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NEWS | May 9, 2022

Joint Base San Antonio: It’s for the birds!

By Shannon Carrasco 802nd Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Specialist

May 14 is World Migratory Bird Day, or WMBD, and Joint Base San Antonio natural resources is getting the word out about birds.

World Migratory Bird Day is held annually to provide education and outreach to the public on maintaining a healthy bird population and conserving breeding, wintering and stopover habitats. WMBD increases the level of awareness about the threats that birds are facing.

Birds provide a variety of benefits to us and our environment. They are essential as seed dispersers and pollinators for plants that provide us with food and medicine.

Birds act as free pest control by eating millions of tons of insects a year. They reduce deadly pathogenic bacteria and diseases by cleaning up dead carcasses. They support the economy through the billion-dollar industry of bird watching. Most importantly, they are indicator species for our environment’s health.

JBSA is in the central flyway for many migratory birds, where roughly 400 different species of birds migrate from South America to Canada and back every year.

Approximately 265 of those species have been observed across JBSA and several nests on JBSA, including the federally endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga Chrysoparia), which only nests in Texas.

Since JBSA is the nexus for so many migratory birds, it is necessary to understand the federal protections granted to this vulnerable and crucial component of our ecosystems.

All native birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which implements four international conservation treaties that the U.S. entered into with Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia. It is intended to ensure the sustainability of populations of all protected migratory bird species.

The act makes it illegal to take (pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect), possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer the sale of any migratory bird (dead or alive), or their parts (to include feathers), nests, or eggs without a valid federal permit.

Unfortunately in 2019, studies from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have shown drastic declines in bird populations across the US and Canada.

Total bird populations have been reduced by 3 billion birds since 1970, with devastating losses among birds in every biome. Forests alone have lost 1 billion birds. Grassland bird populations collectively have declined by 53% or another 720 million birds.

In response to such a drastic decline, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, or USFWS, created the Birds of Conservation Concern under the Migratory Bird Program.

This Congressional amendment to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 2901–2912), directed the Secretary of Interior, through the USFWS, to “identify species, subspecies, and populations of all migratory nongame birds that, without additional conservation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. JBSA currently has 51 BCC species that either breed or winter across the installations.

JBSA is responsible to protect native birds and their habitats, when it does not interfere with military missions, such as the safe operation of aircraft. Here are a few things we can do to help conserve birds and their habitats:

1. Keep cats indoors or on a leash. Cats are estimated to kill more than 2.6 billion birds annually in the U.S. and Canada. This is the No. 1 human-caused reason for the loss of birds, aside from habitat loss. Cats can make great pets, but more than 110 million feral and pet cats now roam in the US and Canada. These non-native predators instinctively hunt and kill birds even when well fed. JBSA prohibits the feeding of feral animals and wildlife at all locations and all pets must be appropriately restrained and controlled pets when outdoors.

2. Vegetation should not be removed during bird breeding season. To ensure compliance with the MBTA and ensure no incidental take of nesting birds occurs, trees or vegetation should not be removed between 01 MAR-15 SEP, except when there is a threat to human safety or property. Birds nest in a variety of different places, not always detectable. They can nest between 0’-90’ above the ground, in cavities of dead standing trees, in tall grass and small bushes, or even on completely bare ground! Because of the different nesting locations, it is best to avoid vegetation removal during nesting season. Special precautions must be taken when trimming oaks to prevent the introduction and spread of oak wilt. For information on oak wilt and best management practices to prevent it visit

3. Avoid light pollution. Most birds migrate at night. Light pollution attracts and disorients nocturnally migrating birds, making them more likely to land in areas where they are more vulnerable to collisions and other dangers. At least 100 million birds die every year from colliding with buildings in the U.S. alone. Artificial light also impacts birds in the breeding and winter seasons by disrupting feeding and other vital behaviors. JBSA can turn off lights when not in use, saving both birds and energy. Light fixtures can be installed that face downward, pointing the light to what needs to be lit and not out into space.

4. Plant natives. Texas native plants and grasses provide proper food (insects, nectar, seeds, and berries) and a habitat that sustains birds and diverse wildlife. Most native plants are also drought and freeze-tolerant which requires low maintenance once established. Under the JBSA Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, all new landscapes on JBSA are required to be native.

5. Safeguard windows. Researchers estimate that up to 1 billion birds die every year in the US alone from colliding with a window. Window collisions are most commonly caused by the glass reflecting the environment outside so birds do not recognize it as a barrier. To help minimize window collisions, densely apply patterns or decals to the outside of windows two to four inches apart, install external screens on windows, close blinds or curtains, or move interior plants away from windows.

6. Reduce lead in the environment. Lead is one of the most toxic substances in our environment. Discarded lead ammunition and fishing tackle stay in the environment long after use and pose a deadly threat to birds, wildlife and people. Scavenging and predatory birds such as vultures and eagles are highly susceptible to lead poisoning making it their number one killer in Texas. They obtain lead by consuming lead shot or fragmented lead bullets in hunter-killed carcasses or discarded gut piles. Some ground-feeding species such as doves, and wild turkeys, consume lead pellets inadvertently as they forage for seeds. Waterfowl consume lead from fishing tackle that has settled to the bottom of lakes and ponds. Luckily, nontoxic, non-lead ammunition has become increasingly available and with a price comparable to lead ammunition, and many manufacturers produce a variety of calibers and weights. No-lead ammunition also has excellent ballistic qualities, is highly lethal, and does not fragment. Much work is being done to raise awareness about the availability of non-lead ammunition, to build confidence in these alternatives, and to improve market visibility and labeling of nontoxic alternatives. For more information, visit

Together, we can support and enhance the military mission while also working to secure our nation’s bird populations.

For more information about Migratory Birds, email JBSA Natural Resources Office at or visit the DOD Partners in Flight website at