First of two parts
The most ambitious effort to protect birds in a century comes to a close next week. Although its catalog of accomplishments ranges from enlisting thousands of new supporters to collecting reams of fresh data, the Year of the Bird faces a tough question:
Was the 12-month campaign powerful enough to make a difference on behalf of endangered species, or will it turn out to be mostly a memorial to an era of plentiful birds that’s slowly disappearing?
Led by the Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Geographic and BirdLife International, the Year of the Bird project gathered 180 partners, 50 proclamations and tens of thousands of new supporters over the course of the year.
The campaign turned a loose collection of like-minded organizations into a coalition that can push for legislation, preserve habitat and rally supporters in the future. “The network is now in place,’’ said Miyoko Chu, senior director of communications for the Cornell Lab.
The project elevated Cornell’s effort to turn its birding apps into ground-breaking tools for visualizing migration and population trends. The apps are fueled by an army of 400,000 birdwatchers who record species to form a collective portrait more detailed than ever before possible. Last month, Cornell unveiled new technology that creates animations showing precisely where and how specific birds migrate during the fall and spring seasons.
The Year of the Bird was accompanied by a flow of stories, photos, videos and essays from National Geographic that took readers on a tour of the front lines of birding. The magazine launched its contribution with an essay by novelist and expert birder Jonathan Franzen, who took on the question of “Why Birds Matter.’’ It’s must-reading for anyone interested in the future of birds.
The Year of the Bird also inspired dozens of offshoot projects as partners came on board. In one example, a class of advanced graphic design students at Ithaca College heard a radio interview with Franzen and immediately went to work with Cornell on a series of posters in support of the project.
“People participated in Year of the Bird in all sorts of ways, from the individual level to the global,’’ said Nicholas Gonzalez, an Audubon media specialist. “It’s always the year of the bird at Audubon. We never need a reason to celebrate birds. But this was an especially big deal.’’
And yet, right as the project was coming to a close this fall, a series of setbacks came along, as if to remind the organizations what they’re up against.