While bird populations are falling in general, some feathered friends are just fine living among us

Nesting in NOLA

(WVUE) - Spring and early summer bring to a population explosion to parts of South Louisiana, from ravenously hungry mockingbird chicks to roseate spoonbills that dot cypress like pink tree ornaments.

In two spots in New Orleans, one in Algiers and the other near Chef Menteur Highway in Eastern New Orleans, some birds native to the swamp seem a bit out of place.

Yellow-crowned night herons have taken up residence in oak trees on busy streets.

"They all look like Albert Einstein and they're crazy," said Patty Mack, an Algiers resident. "They fly all over the place."

Peter Yaukey, a bird expert and University of Holy Cross professor, fields all kinds of questions from people who spot the birds.

"They're all excited because they've seen this crazy-looking bird in their yard," Yaukey said.  "It seems like it ought to be in Africa or something, the Amazon."

Patty Mack and her husband, Tim, have rescued several of the young chicks over the years and taken them to veterinarians.

"When they're healthy, they eat like pit bulls," Tim Mack said. "You just put a bowl of food in front of them and they eat like crazy when they're hungry."

Bird lovers want to get the word out about the vulnerable chicks.

"It's kind of amazing that they moved into the city, and we should protect them," said David Muth, Gulf Restoration Program Director for the National Wildlife Federation.

Not every ending is a happy one. Last year, a study by the National Audubon Society found 30 percent of North America's bird species are in decline, some of them crashing.

"The species that we see in numbers in urban areas are the ones that are amenable to urbanization," Yaukey said.

Spoonbills were once creatures of remote islands and swamps. While they still nest far from cities, the adults can be spotted frequently in drainage canals in metro New Orleans.

"The roseate spoonbill has a tragic history of having been persecuted for its feathers for a fashion decoration 100 years ago and it's come back from that," Yaukey said.

Despite the success here, the bird's numbers are falling dramatically in the Florida Everglades.

Muth points out the population gains need to be considered in some historical context.

"If you look back to Audubon's time, there were stunning amounts of wildlife in Louisiana," Muth said. "The first Europeans that arrived in Louisiana, and the few that left accounts, just describe a world that we can't even envision now."

Monday, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called the current decline in animal populations a "global epidemic" and part of the sixth great mass extinction in earth history. The study found that 30 percent of all land vertebrates - mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians - are declining in population.

Spoonbills, brown pelicans and a host of shore birds rely on coastal Louisiana for habitat. While populations of many species have recovered, Yaukey warns the forces grinding away at Louisiana's coast could put pressure on bird species, including the pelican.

"We can't help but look at them as threatened in a more long term sense."

Environmentalists see hope in the Mississippi River and the state's plans to divert fresh water and sediment into the marsh to build land.

"We actually have the opportunity to bring some of it back," Muth said.

In the meantime, some feathered friends aren't waiting on man to decide where they ought to live.

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