#GivingTuesday 2014: Celebrate All Things Winged with The Raptor Trust

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Scoured the shelves for deals on Black Friday? Gearing up for gadget buying on Cyber Monday? Don’t forget to honor the most important day of this week (after Thanksgiving, of course), Giving Tuesday.

Giving Tuesday is a call to action, a national day of giving around the annual shopping and spending season. The third annual #GivingTuesday will take place on this coming Tuesday December 2, 2014.

GT_Street-wall_2014#GivingTuesday is a day for giving back, to write a check to a worthwhile cause or to donate your time and expertise to charity. #GivingTuesday, where global charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and more have come together to shape a new movement. A movement so compelling that the White House has taken notice.

A day that inspires personal philanthropy and encourages bigger, better and smarter charitable giving during the holiday season. A day that proves that the holidays can be about both giving and giving back.

Show your support for Giving Tuesday by taking a photo and uploading it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UNselfie. For more information, check out the short YouTube video below or visit #GivingTuesday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

On Giving Tuesday 2014, I have decided to give back to the birds in my home state. One of my favorite organizations working specifically on avian rehabilitation and education is The Raptor Trust. My sister and I visited the Trust back in May of this year and had an incredible day. Everyone on staff was extremely friendly and enthusiastically answered our questions about the birds of prey in their care. Even the volunteer working the at gift shop was proud to discuss the history of the Trust and their birds with us.  For those birds that would not survive if they were released, The Raptor Trust property has become their home. We were able to see these residents up close and personal. The birds were so beautiful that we walked through the Trust twice to be sure we didn’t miss anybody!

Vilma, The Raptor Trust's Barred Owl plays a key role in the organization's educational programs. Photo by Joy Yagid.

Vilma, The Raptor Trust’s Barred Owl plays a key role in the organization’s educational programs. Photo by Joy Yagid.

Officially founded in 1983, The Raptor Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States.

Located in Millington, NJ, the Trust property includes a hospital with state-of-the-art medical facilities, quality exterior housing for several hundred birds, and an education building. For three decades, the Trust has worked tirelessly to fulfill it’s mission:

  • To provide free care and assistance to injured, sick, or orphaned wild birds.
  • To educate people about wild birds, especially birds of prey.
  • To provide a humane example for others.
The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy. Photo Credit: NewJerseyHills.com.

The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy. Photo Credit: NewJerseyHills.com.

20-something Environmentalist sat down with Director of The Raptor Trust, Chris Soucy, and asked what continues to motivate and inspire the work that he is doing.

Chris explained, “One of the greatest rewards in our work is to be able to release a bird back into the wild after we have cared for it. The birds come to us sick, injured or orphaned bird in great numbers – as many as 4,000 each year.  It takes a huge team of dedicated volunteers, along with a medical staff, veterinarians, educators and administrative help to run the center. These caring people put their hearts and souls into the work we do. Because we are successful more often than not in releasing our patients back into the wild where they belong, the rewarding feeling that comes from it happens all the time – for our staff and volunteers, for the people who find injured birds and bring them to us, and no doubt for the birds themselves.”

Red-Tailed Hawk Release. Photo from The Raptor Trust's Facebook page.

Red-Tailed Hawk Release. Photo from The Raptor Trust’s Facebook page.

Chris went on to explain, “In our 32+ year history we have cared for over 90,000 wild birds and released more than half of them back into the wild. On site, we have a full-service medical center and a education center where we present programs to thousands of visitors each year about birds, wildlife and conservation.  Our center is open to the public year round, and visitors here can see hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures up close and learn about what amazing and ecologically important creatures they are.”

Please consider The Raptor Trust when making your year-end gifts this #GivingTuesday and throughout the holiday season. Help them help all things winged.

To learn how to get involved with The Raptor Trust, and for more amazing photographs of birds of prey, like them on Facebook.

Here are a few other excellent New Jersey organizations working on
wildlife issues:

This #GivingTuesday, Tuesday, December 2, 2014, consider making an impact on the world. Choose an issue that you are passionate and donate your time or funds to organizations that are part of the solution. Be a force for good.

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Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Part III: Ecology

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According to the Hidden Risk Report, a publication from the Biodiversity Research Institute in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, “invertivores” are greatly affected by mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.  Songbirds and bats are referred to as invertivores because they eat a variety of invertebrate species like spiders, snails and worms; not just insects.  Invertivores are an integral part of healthy ecosystems, functioning as seed dispersers and insect controllers.  Mercury emissions are threatening their chances for survival and therefore the health of ecosystems throughout the nation.  There are large declines in reproductive success and developmental issues in some species.  For example, Common Loons have to spend roughly 98% of their time on their nest incubating eggs in order for the eggs to successfully hatch.  After over 5,000 hours of observation, it has been determined that Loons with high mercury levels spend only 85% of their time incubating eggs.  The eggs do not hatch and the species reproductive success decreases (Evers, et al.).

