosting 500 nests on the newly restored island and withstanding two strong storms. Using dredged sediment from Charleston Harbor, the state of South Carolina restored this eroding rookery island last year, adding 32 acres of new habitat.The newly restored island provides $1.6 million in storm protection savings to the nearby community, and $5.18 million in recreational and tourism value to the area. Audubon South Carolina helped raise the funds for the island's restoration, assisted with monitoring nesting birds, and led stewardship efforts of the island.

Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Brings 1,000 Acres Under Restoration

Staff and contractors at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary have completed the first phase of restoration on more than 1,000 acres of wetland habitat. Launched in 2018, the project addresses the spread of nuisance, native woody shrubs in freshwater wetlands. These marshes and prairies, once dominated by diverse grasses and sedges, provided habitat for a range of wildlife species, from the tiny least killifish to the threatened Wood Stork. Before restoration, Carolina willow and other woody shrubs replaced those grasses, taking advantage of altered seasonal water conditions and a lack of fire. 

Audubon North Carolina Launches Coastal Resilience Projects with Conservation Grants

The North Carolina Land and Water Fund has awarded two grants totaling more than $400,000 to Audubon North Carolina for habitat restoration projects in the Cape Fear River and at Audubon’s Pine Island Sanctuary on the Outer Banks. The projects will protect and improve important bird habitat while also providing storm protection and water quality benefits for people.

Audubon and Partners Launch Project to Track Declining Golden-winged Warblers

With partners across the East Coast and Great Lakes, Audubon began a years-long project to gather movement data on Golden-winged Warblers. Using tiny devices called nanotags, researches will get an unprecedented look into the movements of this rare bird.

Audubon Great Lakes Restores Critical Chicago Waterways and Wetlands

Audubon Great Lakes and the Forest Preserves of Cook County restored more than 100 acres of wetlands by reconnecting Powderhorn Lake to Wolf Lake in the Calumet region in Illinois. The connection will restore the historical hydrologic connections between the two waterways, helping to reestablish the vital marsh habitat. The connection will also allow fish to move between lakes, bolstering populations of game and non-game fish including Northern Pike. This marsh habitat will also reduce flooding and help ensure a resilient future for the wildlife and people who depend on the region.

Audubon Study Shows That Even Small Urban Wetlands Support Many Bird Species

In a three-year study, Audubon and Illinois University scientists found even at scales as small as the footprint of a house, urban wetlands support many wetlands bird species. More than 90% of wetland habitat in Illinois has been lost to development and conversion to agriculture. This may lead wetland bird species to concentrate in any remaining wetlands. More research will be needed to see how successfully they’re breeding to ensure their continuing presence in the state. To that end, the Audubon Great Lakes’ Marsh Bird Monitoring Hub is collecting and sharing wetland bird data with land managers and the public to promote wetlands restoration and maintenance in the region. Working with land managers is critical to bringing vulnerable marsh birds back, and it's encouraging to know that our efforts can make a difference even in heavily impacted and urbanized areas.

Audubon Great Lakes Tracks More Black Terns to Understand Population Trends

Researchers at Audubon Great Lakes have been using small tracking devices called NanoTags to study and understand what is driving the decline of Black Terns and to develop conservation strategies that can help bring these elegant marsh birds back. This year, Audubon Great Lakes researchers found that 43 percent of tagged chicks were detected flying past multiple tracking towers along their migration, confirming that the chicks had successfully fledged; this is double the observed fledging rate using traditional observation techniques. The tagging effort also showed that national wildlife refuges along the Atlantic Coast are important stopover points for this species, highlighting the importance of protection and management of these areas for Black Terns in particular. Finally, this year Audubon Great Lakes constructed three additional tracking towers in Michigan to help more accurately detect Black Tern chicks as they fledge and depart their hatching grounds.

Audubon Vermont Launches Bird- and Bee-Friendly Farm Program

Audubon Vermont has started a Bird and Bee Friendly Farming program to advance its efforts to engage with farmers in creating, enhancing, and protecting bird habitat on farms. While still a relatively new program, Audubon Vermont have had success working with partner organizations and local farmers in testing and demonstrating practices that are good for birds and the places birds need to thrive, while also recognizing the economic challenges facing farmers, and other practical, on-the-ground challenges.

Audubon Supports Restoration at Audubon Certified Ranch

Audubon Conservation Ranching staff helped secure National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding to enhance soil and reseed native plants on a degraded pasture of the Rafter W Ranch, an Audubon Certified bird-friendly ranch in Colorado. These restoration techniques are intended to help the ranch retain water, which should increase its drought resilience and biodiversity in the long-term. Monitoring during the first growing season has already found increased plant growth and reduced soil compaction.

Audubon Mid-Atlantic Helps Build New Tern Nesting Platform in Maryland

The artificial nesting project along Maryland’s coast—a collaboration among Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Audubon Mid-Atlantic, and Maryland Coastal Bays Program—produced a highly successful Common Tern colony this summer. Now in its second year, the partners built a floating wooden-framed platform for use as a nesting site for endangered colonial waterbirds whose historic nesting sites have been eroded by sea level rise.  This year, 155 pairs of Common Terns nested on the platform, an increase of 132 pairs from the previous year, and making it the largest breeding colony of this species in the Coastal Bays in 2022.

Audubon Vermont Spearheads Innovative Forest-Management Program

Audubon Vermont spearheaded a unique program that engages local organizations, forest landowners, and youth and young adults in forest bird habitat conservation projects. The project not only provides benefits for birds in the form of habitat restoration and managment, but also benefits landowners by helping them use their forest to produce maple syrup (with the Audubon Vermont "Bird Friendly Maple" logo), all while providing an opportunity to train a new generation of conservation-minded forest management professionals.

