Erica Wheeler: inspiring connections between people and place

May 2010/ Bird Migration

May 2010 Bird Migration
Feature Article: What is more global than bird migration?
This month I wanted to write a simple, inspiring article about getting out there and bird-watching, but I kept bumping into tragic news about bird populations and their habitats. And that's when it happened: I had an environmental meltdown day. For my friends who work in the conservation field, it happens all the time. It comes simply from knowing too much.

And this was before the oil spill now heading towards the Gulf Coast bird refuges, which looks sure to become one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

It's hard to ignore the truth about environmental degradation everywhere we go. And sometimes there's a disaster that slaps you right in the face. Yet with each new day the question remains: How can we best work to turn the tide towards sustaining life and all its diversity rather than degrading it?

According to the World Watch Institute: As the human population expands (from 1.6 billion to more than 6 billion in the past century alone), the Earth itself is becoming increasingly humanized—meaning that landscapes are being deforested, drained, paved, and chemically altered to make way for Homo sapiens. Generally, the more human-dominated a landscape is, the more biologically poor and unstable it becomes overall.

We live in a time of "both, and." We need habitat for both humanity and all the rest of life. We need to face the truth about the state of our environment and at the same time fiercely love what we have left to love. Disasters are the wake up call that inspires some to act, but on an everyday level, love inspires more. So let yourself move through the sadness. Then get back up and love what you have to love, and treasure what you have to treasure!

My Story
All around me, the tender leaves of spring are unfurling in uncountable varieties of green. Flitting amongst those new leaves are warblers that have returned to nest. Each year they fly in waves 1,000 miles or more from South and Central America. These small, colorful birds are spent of energy. They need to feed and restore themselves.

What's a better symbol of our global environment than a half-ounce bird that has just flown 1,000 miles and is depending on their familiar patch of green? Who can't imagine what it would feel like to travel that far only to find their forest homes turned into concrete? (Or wetlands saturated with oil?)

We are part of this web of life. People once lived in a world where animals and nature surrounded us. Now we live in a world where we surround them. Yet wildness still exists.

Earth Day weekend as I walked through the conserved forestlands in Texas, I appreciated every inch of that place that allowed wild nature to flourish, even when flanked by development. The singing birds and greening trees reminded me that each and every year—so far, no matter how badly we humans behave—spring returns. And the cycle of life begins anew.

That's why I am grateful for every bird I chance to see and every animal track I find. And why I am grateful for each engaged citizen and hardworking organization helping to ensure that wild nature and open spaces continue to exist. And for every watchdog who blows the whistle on dangerous industrial practices before it's too late. And every compassionate soul that now has to go out there and clean up the mess.

Be a witness. Notice. Appreciate. Take a moment to lose yourself in a place where you forget your fears, and feel the love in your heart expand. That's what being outside can do for you!

Your Story
Can you imagine yourself being a small bird, traveling so far only to find "home" is no longer there?

Think about the global story of change, even if it's sobering. I'm sure we'll be hearing about the effect of the oil spill for a long, long time. Let yourself feel the grief, but don't stay stuck there. Otherwise "they" win. Go out and refresh your faith in life by noticing spring as it unfolds. The call of each bird, the pushing through of each flower, each tender spark of life.

I'd love to hear your comments. Post one below!

Try This:
Call your local "Voice of Audubon" to see what birds are in your region today.
Most regions have a hotline. Here are two:
Massachusetts: (781) 259-8805

Central Atlantic region: 301-652-1088

To get a grasp on the somber truth about the environment and find ways to make a difference, check out World Watch Institute at

updated: 7 years ago