Protecting The Flock| Why birds are protecting our ecosystem

Protecting The Flock| Why birds are protecting our ecosystem (KSNV)

"If it matters to them, it matters to us."

That's what wildlife biologists say about the health of wild bird populations. Predicting changes in the environment that could affect our own future.

To help spread the word, National Geographic Magazine is dubbing 2018: The year of the Bird.

"This is one of the easiest places to see a lot of species very quickly in a day", says Justin Streit.

Justin Streit wears the label with pride.

The self-described "bird nerd" and wildlife biologist checks in at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.

On this morning, calm winds, and mild temperatures provide ideal conditions for spotters.

This year marks an important milestone.

It's the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It protects wild birds from being killed, harassed, or otherwise disturbed.

The trouble is, in December a ruling by the interior department took some of the items out of the act.

"The current administration is pro-development and wants to ensure there aren't any hang-ups for issues that might inhibit development", says Streit.

Across the border in Cedar City, Utah, wildlife rehabilitator Martin Tyner has been working to save the flock for nearly 50 years.

He and his golden eagle "Scout" are providing educational programs about birds throughout the western U.S.

"These are what we call a barometer species. These are the canary in the coal mine for us. They're an apex predator, top of the food chain. We're at the top of the food chain. What affects them, effects us", says Tyner.

One example? The overuse he says of DDT. A common pesticide, that scientists later discovered was preventing eagles from absorbing calcium. Their eggs were too thin and fragile, and their numbers began to drop.

"If we had continued to use DDT like we were, my children and grandchildren would have been born with severe birth defects. These guys saved us", says Tyner.

Now, he's returning the favor.

A big part of Tyner's job is rehabilitating sick and injured birds. He's currently nursing a hawk, falcon, and 2-year-old eagle back to health.

This one has been on his ranch about a month after being hit by a car.

"The really sad part of this whole story is that somebody came along and found this injured eagle on the side of the road. They decided to hold this poor animal down and rip it's tail feathers out", says Tyner.

100's of birds have been released, thanks to Tyner's efforts.

Beyond speaking to small groups or classrooms, Tyner's long-term project is this land right here.

Cedar Canyon Nature Park is where birds and other wildlife that can not be released will be on permanent display.

The goal is a first phase visitors center by summer.

For now the sound of melting snow, and nearby waterfall provide a backdrop for day visitors. Tyner says it's the message that matters.

"Wildlife deserves our respect. Even Scout is no one's pet", says Tyner.

"Basically he's my hunter, and I'm his dog. Because I'm a good dog, he keeps me. If I do not serve him well, he will leave me and never come back", says Tyner.

Back in Henderson:

"Birds eat a lot of insects. Millions and millions of insects so that affects agriculture", says Streit.

Streit ends the morning with 40 species of birds spotted.

They won't all be eagles, or even particularly rare, but here in nature, he says that might be the point.

"The more species we have, the more healthy an ecosystem. Protection of all birds is important for that reason", says Streit.

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