World Bird Sanctuary, utility work to preserve habitat

Monday, August 25, 2008

JOPLIN, Mo. -- A water utility and a conservation group are working together to improve habitats for birds and raise the public's awareness of habitat preservation.

Missouri-American Water Co., which provides water to Joplin and many other communities in Missouri, has joined with World Bird Sanctuary to improve habitat for birds on land the utility owns along Shoal Creek.

Last week, Missouri-American invited Walt Crawford, director of the Wild Bird Sanctuary, to talk about the program with its employees. He showed the employees some of his birds, including a peregrine falcon and an eagle named Liberty.

The partnership between the utility and World Bird Sanctuary extends a program that began when Crawford established the sanctuary in the St. Louis area in 1977. World Bird Sanctuary is one of North America's largest conservation sites for birds and Crawford has been recognized several times for his leadership in ornithology.

The sanctuary has rehabilitated and returned to the wild more than 800 raptors in the last 20 years. That includes peregrine falcons, bald eagles and the American common barn owl, one of the most endangered raptors native to Missouri.

Crawford said World Bird Sanctuary and Missouri-American worked together in St. Louis several years ago to promote habitat management on property the company owns along the Missouri River.

"One of the biggest resources affecting both birds and man is water," said Crawford. "All of the birds we have in Missouri rely on water. Its preservation and protection is necessary for their future and ours."

Crawford said his organization wants to convince private companies that they "can manage these properties in such a way that it enhances habitat to encourage these birds to breed and increase their populations."

A bird survey was taken on Tuesday along Shoal Creek to determine the species that are using the property. The partnership will develop a management plan and do four surveys a year to see which species visit the site, Crawford said.

Crawford said he wants people to understand that they can help create habitat for wild birds.

"It does not take 10,000 acres to make a good habitat. People can do it in their own backyard. Constructing some nest boxes and planting wisely for wildlife are two of the key elements," he said.

Missouri-American has already seeded the seven-acre site with native plants while a new water-intake structure was being built on Shoal Creek. The company is planning to ask local Boy Scouts to help build nest boxes.

Crawford said the loss of habitat is having a greater impact on birds than any other human-related activity. Quail, he said, is a good example of a bird that is struggling because of habitat loss.

"We were harvesting 900,000 quail a year in the 1960s. It's down to 200,000 a year now," he said. "The decrease can be traced to the removal of fence rows by farmers who want to get the most production out of their land. If you return that habitat, they will come back."

Information from: The Joplin Globe,

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