A small and remarkable island along the Atlantic Flyway models what bird love can do for a community.
Every spring, millions of birds travel the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major North-South routes for migratory birds in the Americas. Along the way, they need to stop for food, water, and rest— and Block Island, Rhode Island, provides. In this episode, producer Ben James takes us to this special place where we meet master bird bander Kim Gaffett. She is the latest in a long line of women citizen scientists whose work on Block Island has instilled a powerful culture of bird study and conservation, stretching back over a hundred years.
Ari Daniel:BirdNote presents.
Kim Gaffett: Oh my god. Oh my god. We have a ton of birds.
Ari Daniel:Every spring, millions of birds representing over 500 species strike off from sites in South America and the Caribbean, hugging the eastern coast of the U.S. as they make their way to breeding spots in Canada and Greenland.
Kim Gaffett: Ahh, yeah, listen to them.
Kim Gaffett: A noisy guy. Oop.
Ben James: Did you see that?
Kim Gaffett: One got away.
Ari Daniel:The birds are traveling the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major north-south routes for migratory birds in the Americas. And all along the way they need to stop for food, water, and rest. I’m Ari Daniel, and in this episode of Threatened, we go to Block Island, Rhode Island — a key stopover site along the Atlantic Flyway. We’ll get to know master bird bander Kim Gaffett. Kim is the latest in a line of women citizen scientists whose volunteer work on Block Island has instilled a powerful culture of bird study and conservation, stretching back over a hundred years. This story comes to us from producer Ben James. Hey there, Ben.
Ben James: Hey Ari. So to get to understand Kim's work a little more, let's try to put you in the mind of a songbird. How about a White-throated Sparrow?
Ari Daniel:A sparrow, perfect.
Ben James: Sure, except you’re a pipsqueak. You’re the weight of, like, three marshmallows, and here you are at dawn, too far off the coast. You’ve flown all night and you are spent. Now it’s just you and the Atlantic Ocean.
Ben James: Let’s face it, Ari, you wouldn’t be the first wind-tossed songbird lost to the ocean depths. But now you sense a dark splotch in the distance. You close in on this island. You’re about to land when —
[sparrow fluttering in net]
Ari Daniel:Wait, what happened to me?
Ben James: Umm, you’re caught in a net and, like, flailing a bit. You’re not hurt, but you’re definitely trapped. But now, here’s a voice, fingers, a calming hand untangling you.
Kim Gaffett: So right now I’m trying to pry open its little sparrow bill with my thumbnail.
Ari Daniel:She’s trying to pry open my bill, Ben. That doesn’t sound very calming.
Ben James: I know, I know, but she’s really good at this. Just listen.
[sparrow call; fluttering
Kim Gaffett: See that — it’s got it stuck in its mouth. I can't just pull that out because their tongue is a really interesting shape. It points backwards. So the tongue looks like a spear that would have backward pointing flanges.
Ben James: Kim Gaffet’s in her mid-sixties, rubber boots, the cuffs of her pant-legs wet. A chilly late-April morning, the mist nets still a bit damp from the dew.
Kim Gaffett: People say, they always want to know what's your favorite bird? Right? Well, my favorite bird is the one that's in my hand, right then. And so right at this moment, my favorite bird is a White-throated Sparrow.
Ben James: She holds seven or eight cloth bags, the kind you might carry a bunch of radishes in, only she’s got an Eastern Towhee, a sparrow, a couple robins. They’re pretty chill, the birds, not harmed at all in the handling. And none of them are very big, but they seem like giants compared to —
Kim Gaffett: Who do we have here? Alrighty, so the kinglet. Perfect name for the tiniest bird we get. The male has red in its crown. Hidden in there. You see that beautiful —
Ben James: That is just gorgeous. Look at that color.
Kim Gaffett: So that is a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. All right, now we're talking spring migration.
Ben James: There are about a half-dozen birds just in this single stretch of net, all of them likely blown in overnight on a strong wind from the southwest. At this point in the spring, it’s exactly that sort of wind that Kim is waiting for.
Kim Gaffett: Alright — I’m Kim Gaffett and I’m a master bander here at the Block Island Bird Banding Station at Clay Head.
Ben James: Bird bander, naturalist for the Nature Conservancy, former school bus driver and former First Warden, which is kind of like the mayor of this one-of-a-kind municipality, the smallest town in the smallest state in the US.
