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Oh Starling…the Bard and the Bird

May 13, 2015


A good friend and colleague just started a fantastic blog, combining her twin passions of science and conservation with art! Her first post is about the introduction of starlings to the US — a fascinating story and one that greatly changed urban bird populations in the US. Check it out!

Originally posted on The Science of Illustration:

Lord StarlingLady NightingaleSir Skylark

In 1890 Eugene Schieffelin, a member of the American Acclimatization Society, released 100 European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) into Central Park so that a breeding population might colonize and expand. He had done this several times before with other birds but with limited success. So what is the American Acclimatization Society and why was Eugene Schieffelin introducing starlings to Central Park?

Eugene Schieffelin, a drug manufacturer and Shakespeare enthusiast, intended to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings to the American landscape (apparently collecting stamps wasn’t his thing). The starling was mentioned in the play Henry IV in relation to it’s ability to mimic and how that ability could be used for dark deeds, “The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing…

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White House Pollinator Garden

April 27, 2015

Apartment Therapy (one of my favorite sites not related to conservation!) had a fun piece about the White House garden today. The vegetable garden has been up and running for years now (complete with a beehive), but this year they planted a brand new pollinator garden to top if off! This is a nod towards the importance of native pollinators in our food supply. Honeybees are important (and the efforts focused on the crisis they’re facing right now is crucial, but at the end of the day they are a non-native species. Our native pollinators can be just as important as honeybees for pollinator-dependent food crops, and certainly deserve the same amount of attention as their non-native counterparts. Kudos to the White House for recognizing this!

White House, Washington, DC, (c) Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons

White House, Washington, DC, (c) Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons

Almost April

March 29, 2015
Amsterday, (c) MMD 2014

Amsterday, (c) MMD 2014

We’re nearing the very end of March, but the past few days have been quite cold (we even have a hypothermia alert in DC today!). One of our local weathermen said a couple of days ago that it was a beautiful January day. Even though I love winter, I always reach a tipping point right about now, when we’ve been teased with some warm weather and plants and trees are attempting to green up. So I thought I’d share some greenery with you today, from a trip to Amsterdam last year! I love the way people had potted plants in front of their houses throughout the city — a touch of nature even with no front yards.

Biophilic DC

March 8, 2015
Council of the District of Columbia, (c) MMD

Council of the District of Columbia, (c) MMD

Some exciting news from Washington, DC! A group of colleagues and I have started an initiative to have DC join the Biophilic Cities Network, a coalition started by Tim Beatley and his colleagues (Tim, as I’ve mentioned before, wrote the excellent introduction to the biophilic cities concept, aptly named Biophilic Cities. He more recently wrote about coasts and waterways in cities in Blue Urbanism).

Our first order of business was to ask the Council of the District of Columbia to pass a Sense of the Council Resolution, declaring that:

the District of Columbia supports the principles of the Biophilic Cities Network and commits to promoting, learning about, and sharing biophilic programs and projects with other participating municipalities, to supporting urban biodiversity, and to creating opportunities for all District residents to connect with nature. 

The resolution goes on to discuss the important link between human health and well-being and regular access to nature, the important role cities can play in biodiversity conservation, and that all residents across the city deserve direct experiences with nature. It defines a biophilic city as:

a city of abundant nature, where residents, young and old, have rich daily contact with the natural environment no matter where they reside; where larger natural areas and deeper natural experiences are an easy walk, bike, or transit ride away; and where the urban environment allows for and fosters connections with diverse flora and fauna. In biophilic cities, residents recognize, respect, are curious about, and actively care for the nature around them, and they spend extensive time outside learning about, enjoying, and participating in the natural world.

In biophilic cities, leaders and elected officials give nature and natural capital a central place in their decision making, and evaluate their planning and development decisions by the extent to which nature is restored and protected, and connections with the natural environment enhanced. Leaders and residents of biophilic cities recognize that proximity to nature makes for more desirable communities and provides numerous benefits to all.

A biophilic city recognizes the important role cities play in protecting and increasing biodiversity in a world where biodiversity is greatly threatened.

Thanks especially to the excellent work of Chris Weiss at the DC Environmental Network and Councilmember Mary Cheh’s office, all eleven of the current sitting councilmembers co-introduced the resolution, which, although non-binding, will give us a strong foundation to build on over time. The resolution will be voted on in early April.

In related news, a few weeks back the Biophilic Cities Project asked me and Stella Tarnay to give a webinar on DC and our efforts (scroll down a bit for our contribution). I also highly recommend the entire webinar series — they cover lots of interesting and relevant topics with great speakers.

Stella is my co-organizer in our initial working group as we’re exploring what to do next, and she works with Dumbarton Oaks Park and the Sustainable Landscape Design Program at George Washington University. Other members of our group include representatives from DCEN, City Wildlife, and the Humane Society of the United States. We’re excited to move forward and make DC more nature-rich for all of our residents, human and non-human alike!

Snow 2015

March 5, 2015
Snow 2015 (c) MMD

Snow 2015 (c) MMD

And here’s my obligatory snow picture for 2015!

Storm Drain in Austin, Texas

February 25, 2015
Storm Drain, Austin, TX (c) MMD

Storm Drain, Austin, TX (c) MMD

Spotted in Austin, Texas. A nice little biophilic feature, which reminded me a bit of some storm drains I saw in Japan! What a great way to incorporate a bit of nature into a city sidewalk.

Bats and Bridges in Austin

February 20, 2015
Bat Statue, Austin TX (c) MMD

Bat Statue, Austin TX (c) MMD


Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin TX (c) MMD

Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin TX (c) MMD

I was in Austin, Texas last weekend and stayed at a hotel just across from the Congress Avenue Bridge. In urban wildlife circles, this bridge is famous for its summer inhabitants — a large (1.5 million bats!) maternity colony of Mexican free-tailed bats.

Although the bats weren’t in residence, we walked down to the bat viewing area one afternoon to take a look. Surprisingly, the bridge was still an attraction, even without the bats! People were standing around peering up at the bridge, hanging out in the information area, and reading all about these amazing animals. It was great to see.

Although the bats are now a big tourist attraction in Austin, there was a time when they were feared and despised. After a bridge renovation in 1980 led to a growth in their population (the new bridge made for perfect bat roosting sites), many in the city became concerned about their presence. Bat Conservation International’s founder Merlin Tuttle moved to Austin, seeing this as a great opportunity for education and outreach on the importance of bats to a healthy ecosystem. In the end, the city embraced the bats, even naming their (now defunct) minor league hockey team the “Ice Bats.” Bats show up repeatedly throughout the city, in art, in tourist souvenirs, and in local restaurants. It’s quite the PR turn-around!

Many bat species make use of bridges and other man-made structures, as their natural roosting sites have given way to human development. Because of this, efforts like those in Austin to both protect bats and work with humans to increase the chances of coexistence are vital, especially as many species face new threats such as white-nose syndrome.

People looking at the Congress Avenue Bridge, (c) MMD

People looking at the Congress Avenue Bridge, (c) MMD


Bat viewing site, (c) MMD

Bat viewing site, (c) MMD


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