They’re not just tiny dinosaurs. More than 12,000 species of birds are facing extinction over the next century and humankind will miss them a lot more than we do the triceratops.

Birds are essential to every ecosystem on the planet. They pollinate, they eat pests (remember the miracle of the gulls?), they prevent erosion, they’re a vital part of what scientists call “ecosystem services”—the ways birds (and other animals, plants, and biota) support and improve human life.

That’s one reason we study them. Another is that they bring music and beauty into our lives—hence, the new movement called “ecotherapy.”

2018 was the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the first legislation to protect migratory birds, an act significantly weakened by the Trump administration. Most birds migrate seasonally and Utah, particularly the Great Salt Lake, is on a major “flyway.”

You can help: Get out you binoculars and start looking up—the annual Great Backyard Bird Count takes place February 16–19. “The results of this count are part of an enormous database at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the data helps us track increasing and decreasing populations, which can indicate changes in climate and ecosystems,” says Bryant Tracy, conservation ecologist at Tracy Aviary.

You don’t need any training—participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org

If you’re inspired to become a “birder,” you can keep up with unusual bird sightings at utahbirds.org. Additionally, Tracy Aviary hosts bird walks at study sites around the Salt Lake valley, including some designed for children.
Go to tracyaviary.org