[Block Island ferry horn]
Loudspeaker: Welcome aboard Interstate Navigation’s vessel to Block Island. This thirteen mile trip….
Ben James: Block Island, Rhode Island. 11 square miles of shrubland, dunes, freshwater ponds, and weathered, gray-shingled houses. It’s kind of the shape of a pork chop, the island, or maybe a teardrop, depending on your mood. One school, a thousand or so year round residents who, in the summer, are totally outnumbered by a daily swarm of tourists on bikes and rented mopeds —
Ben James: — zipping from the bars along the harbor down Corn Neck Road to Town Beach. The vast majority of these summer visitors will never meet Kim Gaffett, though they are more than welcome on her many public nature walks, or even at one of her bird banding sessions.
Kim Gaffett: If I have a chance to put a bird in your hand, I'm gonna do it.
Ben James: The Islanders depend on the tourists — at least financially — but in many ways, they live in worlds divided. Kim is an Islander, through and through.
Kim Gaffett: First of all, I grew up here, I went to school here. And I always say I was, you know, I was in the top six of my class, of which there were six kids.
Ben James: As a child, Kim traveled to the mainland only twice a year.
Kim Gaffett: We lived in a very tiny house. We lived without running water. And sometimes that house got pretty small when you're 15 and 16 years old, and I would have some pretty epic arguments with my father. But where were you going to go? You can't run away because the boat only leaves once a day.
Ben James: Like Kim, Edith Blane was born and raised on Block Island.
Edith Blane: I’m Edith Littlefield Blane. And I just had my 92nd birthday a couple of weeks ago, never thinking to be this age, really.
Ben James: Back when Edith was growing up, there were as few as 400 year-round residents.
Edith Blane: We didn't get off Island. We had no money to travel. And I remember sitting out in the horse chestnut tree in the front yard, turning over to this side and saying, There's the Atlantic. And I would look to the west and say, There's the Pacific. And the whole world was right here.
Ben James: That world — then and now — included a LOT of birds. Over 300 species have been spotted on the island and its surrounding waters. That means dozens of migratory songbird species. Block Island is a critical stopover along the Atlantic Flyway, the easternmost corridor for migration in the Americas. But many of these migrants find themselves on the island by accident, blown off course during their long overnight flights.
Edith Blane: The goldfinches are here in their nice yellow plumage.
Ben James: There are plenty of bird people on the island, too, locals and visitors alike, and it seems every one of them knows Kim Gaffett.
Kim Gaffett: I gotta get this. Hey, Debbie.
Ben James: Her phone rings constantly. She’s the central hub of this spinning wheel of bird gossip. Might be her buddy Chris, who just saw at least nine glossy ibis. Might be her nephew, up on a roof.
Kim Gaffett: He called me yesterday. He said, ‘Kim, what's happening? I just saw 12 turkey vultures.’ I said, ‘Don’t lie down.’
Ben James: Thaaat’s a vulture joke, in case it, um, flew past you.
John Littlefield: If I see an odd bird, something that I know you don't see too much of, I'll give her a jingle.
Ben James: John Littlefield was in the grade below Kim at the Block Island school. He’s a roofer and a farmer. Maintains people’s summer houses while they’re off-island. Hunts and fishes when he can. Standing next to his Dodge pickup, I was like, John, I’ve talked to a lot of people out here who are really into birds.
Ben James: Is that part of your, like, thing or —
John Littlefield: No, no. No, absolutely not. I mean, I look for certain things at certain times of the year.
Ben James: You caught that, right, Ari? He’s not SO into the birds.
Ari Daniel:Not that interested. Gotcha.
John Littlefield: But the cranes, the cranes are pretty cool. They got an attitude. I mean, you see lots of herons, but you don't see cranes. Cranes are — they're a different breed of cat. And they fly with their neck outstretched.
Ari Daniel:OK, so cranes and herons.
John Littlefield: Swallows. You know, we're always looking for that first swallow so that we can, like, send a text, ‘Saw a swallow today.’
Ari Daniel:Cranes, herons and swallows.
John Littlefield: Eiders, scoters, all types of sea ducks.
Ben James: John Littlefield is like bird-lite for Block Island.
John Littlefield: We don't have squirrels. We don't have ground animals. But we got birds. And that's, that's worth it. That's worth it.
