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Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Bay Journal and Baltimore Sun.

Bird-loving Baltimore putting out welcome mat for feathered visitors

Joining ranks of "urban bird treaty" cities, it gets federal funds to enhance habitat, reduce nighttime lighting

  • September 30, 2016
Red-tailed hawk, one of many migratory birds that pass through Baltimore. City's partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aims to boost public awareness and conservation of them.  (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)Masonville Cove, a former dump site in southern Baltimore, was named an urban wildlife refuge a few years ago.

Baltimore may be home to the Orioles and Ravens, but it's now taking steps to welcome the real feathered visitors by joining the ranks of U.S. “urban bird treaty” cities.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave the city $35,000 last year to begin creating and maintaining habitat for migratory birds. On Saturday, it will announce another $50,000 in funding as the city formally signs the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds.

The treaty program was created in 1999 to help municipal governments conserve birds that live or overwinter in cities. New Orleans was the first city to sign up; Chicago, the second. Baltimore will be the 24th, joining Washington, D.C., the only other bird treaty city in the watershed. Other participants along the Atlantic migratory flyway include Philadelphia, while Minneapolis and St. Paul sit along the Mississippi flyway.

The money will go to Outward Bound, an expedition-oriented educational and service nonprofit based in Leakin Park, and will be coordinated through the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. Outward Bound used last year’s funds to clear invasive species, run citizen science programs and expand “lights out” awareness programs that encourage businesses to turn off lights starting in November, when many birds migrate. It will continue those efforts.

In signing the bird treaty, the city agrees to be a partner with the wildlife agency on protecting and conserving habitat, formalizing an effort than began a year ago.

Cities can cause major harm to migrating birds: one tall building in Chicago illuminated at night was responsible for killing 1,478 birds annually, according to the agency. That city is also working on a “lights out” program to reduce the number that become disoriented and crash into windows.

The federal funds continue the agency’s efforts to engage urban residents in conservation.   In 2013, the service named Masonville Cove one of just 10 “urban national wildlife refuges” in the nation. It was part of President Barack Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative, which attempts to connect more Americans to wild and scenic places.

With 80 percent of the public living near an urban area, Masonville Cove and Leakin Park would seem to be great places for families to explore nature.

But Leakin Park, with 1,200 acres on the city’s west side, is “not nearly as used as it should be,” said Genevieve LaRouche, supervisor of the USFWS Chesapeake Bay field office. Masonville, a former dump with debris dating back to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, is still trying to beckon visitors. Once there, they find a 54-acre preserve with marsh plants, waterfowl and turtles. But its location in Curtis Bay, at the confluence of Interstate 895 and several industrial back roads, is not exactly inviting.

The birds, LaRouche hopes, will bring people out. Warblers, American kestrels and red-tailed hawks are among the species that use Baltimore as a stopover on their migrations, she said.

City and agency officials will sign the treaty at 11 a.m. Saturday at Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, 1900 Eagle Drive, Baltimore MD 21207. The event continues with live bird demonstrations featuring a common raven, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, and Eurasian eagle-owl. There will also be bird walks, outdoor crafts, archery, rock climbing, and visits from the mascots for the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles, the city's professional football and baseball teams.

LaRouche is working with dozens of state, local and nonprofit partners on a related initiative, the Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition.  Organizers hope through it to connect ribbons of green space within the city to urban and suburban parks, much as a similar program did in Chicago. LaRouche said the Baltimore initiative, just a year old now, is still in the early stages.  But its goal dovetails with the latest initiative - to get people outside and appreciate the birds, parks and fish with whom we share our city.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Bay Journal and Baltimore Sun.

Read more articles by Rona Kobell


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