One of the main objectives of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, and many other conservation organizations, is the preservation of critical wildlife habitat. In our case, we concentrate on bird migration stopover habitat around the Gulf of Mexico. There is some confusion in the conservation community about the value of this land (although the science is not in question) - the concept of "bang for the buck". If you have $50,000 to spend on land, should you buy 50 acres of woods 200 miles inland, or a 0.25 acre wooded lot on the coast, or on a barrier island along the coast?
Most ornithologists realize that many nearctic-neotropical migrants cross the Gulf of Mexico during spring migration on their way to their breeding grounds in North America. This journey is the most perilous part of a bird's life cycle. Migrants try to time their departure from the Yucatan, Caribbean, or Central America to correspond with strong southerly winds. However, occasionally birds encounter storms over the Gulf, and look for the first place on the coast to make landfall. Birders know this phenomenon as a "fallout". Birds can fallout anywhere, especially if they are weak, or the weather is bad enough. The best case is a wooded area, which provides cover, water, and food, so the birds can rest, refuel, and avoid predators while they ready themselves for the rest of their trip north. These wooded areas are referred to as "fire escapes" by ornithologists. The value of this habitat for migrants is incalculable.
Back to land protection. Most foundation boards and funding agencies will balk at giving big money for that 0.25 acre lot on Dauphin Island, Alabama, which is coveted by developers to build someone a summer home. It's an uphill battle for us - there's not much of that habitat left. It's brought home even further when you've seen 500 dead Swainson's Warblers on a Louisiana beach after a storm.
GCBO currently is submitting two grants to purchase two quarter-acre lots on Dauphin Island, and a 50x100 ft. on Grand Isle, Louisiana. The total needed for this little over a half acre of land is $123,000. It's an uphill battle. But it's continued presence as wood lots will help save hundreds of thousands of migrants each year. Wish us luck.