Ben James: Ari, it’s not just some sort of coincidence that Islanders know their birds. There’s actually a totally fascinating reason bird-knowledge is so strong on Block Island. I want to tell you about it. But first, let’s go back to the banding station where, for nearly 55 years, Kim and, previously, her mentor Elise Lapham, have contributed their daily numbers to the national Bird Banding Lab database, run by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Kim Gaffett: It's just banders everywhere, putting in a little bit of data at every station, and it all adds up into this big jigsaw puzzle.
Ben James: Up until very recently with the advent of radio tracking technologies, almost everything that was known about bird migration and population dynamics came from the data collected by bird banders. And it’s worth pointing out that — also until very recently, when Kim began working for the Nature Conservancy — the hundreds of hours each season that she put into bird banding were entirely volunteer.
Kim Gaffett: So we got the female towhee. Two bags of White-throated Sparrows, and a bag of robins.
Ben James: We’re in a small room attached to a summer home on the northwest end of the island. Kim hangs the bags of birds from a couple hooks on the wall.
Kim Gaffett: Can you hear that, the guy fluttering in the bag?
Ben James: In another house this might be the mudroom or pantry. Instead, the walls are lined with hand tools, maps, shelves loaded with field guides. Kim takes a Yellow-rumped Warbler from its bag. She holds the bird by its upper legs with an easy, confident touch.
Kim Gaffett: The pliers have these little notches for different size bands.
Ben James: She removes an aluminum band from a string on the wall. It’s the size of a sunflower seed.
Kim Gaffett: And then I can just slip the plier with the band over the leg and then squeeze the plier which closes the band now, and because it's in that notch, it won't crimp the band, it just closes the band.
Ben James: And that leg is literally a little bit wider than a toothpick.
Kim Gaffett: It's probably the same width as one of those round toothpicks. // And now that little leg has a little band. And now this bird is individually known as 287052493.
Ben James: How are you possibly reading that many numbers on that thing?
Kim Gaffett: I know, it’s pretty...
Ben James: She measures the length of the wing with a special ruler. Weighs the warbler on a triple-beam scale. 11.9 grams. She’s got a sheet on the counter where she records its species and sex. She can’t tell its exact age, but its wing size indicates it hatched last summer. And now, she checks for perhaps the most significant data point affecting this warbler’s ability to reach its breeding area.
Kim Gaffett: And I'm gonna look to see if it has fat, which it'll build up for its migration.
Ben James: She blows against the warbler’s breast, parting its feathers.
Kim Gaffett: It's just a gentle human hurricane, blowing the feathers in the opposite direction so I can get a glimpse of the skin to see if there's any fat underneath the skin.
Ben James: You can actually see tiny yellow globules of fat under the translucent skin. Every bird Gaffett bands gets a fat score, ranging from 0 to 5. This warbler gets a one, pretty lean. Then, her measurements complete, Kim steps out the door, opens her hand —
[Release, bird call]
Ben James: — and the warbler’s gone. Now it’s back to the bags hanging on the wall, and out comes the gorgeous male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This little dude probably hatched in the boreal forest of Canada. Each fall he makes his way down the Atlantic flyway to the southeast US, maybe all the way to Texas or Mexico, a migration of two or three thousand miles. Biologists say these migratory flights are among the most arduous physical feats an animal can undertake.This spring, on his way back north, the kinglet stops here on Block Island, all seven grams of him.
Ari Daniel:Ben, 7 grams is really small.
Ben James: Yeah, he’s a little sprite, weighs about as much as a standard postcard, which, for 36 cents, we could have mailed from Texas to Block Island. But this kinglet — and all the other migrants passing through here — they fueled the journey themselves. For the kinglet, that means eating insects, primarily. But most songbirds fuel their migration — especially in the fall — on berries.
Ari Daniel:Berries, really?
Ben James: Yep, berries. A 747 uses about 15,000 gallons of jet fuel to go 3,000 miles. A Red-eyed Vireo or a Swainson’s Thrush? These long-distance migrants get their energy from the fruits of shrubs and vines, plants like chokecherry, arrowwood, bayberry, and virginia creeper.
Scott McWilliams: So one of the amazing things that happens during migration in birds is they start eating 2, 3, 4, 5 times more than they normally eat.
Ben James: So, quick shift here, to the mainland office of biologist Scott McWilliams. He’s a professor at the University of Rhode Island. He’s spent decades studying the ecology of stopover sites, those places along migration routes where birds pause and refuel for their journeys. So no surprise he’s done a lot of his research on Block Island.
