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More MN towns are becoming 'Bird Cities'

Outdoors Columnist Blane Klemek

I've never met a soul that disliked wild birds. And while some folks admittedly favor certain species of birds over others for various reasons, by and large most everyone enjoys observing wild birds.

Moreover, the vast majority of wild bird enthusiasts are "bird friendly" and will take modest to extraordinary measures in attracting wild birds to their properties and backyard bird feeding stations.

Yours truly is no exception. From installing wood duck, bluebird, tree swallow, purple martin, house wren, American kestrel, and bat houses, to hanging bird feeders of all types for nearly all kinds of birds ... as well as planting various fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, I like to think that I'm contributing to the welfare of a handful of wild birds while creating a bird friendly environment for both the birds' enjoyment as well as myself. After all, it's what we birders do!

Birders have long known what being bird friendly is all about. It's why we spend a small fortune throughout our lifetimes on heavy bags of black-oil sunflower seed and countless other bird feeding, bird attracting, and birdwatching goodies. Indeed, this love of wild birds — so enjoyed by so many — has expanded in scope and ambition within countless organizations and clubs devoted to promoting birding and wild bird conservation through a host of programs and events. The National Audubon Society and Audubon Minnesota are just two familiar and important example organizations dedicated to bird conservation.

Did you know that three Minnesota cities have been formally recognized by Audubon Minnesota as bird friendly communities? As cities so acknowledged, these three communities are each officially designated as a "Bird City," which means that the communities work to improve bird habitat while working to reduce threats to wild birds, in addition to promoting and engaging citizens in conservation action. Hastings was the first designated Bird City in 2016, followed shortly afterwards by St. Paul. A year later here in the northland, Bemidji was recognized by Audubon Minnesota as the state's third Bird City.

In the case of Bemidji, the city has worked to create and improve bird habitat by planting native plant gardens and various bird-bee-butterfly friendly landscaping projects by working with the Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Chapter, Bemidji's Monarch Committee, and Bemidji State University, and other organizations.

Additional projects include the development of birding checklists and birding "hotspot" checklists, providing public bird viewing/feeding stations, and creating interpretive signage that highlights Bemidji's purple martin conservation and lakeshore restoration projects.

The "Bird City Minnesota" program, which is funded from the Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to help Audubon Minnesota to promote and administer the program, requires that designated "Bird Cities" perform specific actions in three major categories.

And within each of the categories there are five to seven best practices that can be fulfilled by completing various actions such as what Bemidji has done.

Required of all Bird City communities is to adopt an official resolution and hold annual celebrations recognizing International Migratory Bird Day. This year's Bemidji Bird City celebration will be hosting the statewide "Purple Martin Fest" at Cameron Park and Boat Launch, Bemidji, on Saturday, June 30. A nature expo, speakers, family activities, as well as events that will be held at Lake Bemidji State Park that includes "Raptors Live" on Friday, June 29 and naturalist-led programs on the 30th.

According to LCCMR's project work plan, "Through Bird City Minnesota, Audubon Minnesota will engage up to 60 communities..." over the next few years in order to improve habitat and protect birds while providing "...local governments with a proven conservation roadmap, leveraging their resources to achieve conservation results and greater community and individual awareness."

Audubon Minnesota has piloted the Bird City program with communities for the past few years, as previously mentioned — Hastings and St. Paul — and now Bemidji. The program's initial investment in Bird City will allow Audubon Minnesota to take the pilot program statewide to ultimately reach 40 to 60 more communities by the year 2020.

By leveraging local governments, the Bird City Minnesota program will accomplish many conservation goals by involving city staffs, 400,000 or more citizens, hundreds of partners and partner organizations, and elected officials on hundreds of projects designed to increase habitat through restoration efforts; reducing threats to wild birds such as those posed by window collisions, light pollution, and toxins/pesticides; and to "...Engage citizens through restorations, training, bird/nest monitoring, and school/public birding events."

So how does a community apply and become a designated Bird City? Through Audubon Minnesota and the backing of your mayor, city council, city staff, and assistance of partners, that's how.

And once a city successfully completes eight bird-friendly actions in three specific categories, Audubon Minnesota will officially recognize the community as a Bird City.

As Audubon Minnesota notes, "Birds are an ideal focus for environmental education and conservation. They are beautiful and easily accessible no matter where you are in the state. At a time when wildlife habitat is being severely degraded and people are increasingly disconnected with nature, working with Minnesota's citizens, from small towns to big cities, to conserve birds and their habitats is one of the best ways to change this negative trend..." as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

For more information about the Bird City Minnesota program, contact Audubon Minnesota at audubonminnesota//mn.audubon.org/

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