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Posted on Jul 13, 2017

It was a young Roger Tory Peterson’s close encounter with a Northern Flicker right here in Jamestown which ignited his love for birds. The wild birds of North America were at the heart of his passion for nature and were the impetus for the actions he took to preserve our living world. Venerated for embodying freedom, grace, and beauty in flight, birds inspire a deeper connection with nature and evoke a fascination with exceeding the limits of our earthbound human existence. This summer there are many opportunities to meet and be inspired by these wonderful animals in Chautauqua County.

Northern Flickers – by Roger Tory Peterson

Roger Tory Peterson’s Wild America Nature Festival at Panama Rocks on July 29 & 30 will play host to Wild Spirit Education and American Hawkeye, which will bring wild birds of prey for guests to meet. Wild Spirit Education is an environmental education facility and wildlife rehabilitation center. Many of their animals, including hawks and owls, are injured and cannot be released back into the wild. Whether it is a partially blind owl or a hawk that can no longer fly, these beautiful birds educate people about how these birds live in the wild and what we can do to help protect them. American Hawkeye is run by Jonathan Clarkson who uses falconry to teach to teach about ornithology and conservation. If you want to see the grace and power of birds of prey in action, don’t miss his flight demonstrations! In addition to live birds, the Wild America Nature Festival will host amazing nature art including art of or inspired by birds in its Nature Fine Art and Craft Show, which will feature over 40 local and regional artists. Internationally renowned bird artist Michael DiGiorgio will also be at the festival and will give a talk on his journey to become one of the nation’s most prominent painters of birds.

Wild Spirit Education will showcase birds of prey at the Wild America Nature Festival.

RTPI is also hosting the 41st annual Birds in Art exhibition, organized by the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, through August 27. The Birds in Art exhibition presents the very best contemporary artistic interpretations of birds and related subject matter; it features sixty pieces of artwork including original paintings, sculptures, and graphics which incorporate vivid colors, remarkable compositions, and striking poses, from whimsical to regal, by some of the world’s most gifted wildlife artists.

Wren’s Larder by Jonathan Sainsbury

In addition to the Wild America Nature Festival and the Birds in Art exhibition, there are a number of activities that bird lovers around the area can get involved in. Both RTPI and the Jamestown Audubon Community Nature Center conduct bird-banding in the area. Bird banding is a commonly used research technique which involves attaching a small, uniquely numbered metal band to the leg of a wild caught bird. These tiny anklets allow ornithologists to keep track of bird movements and gain insights into their behavior. As nets are set in place and birds are captured and banded, we will learn more about our local bird populations.

Because birds are highly mobile and can move to areas that offer them the kinds of food and shelter they prefer, the continued presence of specific birds in an area can tell us about the quality and availability of natural resources there. Roger Tory Peterson once called birds an “ecological litmus paper” and said “Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble.” Migratory birds are especially interesting as some fly staggering distances between their wintering grounds, which are often located far south of us in Central or even South America, and their preferred breeding habitats. A large variety of these tropical birds ends up spending the summer in our backyards to nest and raise their young. Additional information is needed to better protect these beautiful summer visitors here, but even more is required for effective conservation efforts on their wintering grounds and along their migratory pathways, as we know little about where exactly these birds go when they are not here.

A Prothonotary Warbler receives a leg band.

Events like the Roger Tory Peterson’s Wild America Nature Festival at Panama Rocks on July 29 & 30, exhibitions like Birds in Art at RTPI, and activities such as bird banding with RTPI and the Audubon provide ways for residents of Chautauqua County to learn about and be inspired by birds. Just as observing a Northern Flicker helped inspire Roger Tory Peterson to start on the path to becoming one of the 20th Century’s most influential environmental figures, learning about and engaging with these beautiful creatures can inspire us to be better stewards of our environment. It may even inspire a new generation of environmental leaders who will make the world a better place for birds and humans alike. Happy birding!