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Audubon in Action

Birds
Swift Recovery

The Frank Wagner Elementary School in Monroe, Washington, has about 600 students in its classrooms and about 26,000 Vaux’s swifts in its chimney. In 2007 the birds nearly lost their summertime home—one of the largest Vaux’s roosts in the world—when officials slated the 70-year-old chimney for razing, citing concerns that it would collapse in an earthquake. That’s when Audubon intervened. The Pilchuck Audubon Society, along with Eastside Audubon, Seattle Audubon, and several other groups, formed the Save Our Swifts project to garner public attention and raise funds to restore the chimney. Pilchuck Audubon funded a $6,000 engineering study to determine the cost of an earthquake retrofit, and by mid-2009 the Washington State General Fund gave $100,000 to the school for the effort. With additional grants from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and $15,000 from TogetherGreen, an Audubon–Toyota project that funds conservation work, the chimney was fully restored last August. Now cameras inside the structure monitor the population, and swift expert Larry Schwitters launched another effort, the Vaux’s Happening, to locate and preserve migratory roosts. “Most in the school and community didn’t know a thing” about swifts inhabiting the chimney, says Schwitters, the project coordinator. “Now,” he marvels, “it’s an international sensation.” (See a video of the swifts here.)—Hari Radhamoni 

 

Ferreting Out a Victory
Endangered black-footed ferrets and their advocates won a key legal battle late last year. A Kansas district court ruled that landowners in Logan County can freely say no when local officials demand that they kill prairie dogs—the ferrets’ main food source—on their property. The Endangered Species Act trumped century-old statutes, earning a major coup for the ferrets, reintroduced in 2007 and 2008. “[These mammals] require prairie dogs for existence in the wild,” says Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas executive director. “They feed on prairie dogs almost exclusively. They live in prairie dog burrows. They take over and raise their young there. They spend most of their time, day and night, in prairie dog burrows.” Klataske predicts Audubon of Kansas and others fighting for this cause will likely see the front lines again, after appeals are filed by those he considers hell-bent on prairie dog eradication. But for now the victory is sweet, especially for the dozens of black-footed ferrets that today call western Kansas home.—Michele Wilson

 

Cutty McGill

Conservation Hero
In October Audubon awarded Donal O’Brien its prestigious Audubon Medal in recognition of his dedication to advancing conservation on a global scale. O’Brien (below right, with, from left, Audubon President David Yarnold and Audubon Chairman B. Holt Thrasher) served for 25 years on Audubon’s board, 15 of them as chairman. He was largely responsible for introducing to the Western Hemisphere the Important Bird Areas program, which has identified 2,500 sites nationwide, totaling more than 300 million acres, as vital to bird survival. “Few Americans have contributed as much to conservation as Donal O’Brien,” says Thrasher. “He also provided some of the steadiest and most inspired leadership that Audubon ever had.”—Ed Whitaker

Hog Wild
Want to gain field experience and learn about the remarkable lives of wild birds from world-class birders and ornithologists? Whether you’re a teen or an adult, a beginner or a veteran bird enthusiast, Audubon’s summer camp on Hog Island offers something for everyone. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the camp, located on an idyllic island 60 miles north of Portland, Maine, is expanding its programs to include an educator’s week and more. Visit Project Puffin.—Alisa Opar

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Video: Swift Flight
Visitors to Washington's Frank Wagner Elementary School set up lawn chairs to watch an avian spectacle: thousands of Vaux's swifts circling the building.