Audubon Florida Discovered the Oldest Recorded Roseate Spoonbill

The Audubon team discovered the oldest Roseate Spoonbill ever recorded this spring. The spoonbill, banded by Audubon Florida Director of Research Jerry Lorenz, PhD, in 2003, is now more than 18 years old. The previous record for longevity in the wild for this species? 16 years. Conservation photographer Mac Stone, on assignment with Audubon, photographed the banded bird. Spoonbills are critical indicator species for the overall health of the Everglades. 

Audubon Helps Water Flow Again in Colorado River Delta

The Colorado River flowed in its delta once again this year. The flows, which began on May 1, are the result of binational collaboration and deliberate management. The water is dedicated to supporting the ecosystem and local communities in a landscape where the river has not flowed for most years in the past half century. Audubon and its partners have been key to advocating for these water deliveries to the Colorado River delta. The water delivery is a heartening bit of good news for the Colorado River, which earlier this year was designated as America’s most endangered river.

Audubon Publishes Bird Population Report on Utah’s Bear River

Audubon’s Saline Lakes and Science teams partnered with state agencies to produce two publications on long-term trends at Great Salt Lake. The first analyzed impacts of hydrological changes on waterbirds at Bear River Bay, a vitally important wetland at the mouth of the Bear River where it enters Great Salt Lake. The second analyzed 21-year trends in shorebirds, waterfowl, and other waterbirds across the Great Salt Lake as a whole. These two studies will be used to help inform Great Salt Lake conservation efforts over the coming years and contributed to the establishment of a $40 million water trust for Great Salt Lake.

Audubon Releases a Blueprint for a Climate-Resilient Mississippi River

As part of its new blueprint for a resilient Mississippi River, Audubon identified nearly 50 million acres across multiple states in the Lower Mississippi River region as the most important places for birds and people. Using that blueprint as a guide, Audubon will deploy natural infrastructure solutions that restore and enhance ecosystems like wetlands and floodplains, to help make communities and ecosystems more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Audubon’s Science Team Reports on the Effects of Climate Change on National Wildlife Refuges

In a survey of all 525 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System, Audubon’s Science team found half of the birds throughout the system will see changes in the environmental suitability of their habitats if global temperatures are allowed to rise unchecked. The National Wildlife Refuge System spans 95 million acres on land and also covers 760 million submerged lands and waters. The findings of the study have already affected how refuge biologists approach their work, prompting them to adopt more proactive approaches to managing refuge lands to support their resident birds both now and in the future.

Wetland Restoration with Oneida Nation, Audubon Great Lakes, and Partners

Audubon Great Lakes, in partnership with Oneida Nation and Northeastern Audubon Society, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, are leading a volunteer bird monitoring effort on recently restored Oneida Nation grasslands, marshes, and forests to evaluate the success of this restoration. The project builds bridges between partners who all have a stake in ensuring healthy habitat in the region, strengthening local community ties, and lays the foundation for future restoration work to be informed by community voices and Indigenous conservation practices. The next phase of this project includes securing an Audubon Important Bird Area designation for a portion of Oneida land and, going forward, volunteers will advocate for Indigenous communities when meeting with elected officials.  

Audubon Dakota Wins Award for Prairie and River Restoration

Audubon Dakota was awarded the River Keepers Environmental Award for its Urban Woods and Prairies Initiative, which focuses on restoring and enhancing riparian grasslands, wetlands, and woodland habitats in urban settings in partnership with local landowners. The River Keepers Environmental Award recognizes outstanding leadership in the protection of the river environment relative to environmental concerns, water, soils, vegetation, and wildlife.

Audubon’s Boreal Conservation Team Works With Partners Across Canada to Support Indigenous Stewardship

In collaboration with Indigenous partners and other NGOs, Audubon’s Boreal Conservation team is helping to support 100 million acres of proposed protected areas in Canada through communications, science, and collaboration. This includes the final establishment of the 3.5 million-acre Edéhzhíe (Horn Plateau) Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area and National Wildlife Area in the Northwest Territories. Here it is estimated that between 5 and 10 million birds are now protected in their summer homes during the breeding season.

In Manitoba, the Seal River Watershed Alliance is creating an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area on the western side of Hudson Bay to help protect 12 million acres of lakes, rivers, and lands that sustain cultures and support migratory birds, caribou, and polar bears. Audubon works to support the Sayisi Dene First Nation—in partnership with their Cree, Dene, and Inuit neighbors—as they lead the initiative to protect the entirety of the Seal River watershed—an area the size of Costa Rica. Protecting the watershed ensures that future generations can continue traditional practices and have access to the generous bounty of its lands and water.

Audubon’s Boreal Conservation Team Works with Indigenous Guardians to Monitor Biodiversity

Through collaborations between Indigenous Guardians programs and the Boreal Conservation program team, new bioacoustics projects are in progress from the Yukon and Northwest Territories to northern Quebec and Newfoundland. Using autonomous recording units deployed in remote areas across the Boreal Forest of Canada, researchers obtained 10,000 hours of audio recording surveys. The recorded birdsongs and calls can be analyzed to determine the presence of birds in the area over time and help understand changes taking place within the ecological communities.

Osprey Chicks Fledge for First Time from Audubon’s Hog Island Boathouse Nest

Osprey chicks fledged for the first time from Hog Island thanks to the hard work of Hog Island campers. During the their annual service week in 2015, the campers and Hog Island staff built an additional nesting spot atop the Boat House deck on the mainland, directly across the narrow channel and about a quarter of a mile away from the original Osprey nest on Hog Island. Success wasn’t immediate, but this year Osprey pair Dory and Skiff successfully fledged three chicks: Schooner, Skipjack, and Skip.