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MEEKER | A hummingbird flew up to my living room window last weekend and hovered there as if to say, “I’m home! Where’s the chow?”
Whether it’s the hummers or the turkey vultures, World Migratory Bird Day (formerly International Migratory Bird Day) occurs the second Saturday in May and is a day to celebrate the return of migratory birds by getting outside and identifying different species in our neighborhoods. Meeker is home to 37 confirmed breeding bird species, with 80 total species documented, according to the 2016 Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas. That’s 20 more confirmed species than were listed in the previous atlas.
Need to identify a bird? Ask a current or former Meeker Elementary School student. They’re likely to know more about local birds than the average adult, thanks to 15 years of cooperation between the Meeker Elementary, Barone Middle School, the Blanco Ranger District and wildlife biologist Mary Cunningham.
“It’s my favorite time of the year,” Cunningham said. For the last 15 years she has directed educational programs for fourth through eighth-graders centered around Migratory Bird Day. Students view a PowerPoint presentation related to the year’s theme, fourth graders compete in a coloring contest, and individual sections of each grade go on a two-hour bird watching field trip with Cunningham, starting at the school and culminating at Circle Park. This year’s conservation theme is “Year of the Bird.”
Cunningham said the groups typically identify 20-30 species by sight and sound, using auto-focus binoculars that give students a chance to see the birds up close. In 2007 the district received a “More Kids in the Woods” grant to purchase 25 pair of the binoculars, and have been awarded another grant to buy 25 much-needed replacements this year.
New this year is a pilot program with Meeker High School biology students to study the long-term trends of breeding bird species in and around Meeker, and to assist with the elementary school field trips.
Last year Meeker Elementary School and the Blanco Ranger District received an award from Environment for the Americas, the parent organization that hosts World Migratory Bird Day for their support of bird conservation education. Cunningham was awarded the Educator of the Year award at a reception held at the Amazonian Gallery of the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Not all migratory species are welcomed back with open arms. Colorado ranchers have reported an increase in the number of raven attacks on livestock, while town residents have reported more turkey vultures coming in to roost at night. Both breeds are protected under federal law.
According to Cunningham, the number of ravens in the state has increased by 18 percent, which probably accounts for the additional reports of attacks. The only recourse for livestock producers is to hire USDA Wildlife Service officers to mitigate the species when they become a nuisance.
“They’re just doing what comes naturally to them,” Cunningham said. “You can’t anthropomorphize animals as good or bad. They’re just animals.”
For more information about World Migratory Bird Day, visit www.environmentamericas.org or www.migratorybirdday.org.