To the Shores of Montezuma

By Kenn Kaufman

On a map, the Montezuma Wetlands in upstate New York might seem insignificant next to Lake Ontario and the nearby Finger Lakes. But that impression would be deceiving. The wetlands complex, 36,000 acres of marshes, grasslands, swamps, upland forest, and farmland, hosts some of the largest concentrations of migrant waterfowl and shorebirds in the northeast. Many species of concern nest here as well, including American and least bitterns, ospreys, black terns, and sedge wrens in the marshes, and red-shouldered hawks and cerulean warblers in the woodlands. In 1976, in an effort to reestablish bald eagles in New York State, hand-raised birds were released in the refuge—the first such program in the world. Two years ago more than 300 nesting pairs of bald eagles were counted in the state.

The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1938, protects about 7,000 acres. Until recently most of the remaining area had little protection. Designation of the complex as an Important Bird Area (IBA), the first in New York, has helped focus attention on the site’s significance, and now several state and federal agencies, along with Audubon and other private conservation groups as well as area farmers, are working together to protect, enhance, and restore wildlife habitat here.

Recently the spread of purple loosestrife has degraded large areas, but a vigorous control program has made progress in holding back this invasive alien while reestablishing native plants. Runoff from surrounding farmland, laced with agricultural chemicals, is also a concern, and restoring marsh habitat is a perpetual challenge. Audubon New York will open a new Audubon Center in the area this coming fall, building on its work in educating the public about the importance of these wetlands.
For information on the new Audubon center, go to http://ny.audubon.org/montezuma.htm. To learn more about Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program, visit www.audubon.org.



© 2006 National Audubon Society

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State of the Bird

Species: Smaller than most terns, the black tern (Chlidonias niger) in breeding plumage is mostly velvety black, with silvery gray on the upperside of the wings and tail.

Status: Populations have declined seriously since the 1960s in many parts of the tern’s range.

Range/habitat: Breeds in freshwater marshes of North America and Eurasia, and winters mostly in coastal or offshore waters.

Threats: Steady loss and degradation of freshwater marshes.

Outlook: Declining populations can probably be stabilized if quality wetlands can be protected.

Learn more: Go to http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/