Appreciating Our ‘Sky Highways’ with National Audubon Society’s Andrea Jones

June 28, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited now to go coast to coast with Andrea Jones. She’s the Coastal Programs Director with the Audubon Society. Welcome to Green is Good, Andrea Jones. ANDREA JONES: Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, you know, Andrea, talk a little bit about – There’s a lot of young people that listen to our show that want to become the next Andrea Jones, and they want to get involved with all sorts of cool and neat projects and do something atypical to them, just going to corporate America or becoming a doctor or lawyer. Share a little bit about your journey to becoming the Coastal Programs Director at the Audubon Society. ANDREA JONES: Well, I lived in Massachusetts and I was always interested in camping and backpacking. When I went to college, I said I wanted to study wildlife. I didn’t even know if there was a degree in wildlife, but there was a degree in wildlife biology, so I pursued that. My first job out of college was a job studying birds, and I actually didn’t know one bird from the other. But I convinced them I would study, I would study recording of birds and I would study books, and so that was my first field job. That was up in northern Maine. Once I got into that, I got kind of hooked on birds and birding, and then Audubon hired me. I started as an intern, and waitressed at night to pay the rent, and just sort of worked my way up through Audubon. Eventually I decided I liked it so much I would go back to graduate school and get a Master’s degree in ornithology, so I just sort of persisted and did a lot of volunteer projects along the way, and learned my way up through Audubon. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Good for you. We’re so thrilled to have you on because this is such an important topic and not one that you hear about every day in the news, in the media, and stuff like that. But one that we get to actually see every day, but we don’t truly understand, so it’s going to be fun for you to explain for our listeners what’s really going on when we see the birds flying around and things of that such. Which brings me up to – It’s now early May. Talk a little bit about spring and the spring migration, and what does this mean for the Audubon Society and for all the birds we see flying around? ANDREA JONES: Well, this is a time of year that everyone is getting out there. If you looked at radar right now, you would see pulses of birds starting to move back into the United States from their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Typically, we say Mother’s Day weekend, especially on the East Coast, is when the birds are landing. They’re coming in from long flights across the oceans, across large patches of land, and they need places to rest and feed. Then they can often continue on their migrations up into the northern woods, whether it’s up in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest or the Northeast. It gets pretty quiet in the winter, but this is the time of year that the birds are all coming back, and they’re coming back by the millions. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What does the term of art “flyaways” mean? ANDREA JONES: The flyaways, we have four that we use in the United States: the Atlantic, the Mississippi, the Central, and the Pacific, and those are basically the highways in the sky that the birds are following during migration. Birds are pretty much keyed into using the same pathways for migration every year, and those are the routes they take from their wintering grounds down in Central and South America up to their breeding grounds up in sort of the northern regions of North America. Those are the paths that they follow, and they stick to them for the most part. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s interesting. Is bird watching really an esoteric hobby, or are regular folks into watching birds and understanding what’s really going on around us with regards to birds and migration habits and just the beauty of birds? ANDREA JONES: Well, more people are doing bird watching than you’d think, and that includes people that are watching birds in their backyards to people that are really actively going out and keeping lists and keeping track of every bird they see. There’s sort of a range of bird watchers, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did a study in 2011 and said there are 46 million people that consider themselves bird watchers in the U.S. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful. So, it really is much more common of a hobby than people think. ANDREA JONES: It is, and it’s a big industry. We spend over $4 billion on bird food, over $900 million on binoculars and spotting scopes, so it’s turned into a big industry for young kids to older people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. You know, in California, the Audubon California has a wonderful tagline, and it’s so simple. It says Birds Matter. What does that mean to you, and what does that mean for the Audubon Society? ANDREA JONES: Well, it means for me personally, I think birds can be about weather of our environment. They can really tell us about the health of the environment. If something is happening to the birds, if birds are disappearing, that’s sort of an indicator that things are going wrong. So, that’s sort of a call to action for Audubon to get involved. It also reminds us that birds, as you said, are not esoteric. It’s not an esoteric hobby. They’re everywhere; they’re in our literature, they’re in our music, they’re outside. They’re sort of an everyday part of our lives, whether we think about them all the time or not. If you woke up in the morning and it was quiet outside, you would know something was terribly wrong. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, let me ask you this, though. Talk about quiet outside. When you wake up on the West Coast and you hear birds outside of your home, are you able to tell now, based on your educational experience you had, what type of bird is singing outside of your bedroom area? ANDREA JONES: Oh, yeah. The northern mockingbird that wakes me up early, but we also have the scrub jays and the California tullies and the song sparrows. So, yeah, I do wake up and start identifying the birds I’m hearing outside. