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Scientists talk of disappearing migratory birds

By BY BRIAN M. CUARON
April 26, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated April 25, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.

The two Smithsonian scientists - Pete Marra, right, and Scott Sillett - weren't bored when they visited the Matagorda County Birding Nature Center for a tour. Here, they overlook the Colorado River.

THE FELINE THREAT

You may like your fury pet, but cats are also a potential bird predator.

Pete Marra said that in some areas 70 percent of fledgling birds are killed by outdoor cats. He added that there are even videos of cats killing endangered species.

Both speakers agreed that responsible pet ownership was the main issue. Scott Sillett, who owns a cat, said that with pet owners feeding cats, they allow for the population of cats to grow larger than they would if they weren't cared for.

The solution is to keep cats indoors, Sillett said.

The brown bag lunch with two Smithsonian scientists Tuesday wasn't just for the birds.

Scientists Pete Marra and Scott Sillett, both Ph.D.'s in their field, visited Bay City to discuss neotropical migratory birds. They also visited the Matagorda County Birding Nature Center.

Neither experience bored its participants.

Marra told the audience how some migratory birds are disappearing. He explained that research is focused on the summer breeding season and not enough on the three other seasons.

Marra showed the audience of about 40 people a series of maps that demonstrated the migrations of thousands of birds; he then discussed how difficult it can be to track the birds.

That part of the conversation was back-and-forth as audience members demonstrated their knowledge of birds by asking insightful questions. At one point, event organizer Helen Runnells DuBois had to ask an audience member to "translate" his question so others could understand it.

"I'm psyched people here really seem to be in touch with the environment," said Sillett after the meeting. "I wasn't surprised. I was happy."

Matagorda County is home to Mad Island Marsh Preserve and is a reputable bird-watching destination. So it wasn't a complete shock that people in the audience would know what the speakers were talking about.

After the meeting, the two speakers were taken to the county's nature center where they saw turtles, an alligator and, yes, more birds.

While the two men stayed away from politics during the discussion, DuBois referenced the proposed White Stallion Coal Plant in explaining why she brought the two ornithologists to town.

DuBois said, "I wanted them to see the incredible natural resources of Matagorda County, all of which is at risk if you get that coal plant."

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