Audubon Magazine Fall 2018

Audubon is the official magazine of the National Audubon Society. Get Audubon Magazine digital magazine subscription today for news coverage of the natural world. We help our readers appreciate, understand, and protect the environment with a particular focus on birds, other wildlife and their habitats

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2 min
guardians of the grebes

In 1974 a team of scientists trekking along the remote volcanic plateaus of southern Argentina made an unexpected discovery: a new species of grebe nesting on high-elevation lakes. In the short time since, the Hooded Grebe has become one of the most endangered birds in Patagonia. The divers breed exclusively on wind-battered lakes in the shadow of the Andes, where climate change, invasive species, and predators are pushing them toward extinction. To help the species hang on, researchers and volunteers with the NGO Aves Argentinas camp next to colonies for the entire breeding season, mid-October through mid-April, monitoring the birds from the time they perform their flamboyant mating dance through fledging their young. When Italian photographer Ugo Mellone, who earned a Ph.D. in behavioral ecology and studied raptor migration in Patagonia,…

2 min
the long game

WHEN CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Rene Ebersole first started poking around the black market for songbirds in South Florida, she knew she was onto something big. So did federal investigators. It took another two years for the undercover operation to unfold and for the first wave of smugglers to be prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The resulting cover story, “Operation Ornery Birds,” on page 20, provides a rare glimpse into one way the nation’s most powerful avian-conservation law is being enforced—by a web of wildlife agents working covertly on behalf of birds. Other champions of birds in this issue are operating in the light (even as they push for Lights Out, to prevent migrating species from becoming confused at night). In Toronto and elsewhere, advocates, architects, and inventors are teaming up…

2 min
climate change: it’s a bird issue

IT’S BEEN A BUSY SUMMER HERE at Audubon—our lawsuit defending the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has become only more important, we’re protecting the Greater Sage-Grouse and the places they need in the West from efforts to undermine habitat conservation plans, and we’re fending off attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. (To read more on current threats to the Endangered Species Act, see page 12 of this issue of Audubon.) But perhaps the most unexpected development was when Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) announced in July that he is sponsoring a bill that would enact a federal carbon tax. Known as the Market Choice Act, the bill would generate a projected $110 billion in its first year. While the bulk of the revenues would go to the Highway Trust Fund—because the act…

3 min

Social Cues In early September, 19-year-old Sam Swartley lit up Audubon’s Instagram feed with the iridescent reds of a male Rufous Hummingbird. “These birds are known for their extraordinary flight skills, flying 2,000 miles during their migratory transits,” he shared in his caption. The wildlife photographer always has his Nikon D500 in hand, whether he’s on vacation in Colorado or exploring his home state of Pennsylvania. Follow @audubonsociety on Instagram for more of Swartley’s feathery hits and other spectacular images. RE: “The Birds Are Watching: Jenny Kendler’s Storm King Installation Sends a Message”, July 26 Human eyes do not see what the mind disallows. Thank you for the impactful and beautiful installation, Jenny. I get it and love it. RUTH PERCHICK “Birds Watching,” which features 100 species from Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change…

4 min
risky business

TO MOST AMERICANS, THE Endangered Species Act of 1973 has been an astounding success, saving some 99 percent of listed plants and animals from extinction, including iconic birds like the Bald Eagle and Whooping Crane. But it’s far from an industry darling. Critics of the law argue that it puts an unnecessary burden on the land users that brush up against it. Their frustrations have, in turn, inspired a fresh wave of political efforts intended to make the law more maneuverable for businesses—a push conservationists fear will undermine the species it protects. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, since January of 2017 more than 75 bills and amendments have been introduced in Congress that would simplify, restrict, or outright weaken the act, ranging from attempts to delist individual species to…

3 min
straight to the source

AS ANYONE WITH A FIRST cousin twice removed can attest, family trees are hard to decipher. But for a family that includes thousands of feathered species and more than a hundred million years of evolution, it’s proven near impossible. For centuries, scientists relied on form and function to understand how birds relate to one another: If two species appeared and acted the same, they must be close kin. But this reasoning eventually fell victim to the theory of convergent evolution, which asserts that unrelated species can evolve comparable traits by adapting to similar environments. In other words, looks can be deceiving. So, as technology advanced, scientists peered beyond feathers and bones and into birds’ DNA, where they found something more reliable: a species’ source code. Just as you might verify your kinship…