Avian Nations

“(Animals) are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
– Henry Beston, The Outermost House

By Lee Sherman Gellatly

Birdlife in Oregon is as diverse as its landscape. Species range from tiny and whimsical (such as the rufous hummingbird hovering on 2-inch wings to eat nectar from wildflowers) to huge and pterodactyl-like (such as the soon-to-be-reintroduced California condor, which once soared on wings 9 feet wide, searching for carcasses to scavenge). Penguin-like common murres dive for fish and nest by the thousands on rocky outcroppings. Caspian terns breed on islands of dredged-up sand. Western meadowlarks raise their chicks on grasslands shared by cows. And arguably Oregon’s most famous bird, the spotted owl, creeps ever closer to extinction as its barred cousin encroaches on old growth.

A cadre of widely published ornithologists at Oregon State University is studying these Northwest species, as well as dozens of avian species all over the globe. As the world warms up and wildlands shrink, bird populations are on a steep decline. These, OSU’s scientists call “indicator species” — the collective canaries in the coal mine we call Planet Earth.

In the stories below, you will meet six of more than a dozen OSU ornithologists and learn about findings from the Oregon coast, the Willamette Valley, the Columbia Plateau, the Zumwalt Prairie and the Cascade Range.

A Moveable Feast

Getting fish-eaters to switch from salmon to sardines to carp takes scientific cunning.
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A Rocky Outlook

Seabirds suffer huge losses to opportunistic predators.
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Of Spots and Stripes

Two related owl species compete for the last stands of old-growth forest.
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Small-Scale Science

Punt-sized humans study birds facing big problems.
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A Delicate Balance

Songbirds, cows, bugs and Buteos live in precarious harmony on the prairie.
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Back from Prehistory

When condors soar again in Oregon, lead ammunition could undo their recovery.
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Citizen scientists can join the eBird Project

A team of ornithologists, birders and citizen scientists is collecting data on Oregon birds through a project called Oregon 2020.
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