Adapting to a New Reality

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

Adaptation. It’s a word our educators use when they talk about how species change over time to become better suited to their environment. The hooked beak that helps a raptor tear food, or the perfect length of a cougar’s tail that helps them maintain balance— adaptations necessary to survive. Now, it’s a word we’ve been thinking about every day, not in the context of the species we work so hard to protect, but rather how we as individuals and as an organization adapt to our new reality with COVID-19.

Two Great Blue Herons standing on a nest facing each other with their bills crossing.
Great Blue Heron, photo by Mick Thompson

The world is drastically different from the time our last Warbler arrived in your mailbox. On March 14, Bird Alliance of Oregon closed its offices, shifting almost our entire staff to working from home in order to help flatten the curve, protect our community, and ensure our medical facilities have the resources they need to treat those most impacted by the pandemic—a pandemic that disproportionately affects the elderly, immune compromised, African Americans, immigrants, Latinx communities, people with low income, and other marginalized communities.

In response, we canceled spring break camps, classes, school programs, bird song walks, Nature Nights, and ecotours, and shifted to phone orders, delivery and pick up at our Nature Store—all taking a huge financial toll on the organization.

Once we established what we couldn’t do, the real challenge began. How would we continue to bring our mission to life and maintain strong connections with our community while keeping people safe? In short, how would we adapt?

Staff gathered together in video meetings from their home offices to reimagine our programs and—within days—implement and communicate those changes to our community: members and volunteers, Birdathoners and Backyard Habitat builders, activists and education participants, community scientists and the general public. Using all their creativity, ingenuity, and passion for our mission, staff made sweeping changes to how we operate and how we work together while being physically apart. And we’re still adapting.

    • Our Conservation team is still going full steam ahead, switching to virtual meetings as they continue their work to protect the Elliott State Forest, fix the Snake River Dams, uplist the threatened Marbled Murrelet, clean up the Willamette River, and so much more.
    • Our Education team created and launched online classes and learning opportunities for both kids and adults, with offerings filling up at record speed.
    • Our Wildlife Care Center is working during its busiest time of the year with a skeleton crew, now with a no-contact drop-off system for injured and orphaned wildlife to ensure we can keep this essential service open while protecting the health of our staff and the public.
    • We redesigned Birdathon, our biggest and most important fundraiser of the year, now full of creative virtual teams that keep us safe and connected through birding.
    • The Nature Store started offering no-contact bird seed delivery, curbside pick-up, phone orders, virtual optics appointments, and launched an online store to bring in revenue and help people enjoy birds and nature right from their homes.
    • Our Backyard Habitat team is focusing on providing remote support to program participants as they work toward certification and building up a list of sites ready for certification once visits resume.
    • Our Development team is reaching out to members and donors, asking them to help us through tough financial times by making a gift to make up for the loss of revenue during our busiest time of year.
    • The Communications team increased digital offerings, writing more articles, social media posts, emails to our members, and developing new ideas to engage in an increasingly digital world.
    • We’ve adjusted our HR and Equity work to offer more robust support of staff and our diversity, equity and inclusion work through virtual check-ins, Online Lunch & Learns, and weekly updates on COVID-19 issues.

Within the Bird Alliance of Oregon flock, our mission continues to bind us together—our collective passion and dedication to protecting native birds, other wildlife, and their habitat. The threats facing the environment haven’t changed or slowed down even as our human world is shaken, which is why we can’t slow down either.

Instead, we must adapt, not over generations like our avian friends, but immediately so that we can continue the fight against the biggest threats to our environment. And take care of ourselves and each other in the process.

One thing we can’t re-create is our daily in-person interactions with all of you.

We miss our volunteers, some of whom we have seen every week at our sanctuary for years. We miss our members, campers, and partners who we see at Nature Nights, bird outings, classes, and at our Nature Store. We wonder how each of you are doing, and keep brainstorming new ways we can reach out and support you during this time.

Wildlife Rehabilitator Ashley Lema cleans enclosures at the Wildlife Care Center. The facility is still open, but operating without the usual 150 volunteers who provide vital support during baby bird season.

This pandemic has affected us all differently. We each have our own very personal stories to tell as we settle into our homes, some of us with family or roommates, and others in isolation. Many of us face additional personal hardships, from loss of work to fear for ourselves and our loved ones to grieving and uncertainty over how long this will last. Each of us sits in this shared global experience and yet also follows our own individual path.

Amid all of this struggle, and the tough questions it presents about ourselves and our future, we hope you are finding solace in nature, watching birds in your backyards and neighborhoods. As we are forced to slow down, we witness courting, nesting, and new life as chicks are hatching all around us. It’s good medicine for our mental health to see inspiration from the natural world right outside our windows.

As we wait to see what the future will bring, we’ll continue to adapt, recognizing that adaptation, even when it’s forced, can lead to incredible growth. We are here with you, united always by our common love for nature, and now by our common humanity as we do our best to get through tough times. We remember that we’re all in this together, and we’re grateful to be with you.