BirdLife: The Magazine Apr-Jun 2018 - Page 13

or many of us, common migratory birds are such a regular sight we often don’t stop to take note. The blackbirds hopping around our yards, the warblers singing from the trees and the swifts winging through the air are barely worth a second glance. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if seeing a shape flying through the sky was an event, rather than a common occurrence? Without conservation legislation in place to protect our birds from threats such as pollution and habitat loss, this hypothetical situation could be a very stark reality. Take as an example the Snowy Egret Egretta thula – a widespread species, which breeds throughout the southern US, and with numbers increasing, is today more common than ever. But it was nearly hunted into the record books by plume hunters in the late 1800s. The Snowy Egret owes its rapid recovery to one of the oldest and most important bird protection laws ever passed – the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Passed by US Congress in 1918 – just four years removed from the death of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius – this influentia l law has been credited with saving numerous species from extinction or extirpation – including Snowy F Painted Bunting Passerina ciris Photo DesiDrew Photography/ Shutterstock Egret, Wood Duck Aix sponsa and Sandhill Crane Antigone Canadensis, and the lives of millions, if not billions, of birds. The regulation came about as a response to the extinction of several species -- based partly on the extensive killing of birds so that their feathers could be used to decorate hats. The MBTA, which is considered one of the first major victories of the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the US), prohibits the killing, trading, possession, sale or capture of any migratory bird in the US, and, as of 2013, protects more than 1,000 species. Simply put, it serves to keep birds safe from people. Since its passing, the MBTA has evolved and grown; broadening its international scope via treaties with Japan, Russia, Great Britain and Mexico, and expanding its reach to an additional 32 families of birds in 1972, including eagles, owls and corvids. More recently, interpretations of the regulation have held that incidental killings of birds by companies is also illegal, and requires industries to implement best practices such as covering tar pits or marking transmission lines, or else face large fines. BP, for example, paid $100 million for killing tens of thousands of birds with its Deepwater Horizon Snowy Egret Photo Scott J Lakso 4 Wood Duck Aix sponsa Photo Collins93/ Shutterstock 0 Snow Goose Anser caerulescens Robert L Kothenbeutel/ Shutterstock 2 apr-jun 2018 • birdlife 13