By David MalakoffAug. 5, 2016 , 3:45 PM
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Mall here attracts millions of tourists each year, drawn by the sweeping views of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, as well as the world-class Smithsonian museums flanking the grassy expanse. But earlier this week, an unusual sight greeted some visitors: a small team of scientists setting up nets to capture some of the mall’s flying residents.
Their quarry—including gray catbirds, song sparrows, and mourning doves—were soon released. And the unusual pop-up field station also aimed to draw attention to a landmark anniversary in bird conservation, as well as an upcoming conclave on bird science.
The conclave is the North American Ornithological Conference, a major meeting set to open here on 16 August. On the same day, bird lovers will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 1916 agreement between the United States and Canada that is considered a historic turning point in international efforts to protect birds.
The treaty, spurred in part by warnings from ornithologists that unregulated hunting was decimating many North American bird populations, played an important role in catalyzing conservation efforts in the early 20th century, says Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C. Mexico ultimately joined the pact, and the United States struck similar deals with Russia and Japan to collaborate on protecting birds that roam across borders.