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Birds Migrating
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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Neotropical bird populations are shrinking due to damaged habitats and increased hardships of flight between breeding and wintering sites. As humans disturb boreal and tropical forests through tree clearing for agricultural purposes and commercial logging, forest canopies are being reduced in area and broken up into smaller chunks. In addition to large-scale clearing of tropical rainforests in Central and South America's wintering grounds, development of housing, shopping, and industrial areas in North America is constantly increasing the fragmentation of summer breeding grounds. The demands of long distance flight require birds to rest and refuel several times before they reach their destinations. Development and fragmentation interrupt flight corridors, reduce resting environments, and increase risks of injury and death. There is marked increase in edge habitat (the boundary between intact forest and surrounding impacted areas). Greater edge habitat promotes loss of eggs and nestlings to predators as well as parasitism by cowbirds that thrive along forest edges and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, relying on the host parents to rear their aggressive young. Vast numbers of migrating birds are lost to human hunters, animal predators, bad weather, and collisions with buildings, windows, and automobiles. It is estimated that half of all migrants heading south for the winter will not return to breed in the spring. In addition, research studies have demonstrated that, because birds curb insect damage to trees and forests, decreasing bird numbers have a cascading effect, resulting in increased insect populations and increased insect damage to trees and, consequently, even more loss of bird habitat.

Recent years have seen advances in bird conservation efforts, through organizations such as the Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Partners In Flight, the International Crane Foundation, and BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservation organizations working together for bird conservation. Ambitious conservation plans have been developed, including The North American Waterfowl Management Plan and The Strategy for the Conservation of Birds in Mexico. The North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is a coalition of government agencies, private organizations, academic institutions, and private industry leaders in Canada, the United States, and Mexico working to achieve integrated bird conservation that will benefit all birds in all habitats.

Individual actions contribute greatly to bird conservation, in the forms of backyard propagation of plant cover, limits in use of garden pesticides, and resistance to destruction of undisturbed habitat.

Cabinet, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, 2004, wood, glass, brass, copper, bird carcasses, paper, pigments (detail).
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Encompassing artistic interpretation of historical scientific tools and models, Starry Transit: An Installation by Martha Glowacki, presented by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, permits visitors to the observatory to manipulate sculptures that illuminate bird flight, migratory flyways, and seasonal positions of constellations.