Photo Gallery: 7 Bird Species the National Wildlife Federation Has Helped Protect
Birds are among the diversity of animals better off today thanks to NWF, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary
- Laura Tangley
- Feb 25, 2011
This year, 2011, NWF is celebrating its 75th anniversary: In February 1936, at a meeting in Washington, D.C., Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling urged some 2,000 conservationists from across the country and different walks of life—including farmers, hunters, anglers, garden club members and other outdoor lovers—to unite into a block that could influence lawmakers for the benefit of the nation’s wildlife. At the end of the four-day meeting, participants announced that they had founded the General Wildlife Federation—renamed “National” two years later—and elected Darling its first president.
Throughout the decades since, NWF’s still-diverse membership, working closely with state affiliates, has helped protect wildlife species and habitat from a dizzying array of threats across the country and beyond. Among the many creatures the Federation has benefited are birds. From the iconic and once-endangered bald eagle to widespread backyard feeder birds, NWF has made a difference for hundreds of bird species. Pictured below are portraits of just a handful.
In the 1930s, sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts were worried about the northern pintail and other waterfowl species. As a result of overhunting, habitat destruction and drought, populations of many ducks had plummeted to all-time lows. The concerns of these conservationists led to a movement to protect wetlands and other wildlife habitat—an effort that ultimately spawned the creation of NWF. Protecting North American waterfowl and its habitat has been among the Federation’s top priorities ever since.
NWF played a key role in the comeback of the bald eagle in the lower 48 states. By 1963, the number of nesting pairs of the raptors outside Alaska had fallen to 417. By the time they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, the Lower 48 housed some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase. Among the Federation’s efforts: coordinating an annual eagle census, taking legal action to protect the birds from lead poisoning and successfully reintroducing eagles in Vermont.
Nearly extinct when NWF was founded, whooping cranes now number around 250, thanks in large part to the birds’ protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, a law NWF helped to get enacted. The Federation has continued to advocate on behalf of cranes, helping stop construction of a dam, in 1977, that threatened the birds’ migratory habitat in Nebraska and today working to protect freshwater inflows into Texas’s Guadalupe Estuary, which supplies food for whoopers wintering at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Like the bald eagle, the brown pelican is a conservation success story. In the late 1950s, U.S. populations of these big popular birds had crashed as a result of illegal hunting and, especially, use of the pesticide DDT—which led to fatal thinning of pelican eggshells after parents ingested contaminated fish. Along with other conservation groups, NWF campaigned for a ban on DDT, which the government enacted in 1972. In 2009, pelicans were removed from the endangered species list, and while the birds took a big hit during last year’s gulf oil spill, their numbers today are stable or increasing in most states.
In a 1973 National Wildlife magazine article, a team of experts outlined the steps homeowners could take to create landscapes welcoming to backyard birds—including hummingbirds—and other wild animals. The story led to the creation of NWF’s ground-breaking Certified Wildlife Habitat program, which since then has recognized nearly 140,000 habitats—encompassing more than 70,000 acres—not only in backyards but at schools, parks, government offices and businesses across the country.
On the Antarctic Peninsula, populations of Adelie penguins have fallen, most likely a result of global warming-induced changes in the abundance of krill, tiny crustaceans that are the penguins’ primary food. In recent years, global warming has become the greatest threat to all animals on the planet—and for that reason, it is one of NWF’s highest priority issues. The Federation focuses both on reducing global warming pollution and helping wildlife survive the impacts of climate change.
When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last year, countless species of birds were put in jeopardy, from resident roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans, gulls and terns to migratory ducks, geese and shorebirds. From the beginning of the BP oil disaster, NWF wildlife experts were on scene to monitor problems facing birds and other wildlife. The Federation continues to work in the gulf. Among its many efforts is pushing to get BP penalty money to go toward restoring the coast’s vanishing wetlands, a problem that poses a formidable threat to the region’s—and the entire continent’s—birdlife.
Check out National Wildlife's February/March 2011 special anniversary issue: "75 of Protecting Widlife."
For more on birds--their behavior, conservation issues. how to attract them to your yard and more--visit the birds & birding section.