THIS ONE’S A HUNTER – This gyrfalcon was brought by Sue Hanneman, of Airstrike Bird Control. – Photo courtesy of Bobbi Krebs-McMullen
By MaryRose Denton, Linda Talman and Ken Stern Some people grow up looking into the heavens wondering if there is intelligent life out amongst the stars, but Dr. Kaeli Swift thought intelligence was for the birds, literally. A wildlife scientist, she studies cognitive behavior in birds, in the Corvid family. What kind of birds are in the Corvid family? Keynoting the La Conner Birding Showcase Saturday, she told the over 200 person audience that the common American crows, ravens, magpies and jays are all in the same family. Many heads nodded as Swift retold stories of crows bringing gifts of shiny objects to the people who feed them. She awed the audience with statistics from two roosts in Seattle, each comprised of approximately 15,000 birds. She displayed many slides and videos to accompany her anecdotes. The one which received the most laughs depicted two crows sliding down the hood of a snow covered car, as they enjoyed “playing” in the wintery scene. Swift’s enthusiasm for her study as well as her passion for science was evident in her manner of storytelling. Her love for these birds became contagious over the 60 minutes of her talk. The audience were mostly already bird lovers, some new, some very experienced, but folks walked away with a new appreciation for the Corvids and their intelligence. Swift earned her doctorate at the University of Washington researching the behaviors of American crows, specifically how they treat their dead and the adaptive behaviors driving their responses. She is now studying the foraging behaviors of Canada jays in Denali National Park. Earlier, from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. some 300 birders, tourists and locals mingled with artists and local environmentalists. The local Audubon chapter had tables and volunteers reaching out to educate with their specimens that were donated for that purpose. Martha Jordan, director of the Northwest Swan Conservation Association, explained the difference between geese and swans. Skagit Land Trust, Wolf Hollow and WSU Skagit County Extension Master Gardeners were there to advise and answer questions. Sue Hanneman, a falconer and bird abatement professional from Airstrike Bird Control, brought trained raptors. Local photographers Nancy Crowell and Soo Baus and artists Todd Horton and Becky Fletcher exhibited, and the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum promoted their newly opened “Birds of a Fiber exhibit.” In a word, people again flocked to Maple Hall, like birds to a feeder, for Saturday’s second annual Birding Showcase organized by the La Conner Chamber of Commerce.