Gael Bissell, Flathead Audubon President


Gael Bissell

As 2020 closes out, it is my sincerest hope that the new Covid-19 vaccines gradually take the vise grips off society and we get back to some type of normalcy…like in-person Flathead Audubon meetings, field trips, and many other group birding activities! Maybe we can even have a May potluck or June Warbler Weekend?

Although the novel coronavirus has had an overwhelming and direct impact on us humans, many other subtler political, economic, and ecological factors continue to move forward without regard to the pandemic. Things like the federal government’s proposed weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, and holding off funding for certain states’ priority land conservation projects. Of high concern to Flathead Audubon’s mission are our North American bird populations, our canaries in the coal mine who detect change we cannot detect. As most of you know, many bird populations including common songbirds and grassland species are declining, gradually, slowly. Why, you might ask?

Pushed by the pandemic, Flathead Audubon decided to use video technology this spring to laser focus our K-12 Conservation Education Program on the importance of birds, the reasons they are in trouble, and what we can do to help them. The resulting series of videos takes off from and expands on our “Birds Need Our Help” series of written articles that appeared in the January through May, 2019, issues of the Pileated Post. Using Denny’s Olson’s lifelong experience with video technology, and local photographer Bj Worth’s incredible bird video library housed at Wings In Nature (WIN or, Flathead Audubon has now produced the first two of a planned series of educational videos that focus on the importance of birds, the reasons for their decline, and how we can help bring them back.

The first, Birds Rock! ( was released in July and explains why birds are so important to our world and are such a marvelous wonder. And we just finished the second, Bird Trouble!, to better explain the complex reasons (death by a thousand cuts) why so many bird populations are declining ( These funny yet serious educational products run 15 to 30 minutes and are geared to middle school ages – but suitable for all. Both are available by clicking here. Feel free to send any feedback to

The next video, Bird Help!, is scheduled for release in early 2021. This film will shed light on what we can all do to help birds and make a difference. It will be followed by one more video on the value of Montana native plants and insects to birds (to be filmed when we have flowers, insects, and birds this spring). All of these videos along with related study guides will be shared with the Flathead Valley K-12 teachers, parents, and other educators.

I believe that we can all make a difference to the future of our birds and the underlying ecosystems if we first understand the problems that they face, and then we figure out how each of us can contribute to reducing our impacts. I for one do not want to be part of Silent Spring II. For example, my family has added two new (albeit small) native plant gardens to our yard and we finally decided to trade in our old SUV for a newer hybrid car to reduce carbon emissions. We stopped using Roundup everywhere, especially along the gravel driveway (that was hard). Like many of you, we recycle as much as we can and use cloth bags at the grocery store. I have learned much from Flathead Audubon’s conservation and education programs and hope all of you have also. I encourage you to watch and share our new, locally-sourced and produced, bird education videos. Learning more about the issues together and each of us doing our part, we will be able to give birds the help they need.

2021 is not a year to sit back and wait for things to get better just for us. I encourage you to become more pro-active in protecting habitat, avoiding use of unnecessary chemicals, recycling and pre-cycling, writing letters to our legislators or agencies, and just general caring for our environment. Maybe you want to join our Conservation or Education Committees to help us get these messages out? Whatever comes easiest is the best place to start.

I want to thank all of you for your incredible support of Flathead Audubon, our Conservation  Education Program, Owen Sowerwine Natural Area, Birds of Prey Festivals, and the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch throughout 2020. Thank you for your willingness to try Zoom (although it failed once in December) for our public meetings. At least 50 of you have logged on. I am impressed. Please be safe as we get through the first half of 2021 and I look forward to seeing you, probably on Zoom, the second Monday evening at 7 PM of each month through spring. Above all else, be well and be safe. Thanks.