By Julie Marshall
Tomorrow afternoon, with enough time before the Broncos kickoff, Daily Camera readers can come celebrate 10 years of Lafayette being officially designated as a “Bird City” — the first one in Colorado — by taking the kids and maybe a pair of binoculars to Waneka Lake for the annual Migratory Bird Festival.
More than 100 cities across the country are official Bird Cities, which means they promote and protect birds and their habitats with educational programs, as well as host annual festivals. Ever since Lafayette became a bird-friendly city, so has Westminster and Fort Collins; Broomfield is about to become one, too.
Lafayette’s festival offers a place to appreciate the birds and think about ways we can help protect them and their habitats, explains Susan Bonfield, who administers the Bird City program along with other national and global conservation efforts as executive director of Boulder-based Environment for the Americas.
This year’s festival also happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of World Migratory Bird Day, and both share a theme: “Water; Sustaining Bird Life,” encouraging everyone to think about how vital it is for migratory, and really all wild birds to have clean and available water to thrive.
“So many diverse bird species depend on marsh habitats like you can see at Waneka Lake with Greenlee Wildlife Preserve, and with our warming climate, having water and clean water is a critical issue,” Bonfield explains.
“And oh my goodness, there are so many things we can all do,” Bonfield says. “Think about how birds forage in water, and what a big impact pollutants can have on their health as well as ours.” We can have an impact by choosing not to use harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides that will wash out in the rains and into our lakes, streams and rivers, she says. Planting native plants that require a lot less water helps, too.
I’ve been to Lafayette’s festival every year, and it’s an absolute joy for many reasons, most notably the kids who show their natural affinity for birds by absorbing every fact about them and announcing their observations moment by moment. At any time another animal will often steal the spotlight, one year it was a tiny turtle crossing the path. Maybe this year someone will see the bobcat everyone has been talking about near the boathouse.
I’ve also seen the positive effects that being a Bird City has every day of the year: seeing the growing numbers of birders walking around the lake, who, just like the kids, share what they discover with equal enthusiasm. Every day is an adventure to maybe spot a raptor, a pelican or a tiny bird that strangely dives underwater.
Birds can bring our attention to so many things, including shared values. This year it was the 15 fuzzy goslings at nearby Hecla Lake, who literally stopped foot traffic, dog walkers and bicyclists, as these birds tended to take naps in the middle of the path on the west side every afternoon. Here, strangers would gather and remark how big they have grown. Then we would leave, knowing how much the encounter made our day that much more enjoyable.
Something about this end-of-summer festival feels a little melancholy, however. Maybe it’s the culmination of an intensely rainy June, followed by a very hot August, and the forever algal blooms, especially at Hecla that have somehow quieted the lake and its birds that seem to be in smaller numbers and less active than in the past. Ducklings I spotted this year didn’t survive. There’s a similar sadness shared by neighbors around Waneka that there have been far fewer birds this summer as well.
Maybe this is exactly the reason for us to focus on water quality and attend this year’s festival, to come with a purpose to celebrate together what joy we receive from the birds and associated wildlife in our own backyards and see what we can all do to help.
Julie Marshall is national communications coordinator and Colorado state director for Animal Wellness Action and Center for a Humane Economy. She is a Colorado native, former opinion editor for the Daily Camera and won first place for her columns from the Colorado Press Association Network 2021.