Scott McWilliams: The typical songbird migrant leaves at dusk the previous day and flies for much of the night without eating, without drinking, and it's using all of whatever it can put in the fuel tank, and make it to a stopover site by the next morning.
Ben James: Songbirds go through this massive metabolic transformation right before they migrate, shifting the bulk of their diet from protein-rich insects to wild berries, which are actually rich in fats. And the studies McWilliams has done on Block island are at the cutting edge of explaining some of what Kim Gaffett and other bird banders have witnessed for decades. You see, Kim doesn’t catch a bird just once during its stopover. Frequently a bird will end up in her nets two, three, four days in a row. She calls these birds repeats, and she literally watches the fat grow on a repeat’s body, from a lean zero to a 5.
Ari Daniel:Five is like, butterball.
Ben James: Yeah, totally. The Blackpoll Warbler is a great example. In the fall, this little songbird leaves Block Island and flies non-stop to the Caribbean — 72 straight hours over open ocean. If it runs out of fuel, it’s going down. And recent discoveries have shown something incredible about these birds’ condition when they arrive at stopover sites after their extended flights.
Scott McWilliams: They've used up most of their fuels. And they've catabolized some of their gut tissue to actually provide protein.
Ari Daniel:Hold up. Catabolize? Like they’re digesting themselves?
Ben James: Uh-huh, it’s a starvation response. Songbirds not only burn their stored fat during flight, but they often also begin to digest their own organs. Scott says the first day a bird lands on the island, it’ll hardly eat at all.
Scott McWilliams: And so what happens at those key stopover sites like Block Island is, first of all, they have to rebuild their guts because they've made a large migration.
Ben James: They actually need to reconstruct their digestive organs before they can again gorge on fruit. And that’s not the only thing the birds need to recover from. Burning huge stores of fat lets migratory birds fuel their long flights, but it requires more oxygen and poses a host of potential problems.
Scott McWilliams: When birds burn fat, they produce much more potential oxidative damage.
Ben James: And because of this oxidative damage, they need antioxidants.
Scott McWilliams: There's this fundamental physiological aspect of being a critter that uses fats as fuel. So when Kim Gaffett was talking about how she can see the same individual getting fatter and fatter, we now know that it's not just how much fat, it's the quality of that fat. And it's how much antioxidants you can also deliver to your body to deal with this problem of using fats as your primary fuel.
Ben James: What this comes down to is that antioxidant-rich native shrubs like arrowwood and bayberry are crucial for the migrants’ recovery, and those plants still cover extensive portions of this small but super-important island stopover.
Kim Gaffett: So you're gonna, I'll show you what I'm doing.You're gonna put the head between your peace fingers like this.
Ben James: Back at the banding station, some guests have arrived. This happens all the time during banding season. Old friends, newly-interested bird people. Kim chats with them the same as she’s chatting with me. She’s a natural teacher, unfazed by repetitive questions or sudden bursts of enthusiasm. Among this group of seven is Chrissy, a woman in her twenties, who’s suddenly deputized by Kim to hold our Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Kim Gaffett: And then you curve the rest of your finger around his body. So just making a little finger cage. And then when you go to let it go, you put your other hand flat, put its feet down there, and then release the top and leave that hand, so it doesn't fall to the ground.
Others: Perfect. Bye! Well done. Have a good life!
Ari Daniel:After the break, we’ll find out how the year-round residents of Block Island became so knowledgeable — and curious — about birds. Turns out, one person with an immense passion can make a difference.
[MID ROLL BREAK]
Ari Daniel:So, some White-throated Sparrows, an Eastern Towhee, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, all banded and released. Ben, you visited Block Island in the spring, so those birds were flying north. But how different are the spring and fall migrations?
Ben James: Ari, in the fall there are way more birds passing through, and that’s because they’re mostly birds that just hatched the previous summer up in Canada. It’s their first time migrating and, frankly, they don’t quite know what they’re doing. It’s a lot easier for them to get blown off course and end up on Block Island.
Ari Daniel:What about the ones who don’t find the island?
Ben James: They’re shark food. A huge percentage of first year birds don’t make it. That's millions and millions of songbirds lost every year to predation, the ocean, the lights of the big city. But in the spring, every bird passing through has made the journey north to south at least once. There’s fewer of them, but they’re survivors. They know what they’re doing.