Early research on mercury and wildlife focused primarily on fish-eating birds and mammals, but now it is clear that mercury affects a wider range of species at varying trophic levels.  A simple food chain: a spider eats a fly, and a bird like a Northern Water Thrush or sparrow eats the spider, the song bird will have more mercury in its blood than a Bald Eagle.  While blood samples are taken from humans to determine mercury exposure, feather samples are taken from birds.  The average level of mercury for all sampled individuals was 20 ppm, while the maximum level detected was 40 ppm.  Mercury exposure is dependent on species characteristics, like trophic level, and habitat.  Wetlands, especially estuaries, bogs and beaver ponds, allow for a high rate of methylation, producing high mercury levels in organisms that live there (Evers, et al.).

While wetlands are mostly threatened by mercury pollution, point-source mercury has been shown to persist in rivers more than 80 miles from its original source.  This makes mercury a danger to species far beyond wetland areas.  Methylmercury has been connected with organic soil and leaf litter, so even forest species are at risk of exposure.  Songbirds that feed primarily on forest floor by moving around leaf are affected, as are the invertebrates on the forest floor (Evers, et al.).

Mercury exposure also causes physiological rarities in songbirds, impacting their migration patterns.  If a bird’s left wing is five percent different in shape than its right wing, the bird has to fly in an odd way to compensate for the difference.  This requires more energy and affects survival rates of song bird species when migration already accounts for 75% of all annual mortality rates in some songbirds.  Mercury exposure becomes an added burden on the species (Evers, et al.).

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Many invertivores are already at risk because of pollution, loss of habitat and invasive species.  In combination with environmental stressors like acid rain and climate change, wildlife species are suffering from a synergistic reaction of all of these threats acting together.  Mercury exposure adds another “ecological burden” on songbird and bat populations.  Bats with high levels of mercury often experience compromised immune systems, making it difficult to fight infections like White-Nose Syndrome.  The saltmarsh sparrow has a “very high mercury risk,” according to The Hidden Report, because it is endemic to estuaries, spends its entire life cycle in saltmarsh habitats, and eats high in the food chain.  The saltmarsh sparrow is also especially vulnerable to sea level rise as a result of climate changes, piling one “ecological burden” on top of another (Evers, et al.).

Standardized monitoring of invertivores is needed to show how the new MATS affect changes in mercury emissions because these species offer valuable ecosystems services.  A single colony of big brown bats eats nearly 1.3 million pest insects each year. Pest suppression services provided by native bats in US agricultural landscapes is valued at $22.9 billion per year.  A bluebird family of two parents and five nestlings requires 124 g of insects per day.  The presence of nesting birds in vineyards reduces the amount of pesticides that are required to maintain healthy crops (Evers, et al.).

While standardized monitoring of wildlife, laws and regulations like Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), and scientific health studies help to address some environmental problems, other means could be used.  Social media has played a large role in the environmental movement in 2012.  Facebook and Twitter has helped to spread the word about fracking throughout the United States and the development of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in the Great Plains.  Greenpeace used Facebook as part of their clean energy campaign.  The organization urged citizens to “defriend coal.”  The Unfriend Coal campaign showed Facebook’s new data centers that draw energy from coal-powered plants.  After this blitz, Facebook announced that finding renewable energy sources would a priority in future data centers and agreed to lobby utilities powering their existing centers to increase their reliance renewable energy.  Facebook also allows organizations to expand their membership into new countries (Kaufman).

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are similar to other environmental policies in many ways.  There has been criticism from economists, claiming that MATS will contribute to unemployment and negatively affect the economy of the United States.  MATS will be subjected to gutting by conservation politicians and vague language and claims protecting the privileged few.  The risk of mercury emissions to wildlife, such as invertivores like bats and songbirds, will be examined at length by wildlife conservationists.  New age environmentalists will stay informed and advocate for MATS through social media.  MATS, however, will stand out among other environmental policies because of its clear, scientific connection to public health and the strong lobby of mothers that will fight for their children’s health.

Sources:

Evers, D.C., A.K. Jackson, T.H. Tear and C.E. Osborne. 2012. Hidden Risk: Mercury in Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Northeast. Biodiversity Research Institute. Gorham, Maine. BRI Report 2012-07. 33 pages.

Kaufman, Leslie. “For Green Groups, a Shift in Tactics.” Green Blog. New York Times, 19 Dec. 2011. Web. 15 May 2012. <http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/for-green-groups-a-shift-in-tactics/?src=tp&gt;.