This BirdWire highlights two studies that researchers hope will improve bird conservation. Also, learn about an exciting discovery with songbird DNA!
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September News in Birding

Jessica Melfi | Managing Editor, Bird Watcher's DigestBy Jessica Melfi
Assistant Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest

From the U.S. Congress to the Amazon rainforest, birds continue to bear the brunt of human self-interest, and it's tempting to bury our head in the sand from what feels like a constant barrage of bad news. But awareness can bring about change, and this month's BirdWire highlights two concerning studies that researchers hope lead to improved conservation practices. Plus, an exciting discovery in songbird DNA brings us closer to understanding the mysteries of migration and could have important conservation implications for declining species.

Like you, we are deeply concerned about the fires in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. You may be aware that we are hosting a Reader Rendezvous in the Pantanal region of Brazil in July 2020. Charles Thornton-Kolbe, co-leader of our trip, says, "Although these fires are destructive, our birding tours in 2019 and 2020 are not scheduled in that region of Brazil. Our lodging partners are hopeful that the media coverage of the fires does not deter birders from visiting their country. Brazil is quite safe, and those of us who are fortunate enough to visit can enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful birds and habitat." We still have a few spots left on this tour and hope you will join us. Learn more about the Pantanal Reader Rendezvous here »

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Scientists Discover Songbird Migration Linked to Single Gene 
Ornithologists have long suspected that short-lived migratory birds rely on innate traits for directionality (as opposed to larger, longer-lived birds, in which it is learned), but identifying any causal genes has been challenging. However, a recent breakthrough from researchers collaborating at the University of Toledo, Cornell University, Penn State, and the University of Colorado reveals that a single gene, called VPS13A, is associated with the final wintering destination of golden-winged and blue-winged warblers. While the role of the gene in birds is not yet understood, in humans, it is associated with movement. Further study on additional migratory warbler species will offer better understanding of the gene's role.
Animals’ Adaptive Response to Climate Change Likely Insufficient
An international team of 64 researchers reviewed more than 10,000 climate change studies, focusing in particular on the impact on birds. Their conclusion suggests that even common species known to cope well with shifts in global change are unable to adapt fast enough to current temperature shifts, leading to grave concerns of survival. While birds have responded to rising temperatures by laying their eggs sooner in warmer springs so that their young hatch when food sources are most abundant, the accelerated rate of climate change in the past 20 years is likely too fast for them to adequately adjust long-term. Scientists are hopeful the meta-analysis will lead to further research on animal population resilience in the face of global climate change, and better inform future conservation actions.
Illegal Killing and Taking of Birds in Arabian Peninsula Quantified for the First Time
While the African-Eurasian flyway has attracted international attention due to the illegal taking and killing of millions of birds annually, these reports pertain particularly to the Mediterranean Middle East countries, especially Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Only recently was an effort undertaken to quantify the birds affected in the Arabian peninsula, Iran and Iraq. A study released by the Ornithological Society of the Middle East and BirdLife International numbers at least 1.7 million birds encompassing 413 species, many of them migratory and several of them endangered—and there is concern this is an underestimate since parts of the region did not supply data. This report combined with BirdLife’s 2015 study of the Mediterranean suggests 17.5 million birds are killed or taken illegally each year in the Middle East as a whole. Researchers hope this study provides a baseline for future conservation efforts, as well as momentum for a “zero tolerance” approach in improved legislation and enforcement across the region.

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Calling all birders! Meet Marc and Eliana of Birding by Bus!
Reader Rendezvous
Winter Magic: Klamath Basin Reader Rendezvous
Imagine 500 bald eagles, a nesting golden eagle, a prairie falcon harassing a northern harrier. White-headed woodpeckers. Pygmy nuthatches. Mountain chickadees. Oh, and mind-blowingly vast flocks of waterfowl. Hundreds of tundra swans that change color with the light. Welcome to the Klamath Basin in winter. Join us in Klamath Falls, Oregon, February 14–18, 2020. 
Upcoming Festivals
Find a listing of birding festivals by place or by month in The Birder's Directory: Travel, or in the Bird Watcher's Digest Festival Finder »
Out There with the Birds #58: Julie Zickefoose and Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay
In this episode of OTWTB, host Dawn Hewitt interviews author, artist, and naturalist Julie Zickefoose. As a wildlife rehabilitator, Julie often takes in orphaned and injured birds to nurse back to health. One such charge was a sick and starved baby blue jay, a palm-sized bundle of gray-blue fluff that she named "Jemima." Julie fell hard for this engaging, feisty, and funny jay, a creative muse and source of strength through the author’s own heartbreaking changes. She captures these experiences in her gorgeously illustrated new book, Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, now available for pre-order at
This Birding Life #90: The Final Episode! An Interview with Mark Garland
Grab the Kleenex: This is the final episode that TBL host Bill Thompson, III, recorded before succumbing to pancreatic cancer on March 25, 2019. Bill interviews Mark S. Garland, a naturalist who has been sharing his enthusiasm for nature for over 40 years. He is also the 2019 recipient of the Paul Bartsch Award for Distinguished Contributions to Natural History. Bird Watcher’s Digest subscribers will recognize him as the author of “Birders Question Mark,” a Q&A column that has featured in the magazine since 2015. Mark reveals what sparked his interest in nature and birds early in life, and how it evolved throughout his lifetime. He ends with advice for aspiring naturalists: Be persistent, follow your heart, and in the end, it will all work out!
Big Bend: A Winter Birders Wonderland with 451 species and counting
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Elsa Thompson: A Woman for All Seasons
On May 25, 2019, Elsa Thompson, co-founder and beloved matriarch of Bird Watcher's Digest, passed away unexpectedly. Read a touching tribute by publisher Wendy Clark.
Northern Goshawk: Killing Machine
An adult male northern goshawk stares intently from its perch in the cold wilderness gracing the cover of this issue. The largest of the accipiters, the goshawk is a forest raptor built for maneuvering through trees at high speeds and taking down prey twice its mass. 
Mid-Sized Binoculars
In the market for some lightweight, easily portable mid-sized binoculars? Optics experts Diane and Michael Porter present a side-by-side comparison of 13 models of 8x32 bins so you can make an informed decision.
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