Sunrise over the great smoky mountains.

Outdoors in RI: For the birds! – Take the kiddos to Audubon for school vacation week – Jeff Gross

by Jeff Gross, contributing writer

Last year the Audubon Society of RI released its “State of our Birds”. This year the conservation group says the decline in bird populations is sobering. Nearly every group of birds is declining.

They say:

Across North America, birds are declining. As indicators of environmental health, the loss of roughly 3 billion birds since 1970 portends changes to our habitats, water, air, and soil that deserve our attention and concern. The health of our bird populations is inextricably linked to our own.

As a leading conservation organization in Rhode Island, Audubon has dedicated itself to providing and managing habitat for birds in a capacity that would promote their survival in the face of climate change. To meet this goal, the organization developed the Audubon Avian Research Initiative in September 2021 to document the bird populations utilizing the nearly 9,500 acres of land managed by the Society.

A fifth of all birds on the Earth pollinate our wildflowers and fruiting trees. They serve as natural control agents for agricultural and household pests. Birds disperse seeds, contributing to habitat health and they scavenge dead and decaying organic matter. “We need birds more than they need us,” said Dr. Charles Clarkson, Audubon Director of Avian Research. “And we are slowly losing them from the fabric of our existence. Because of human population growth, the loss of natural habitat, the climate crisis and more, birds are becoming increasingly scarce.”

On January 28, 2023, Clarkson unveiled the first Audubon State of Our Birds Report during a sold-out “Birds Across New England: The Audubon Regional Conservation Symposium” at the Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol, RI. Over 70 attendees joined 22 scientists from across New England as research was presented and region-wide comprehensive conservation plans were developed.

The State of The Birds Report

Armed with the knowledge from the new Report, Audubon will begin a monitoring and management scheme to reverse the declining trends in our birds. Some of the findings from the report include:

  • Greater than 1/3 of all birds found breeding on Audubon Society of Rhode Island wildlife refuges are experiencing long-term population decline. Only 1/4 of all species are showing signs of long-term increases in population.
  • The greatest declines were seen in aerial insectivores, such as Barn Swallows, Bank Swallows, and Chimney Swifts and species associated with early successional and grassland habitats. These steep declines are likely due to habitat loss, decline in prey abundance (insects) and climate change.
  • A total of nine species were selected as “Responsibility Birds.” These bird species will receive additional monitoring from Audubon to determine the steps that can be taken to mitigate current population declines and promote local and regional population growth.

There still is hope. “Conservation is a lengthy process,” explained Clarkson. “Stopping the decline is not going to happen overnight. But we need to get the message out now. It’s important to engage the public, not just the conservation community. The hope is that the more people that become aware of the loss of our birds, the more we can act together. Our collective actions and choices can make a real difference.”

When we help birds survive, we help each other. Learn more about the Audubon Society of Rhode Island Avian Research Initiative, at


February School Vacation Week Nature Activities

Let the kids go a little wild during February school vacation break!  Come to Audubon and meet owls, hawks, and turtles. Pull on your warm and wooly mittens for outdoor explorations to search for animal tracks. Audubon offers plenty of winter fun at three locations to keep the kids busy, engaged and immersed in nature!

Three Locations: Bristol and Smithfield, RI and Seekonk, MA – see the schedule, below

Here’s Bristol:

Bristol, RI

The Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium
1401 Hope Street, Bristol, RI

Admission Fee: Members (2 adults and up to 4 children) free; Non-Member Adults $6.00; Non-Member Senior $5.00; Non-Member Child (4-12) $4.00; Children 3 and under free.
Registration is not required. Ages: All.