Ari Daniel:So why does Kim Gaffett do it? All those volunteer hours. Why does she band the birds?
Ben James: Well the first answer is pretty straightforward. Science, data, the contribution to shared knowledge. But —
Kim Gaffett: I really don't have a good answer for why I do this. And why I've done this for as long as I have.
Ben James: Kim’s life in many ways has been built around the seasonal work of bird banding.
Kim Gaffett: Every job I ever took was dependent on having the free time in the spring and the fall to do that. And so consequently, I never really had a full time job until I was about 60, but whatever.
Ben James: Bird banding is repetitive, to say the least. But only once could I get Kim to even sort of complain.
Kim Gaffett: You know, when you're in the sixth week of the fall, and you've had your 200th catbird, and it's, you know, it's whining in your ear, and you're like, could we get on with it? Could we have a few warblers kind of brighten up the day.
Ben James: Then she told me how psyched she is every time she hears her first catbird of the year. So there are these subtle, cumulative joys that bind Kim to this seasonal effort. But the bonds also have to do with the people Kim’s worked with, especially her teacher and friend Elise Lapham. And then there’s another woman, Elizabeth Dickens, often referred to, fondly, as the bird lady of Block Island.
Kim Gaffett: She started around 1912 making a daily list of the birds that she saw in her little corner, the southwest corner of the island, and became a self-taught ornithologist, known in the region, communicated with other ornithologists.
Ben James: For 50 years, Elizabeth Dickens kept that daily record. Kim never met Dickens — different generations — but Edith Blane did.
Edith Blane: So I was six and a half before I got to school, and I couldn't wait to get there. And one of the real joys was Elizabeth Dickens, of course. She was stern looking. She was sturdy. She had beautiful white hair when I knew her, and it was always pulled up on top of her head. And each month we had bird study with her.
Ben James: You know how I said earlier that there’s a specific reason why so many Islanders know so much about birds? Here it is. Bird study. Every kid who grew up on the island had it, for most of the last hundred years.
Edith Blane: I went off to school one year, for a semester. And the first thing I asked was, ‘When do you have bird study?’ He looked at me and said, ‘What are you talking about, bird study?’ I said, ‘Well, that's what I've always had.’ And I thought, of course the whole world had that.
Ben James: As a girl, Edith Blane’s biggest delight was a yearly dinner and bird walk for her and a few other girls hosted at Dickens’ home. There, Dickens kept an ever-expanding collection of taxidermied island birds. That collection still exists: over 170 birds in a series of glass cabinets outside the 4th-grade classroom at the Block Island School. And even after Elizabeth Dickens died, bird study continued. The current teacher? Kim Gaffett.
Kim Gaffett: By teaching bird study to generations of kids, I really think that that set in us this sort of ethic of caring about birds — and then by default, about the landscape that they lived in.
Ben James: Kim takes her students on bird walks, and she uses specimens from Dickens’ bird collection to study comparative anatomy and evolution. Back when Dickens rode her horse and buggy from her homestead into town, the threats to birds were pretty high. Excitement at the appearance of a Snowy Owl, for instance, would often quickly be followed by shooting the bird for sport. But the stakes now are higher than ever. Here’s biologist Scott McWilliams again.
Scott McWilliams: It's been very well documented in the last 10 years, that there's some very dramatic, very scary population declines of songbirds at large.
Ben James: It’s a fact echoed in Kim’s data, which shows fewer numbers of migrants passing through Block Island during recent decades.
Scott McWilliams: It's especially scary, because if there's population declines, then you get fewer and fewer and fewer migrants in the fall that are being produced that can make that migration.
Ben James: With those declining numbers in mind, I want to take us briefly down Corn Neck Road and up past the airport, to the southwest side of the island, not far from where Elizabeth Dickens lived. It’s a place called Rodman’s Hollow.
Scott Comings: So we're standing on a trail that is surrounded by grassland and coastal shrubland.
Ben James: Scott Comings, he’s the associate state director for the Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island.
Scott Comings: This is a part of about 700 acres of conservation land, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's about 10%, or a little bit more than 10% of the island.
Ben James: Preserving Rodman’s Hollow from development took a big fight back in the 1970s. Comings says that was a turning point for the residents of Block Island. And it’s made a critical difference to songbirds as well.