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so great. For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so honored today to have Andrea Jones on. She’s the Coastal Programs Director for the Audubon Society. For those who are not familiar, I’m on their website now. It’s just a wonderful website. It just truly is. I just have to read your mission: “To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the Earth’s biological diversity.” For our listeners out there, please go to Audubon.org and support this great organization. Andrea, how do you inspire our parents of today to get their kids into birds? What are some pearls of wisdom you could share with parents to help get their kids interested in birds? ANDREA JONES: Well, there are two things. One is putting out a bird feeder and getting a bird book, and just watching what birds come to your yard. That’s a great way to begin watching birds because you can see them up close and personal. The other way is to go onto our website and find out where there’s a local Audubon chapter near you or a local Audubon nature center. All of our chapters and nature centers have some kind of programs for parents and kids, whether it’s a bird walk or more of a lesson on how to go bird watching, that’s a great place to start getting involved. Summer is coming up, and most of our nature centers and all of our chapters offer summer camps for kids, which is another great way to get kids involved and get them outside and interested in nature. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I have to ask because my memory is a little foggy, but I know I was blown away the last time the Audubon Society was on Green is Good, our guest was talking about how far birds can fly. How far can a bird fly without taking a break in terms of length and duration? ANDREA JONES: It really depends on the bird. An arctic turn flies 10,000 miles. Some birds only travel a few hundred miles a night. It depends on the species, but certainly they can fly several hundred to a thousand miles, and they’re often going over ocean. They’re often crossing patches of forest without stopping. It’s a pretty amazing journey. One of the most amazing things to me is songbirds, and they’re actually migrating at night. If you go out at night during spring migration in May, you’ll often hear chip notes in the sky, and those are migrating at night, communicating with each other. They’re using the stars to navigate, which is just an amazing phenomenon. When they get hungry, they’ll stop in the day and find a patch of oak trees and stop to feed, and then they’ll get up the next day when the winds are right and start moving again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second. That’s wonderful. But you mean there are birds that can leave one continent and fly across an ocean without taking a break? ANDREA JONES: Yes, there are. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Oh my gosh. That just blows me away. The Audubon Society does so many things in terms of conservation, education, and motivation. Talk a little bit about all those great things that your organization does. ANDREA JONES: Well, you know, we do a little bit of everything with birds being our tagline. We buy land in some places. We restore habitats, so we bring habitat back to more natural conditions. We study birds, we have research programs across the country studying how birds are behaving, how you better improve their habitats. A lot of what we do is getting people involved in nature, so we have robust education programs across the country, we do educational programs and bird watching tours to get people involved and get people outside. We do a lot of policy work, so we work in Washington, D.C. on environmental issues, such as the arctic drilling up in Alaska. So, we’re really advocates for birds and the environment, in everywhere from policy to education to research. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. And how can people get involved? Give us some doors that our listeners can walk through. ANDREA JONES: Well, you know, I think one way that’s sort of a door people first walk through is often just participating in a bird walk, and that would be, as I’ve said earlier, just through a nature center or through an Audubon chapter. You can find those on our website. But another way to start getting involved is to participate in a volunteer project, such as a bird count. We call that citizen science, and probably our most popular citizen science activities are Christmas bird counts. The Christmas bird counts are all over the country and have been going on for 100 years, so it’s a great series of data for us, but it’s a great way to get involved. You don’t have to be an expert bird watcher, but you can go out and it’s within a 10-day window of Christmas, and you can team up with a group and just go out and count every bird that you see. That’s often how people start to get involved. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. You know, we’re down to the last three minutes or so. I have a few other questions, Andrea. But before I ask any of those, talk a little bit about you know so much about birds, and this has become your life now and your profession and I’m sure in so many ways your passion. What’s your favorite bird? ANDREA JONES: I would have to say my favorite bird is the white-tailed kite. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Why? ANDREA JONES: It’s a cosmopolitan bird, so it sort of fascinates me that you have some species that manage to live around the globe, and it’s just a very beautiful, sleek bird. It’s a bird of prey that lives here in California, and it’s often seen hunting and hovering over grasslands. It’s sort of a white and pale gray. It’s a bird that’s declining here, but it’s very beautiful and graceful, and I think it’s a type of bird that is an indicator of the health of our grasslands. You could go to other parts of the world and see the same species. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, we’re down to the last couple of minutes or so, about a minute-and-a-half. Talk a little bit about the future. Are you hopeful about where we’re going as a society with regards to environment and interrelationship with birds and the environment at large? How can we leave a better world than we all inherited here? ANDREA JONES: I think we can all be stewards, whether it’s in our backyards, and I see more and more people getting involved in the outdoors and nature, but I think we really have to push that with children. It’s easy for kids to be inside today on the computers. We need to get kids outside and sort of maintain their connection to the natural world. If we do that, I think there’s hope for the future. But with increasing memberships of Audubon societies and local chapters, I think there’s hope and there are ways to get involved. But it all starts in your backyard, planting native plants to attract birds into your yard, getting rid of pesticides and herbicides that might be used in the environment. There are a lot of different things. I think there’s a lot more attention paid. I think birding used to be an esoteric hobby, but people talk a lot about birds and bird watching and the environment today more than they used to a few decades ago, so I think there is hope for the future in that regard. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, I love that. And Andrea, we’re going to have you back whenever you want to talk about birds and the great work that the Audubon Society is doing. 46 million people, as you said at the top of the show, can’t be wrong, so please go out and enjoy the birds and also enjoy going to Audubon.org and see Andrea’s great work and support the Audubon Society at Audubon.org. Andrea Jones, you’re an inspirational leader and truly living proof that green is good.