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CoastLine: Birding ethics and helping backyard birds thrive

 The Cape Fear Bird Observatory is building a network of local collaborators to monitor Painted Buntings in coastal North Carolina. We are interested in learning more about local abundance of Painted Buntings as well as their nesting ecology and overwintering behavior.
Dan Pancamo / Cape Fear Bird Observatory
The Cape Fear Bird Observatory is building a network of local collaborators to monitor Painted Buntings in coastal North Carolina. The goal: to learn more about the numbers of Painted Buntings in the region, their nesting ecology and overwintering behavior.

When birds started dying from known and mysterious diseases, biologists told us backyard bird feeders pose risks to birds that include disease, collision, and predation. Jill Peleuses of Wild Bird & Garden and Cape Fear Bird Observatory explains how to mitigate those risks and actually help our local and visiting birds.

It was 2019 when bird lovers around the world learned a staggering statistic: Since 1970, nearly three billion birds have disappeared. That’s one in four. The study, published in Science, included data from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Geological Survey – and a host of other research institutions plus data from citizen scientists.

While there are many causes, habitat loss is the major driver. Habitat degradation comes next – which can result from invasive plants, natural areas being fragmented, or water quality problems.

The alarm echoes beyond the bird enthusiast world, though. Birds give us important information about the ecosystem, and they’re good for the economy. Birdwatching-related tourism, according to theUS Fish & Wildlife Service, contributes nearly $1 billion each year to North Carolina’s economy. And bird habitat increases property values.

2020 brought a pandemic, millions of new birdwatchers stuck at home, and new headlines about birds dying from both known and mysterious diseases. U.S. Fish and Wildlife tells us that putting up feeders exposes birds to greater risks: disease, window collisions, and predation – especially by cats.

Are there ways to mitigate these risks to our backyard birds and actually be helpful? Jill Peleuses says the answer to that question is “yes.”

Jill Peleuses grew up on a farm in Missouri, where her grandmothers taught her about birds. They were her focus throughout her college career, as she earned an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and went on to get her MPA with a Natural Resources Management concentration.

She now teaches birding programs for UNCW’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and volunteers for Audubon NC. In 2020, she launched the nonprofit Cape Fear Bird Observatory to promote conservation of birds and their habitats. She and her husband also own Wild Bird and Garden in Wilmington.

Our organization’s flagship project is a migration banding station at Carolina Beach State Park. Through work done at this station we will to track which species travel through the area, and when. This project allows us to research, teach, and connect with the public. Click the button below to purchase a shirt! All proceeds will go towards our research.
Cape Fear Bird Observatory
CFBO's flagship project is a migration banding station at Carolina Beach State Park.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Cape Fear Bird Observatory


Birds of the Carolinas - field guides


David Sibley - bird guides / website


Link to 2019 bird study:


Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.