Helena, MT Celebrates World Migratory Bird Day
Helena is "the town that gold built". With over 27,000 residents, it is one of the few gold-rush towns that flourished after the "liquid oil" dried up. It's also the home of the Montana Discovery Foundation, where Education Coordinator Sam Chapman helped organize a World Migratory Bird Day celebration one month ago. This year, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) was held in over 56 countries, and celebrated in over 100 different locations.
The popularity of WMBD is growing because of the energy...put into your locally planned events and this enthusiasm is currently spilling over to others in your communities, your countries and all over the world!
The plight of migratory birds is very real, and you can read about them in this NowPublic article (link). Furthermore, WMBD has received relatively little media coverage outside of bird watching and environmental circles. Here, however, I would like to focus on those that make WMBD possible, those that educate, empower, and whose passion for wildlife brings an entirely new perspective to newcomers and reinforces a familiar feeling of wonder in "birding" veterans at a local scale.
WMBD in Helena brings together both avid bird enthusiasts and young families out to discover and learn about their local bird species. The event has a strong local presence. In an email, Sam tells me, "In leading up to the big event, we work with 5th grade teachers at one of the local public schools and have the student design banners with migratory bird art. These banners are hung along the downtown Helena streets with the intent of raising the general public's awareness of migratory birds."
And the banners work, "This was the third year of the banners and we found that many people were looking forward to them being installed."
Sam first became interested in birds after taking an ornithology course at the University of Montana. Many students, myself included, can often pinpoint who turned them to pursue a particular field. For Sam, it was an ornithology professor, Dick Hutto, from whom she harbored her inspiration, "His enthusiasm is very infectious! "
Although Sam doesn't keep life lists of rare birds she has encountered, or travels abroad to strange places at all hours of the night to catch a glimpse of a wing or beak of a prized species, she has found considerable value in her bird watching experiences, "The variety of birds generally are the most constant wildlife I see every summer and I spend hours each day watching them. Overall, by learning some of the different species typically in this area, my outings have become much richer. I love the diversity of life around me, and birds are one of the more visible indicators in this area."
And with this passion vividly displayed in her very presence, Sam helped administrate WMBD in Helena, hoping to inspire others as she had been inspired. Through early morning bird hikes, birding crafts for the kids, face painting, and even "Jepo-birdy", Sam's group intends, "...to introduce participants to the variety of birds in our area and how birds impact many areas of our lives."
I asked her how successful their work has been in educating their participants, and she replied, "Some people, of course, don't really care, but every year I get one or two people who call me or tell me later "I just saw a _________!" Then they begin to notice the variety of life around them. Suddenly ducks aren't all mallards, they are goldeneye, coots, or pintails."
The annual celebration of WMBD will continue in Helena, as the Montana Discovery Foundation intends to continue bird-inspired events in the coming years, "This program has become a highlight of our spring activities....We also heard from many participants that they had attended previously and were watching for this event. With this kind of community support we expect the program to continue to grow and flourish." Sam explained.
And why shouldn't it, with people like Sam and her colleagues continuing to inspire future ornithologists.
The success of WMBD in Helena is due to a strong local partnership among among a number of government and non-profit organizations, local schools and business'
They include the Montana Discovery Foundation (private non-profit), Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (state agency), USDI Bureau of Reclamation, USDI Fish & Wildlife Service, Helena National Forest (USDA), Prickly Pear Land Trust (private non-profit), the City of Helena, a local public school, and Birds & Beasley's (a private business).