Daily Schedule:
10:00 am: Nature Story
10:00 am – 3:00 pm: Nature Crafts
11:00 am: Animal Interview
1:00 pm: Special Program (see below)**
2:30 pm: Animal Interview

**The following special programs are available each day at 1:00 pm and are geared for children ages 6+:

Monday, February 19, 2024, 1:00 pm Birds and Feathers
Learn all about bird feathers, how they work, and why they are so important. Explore different types of feathers and match real feathers to the bird they belong to. For ages 6 and up.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 1:00 pm: Turtle Races
Join an Audubon educator for a favorite activity: turtle races! Watch two turtles meander down a track to see which is the fastest reptile around. For ages 6 and up.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024, 1:00 pm: Trail Walk
Join an Audubon naturalist on a walk around our Wildlife refuge looking for tracks and other signs of animal life. Dress warmly! For ages 6 and up.

Thursday, February 22, 2024, 1:00 pm: Cooking for the Birds
Come learn how to make a bird-friendly meal for our winter residents. (Allergy alert: nuts will be used.) For ages 6 and up.

Friday, February 23, 2024, 1:00 pm: Owl Pellet Dissection
Learn how owls hunt, then use simple and safe tools to take apart an owl pellet. Identify the bones inside and discover what your owl ate! For ages 6 and up.

Smithfield events:

Smithfield, RI

Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge
12 Sanderson Rd, Smithfield, RI

Registration required for each program. Program fees vary. Click the program titles for details and to register.

Owls of New England
February 19, 2024; 11:00 am-12:00 pm
There are several amazing owl species that live in New England. You might have one in your own back yard! Come learn about our native owls, hear their calls, learn about their remarkable adaptations, and meet a live owl.
For children ages 5 and up.
Fee: $10/member adult, $5/member child; $14/non-member adult, $7/non-member child.

Rockin’ Reptiles
February 21, 2024; 11:00 am-12:00 pm
Rhode Island has a lot of neat reptiles! Come and learn about who lives here and where they can be seen. Start out with a presentation of all the native species and follow up with a visit from some live reptiles.
For children ages 7 and up.
Fee: $10/member adult, $5/member child; $14/non-member adult, $7/non-member child.

Big Hawk – Little Hawk
February 23, 2024; 11:00 am-12:00pm
Come meet two live raptors – a Red-tailed hawk and a Merlin – the largest hawk and a small falcon that are found in Rhode Island. Find out about the lives of these amazing birds and examine preserved feathers, wings, and talons.
For children ages 4 and up.
Fee: $10/member adult, $5/member child; $14/non-member adult, $7/non-member child.

And – in Seekonk:

Seekonk, MA

Caratunk Wildlife Refuge
301 Brown Avenue, Seekonk, MA

Registration required for each program. Program fees vary. Click the program titles for details and to register.

Reptile Meet and Greet
February 20, 2024; 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Rhode Island has several remarkable reptiles! Learn about which live nearby and where they can be seen. Start with a presentation of some native species and follow it up with a visit from Audubon Ambassador Turtles Otto and Speedy.
For children ages 4 and up. Fee: $5/member child, $7/non-member child. No fee for accompanying adults.

Big Owl – Little Owl
February 22, 2024; 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Come and meet two live raptors – an Eastern Screech-Owl and a Great Horned Owl – the second smallest owl and the largest owl that are found in Rhode Island. Learn all about the lives of these amazing birds and touch preserved feathers, wings, and talons.
For children ages 5 and up. Fee: $5/member child, $7/non-member child, no fee for accompanying adults. Ages: 5 and up


Jeffrey “Jeff” Gross spent 21 years as an Analytical Chemist at the USCG R&D Center in Groton, Connecticut, Woods Hole Laboratories, and Helix Technologies. Changing careers is a “great learning experience for everyone”, Jeff says, and I’m an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, a student of the sciences, and the world. The US holds too many wonders not to take a chance and explore them”.

Jeff is the Model Train and Railroad entrepreneur. Proud Golden Retriever owner. Ultra strong Second Amendment Advocate and Constitutionalist. “Determined seeker of the truth”.  Jeff is a RIFGPA Legislative and Legal Officer, Freshwater Chairman, NRA Liaison.

His subjects include Outdoors, Second Amendment, Model Railroading, and Whimsical. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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