Scott Comings: There's tremendous mortality, their first year migrating. So if we can put back hundreds of thousands of birds into the system, there's actually a real benefit.
Ben James: So everything we’ve heard about so far — windblown migrants, antioxidant-rich native berries, generations of Islanders interested in birds — they’re all dependent upon this: open land. Because despite the fact that over 500 houses have been built on Block Island in the last 40 years, residents have largely succeeded in strategically preserving open space.
Scott Comings: The planning board set a goal of 50% open space, which is a pretty bold, and that was years ago. You know, that was early 90s, when I think there was maybe 18% conserved? That's a pretty bold statement.
Ben James: Kim Gaffett was actually on the planning board at that time. And Ari, do you wanna know the percentage of land currently under conservation on Block Island?
Ari Daniel:Yeah, how much?
Ben James: 46 percent.
Ari Daniel:That is incredible.
Ben James: I don’t want to suggest that the conservation efforts on this tiny island could turn around the massive decline in songbird populations, but you don’t hear a lot of ecological success stories these days. Both Kim and Scott Comings said their efforts on Block Island could serve as a model for how other coastal communities might preserve critical habitat along the Atlantic Flyway.
Scott Comings: It's a true beacon for conservation and a real success story on what can be done if a community controls its own destiny.
Ben James: OK, so we’re back at the banding station. It’s mid-May, the height of the migratory season. And Ari, this morning’s guests include four boys from the Block Island school, 7th graders mostly, all of whom had bird study with Kim a few years ago. Their names are Finn, Chase, Barrett and Reese. And after this whole story, you might be anticipating a crew of kids thrumming with bird enthusiasm.
Ari Daniel:I am. They must be stoked.
Ben James: But I need to remind you that these are 7th grade boys,
Ari Daniel:Say no more.
Ben James: Way too cool to get excited about a warbler. It’s like the ultimate test of Kim Gaffett’s persuasive abilities. First, she recruits Finn as her scribe.
Kim Gaffett: You can write towhee, t-o-w-h-e-e.
Ben James: She holds a bird up against the boys’ ears, so they can hear its speedy heartbeat. She shows them the fat on the breast of a Blackpoll Warbler. But it’s not until they’re out by the mist nets, running, searching for captured songbirds, that something is truly activated in them.
Barrett/Chase/Finn: It’s a catbird I think, or something like that. Is that a catbird? I’m gonna look up catbird on my phone real quick. How’s it going buddy? He just pooped, you might not wanna. Aww! Yuck!
Ben James: Finn, Kim’s scribe, now becomes her assistant untangler, which amazes me, because Kim allows almost no adults to attempt to untangle the birds. Now she stands beside Finn and this catbird —
Ben James: — coaching him through a five-minute job she could have completed herself in 20 seconds.
Kim Gaffett: Go in from the side. Do your best bird bander hold. There you go. Nice good grip that way, and then you try to get it off the top. Okay, hang on to it, we’re gonna put it in the bag for me.
Finn: Go in there, buddy.
Ben James: Minutes later, at another set of nets, Finn spots a truly extraordinary catch.
Finn: Oh my God. There's a hummingbird.
Kim Gaffett: Okay, hang on a second. Okay.
Ben James: Kim does the delicate work of untangling this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. And then — to my immense envy — she puts the bird in Chase’s hand.
Chase: How do I hold it?
Kim Gaffett: You're gonna just hold it like that. And just put your whole hand around it. And then take it away from the net.
Barrett/Chase: Oh my gosh. Can I try? No, let it go. Okay. Wait, I want to hold it. // No, no, no. No, that's not gonna work. You can pet it. I could feel it vibrating my hand.
[hummingbird buzz departing]
Finn: Bye bye.
Ben James: These boys are Block Island’s next generation, but growing up — it’s a mysterious thing. Who knows if they’ll remember any hard facts or skills from their encounters with Kim Gaffett. But it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever forget what it’s like to hold in their hands a fragile, winged life. And what it feels like to let it go.
Ari Daniel:On Block Island, Kim Gaffett, her assistants and sometimes seventh graders, hold these incredible migratory birds in their hands. But next time on Threatened, it’s the hands of people from long ago that are helping dozens of bird species today.
Drew Lanham: And all the birds that we’re hearing are probably birds that enslaved people would have heard.
Ari Daniel:That’s next week.
This episode was produced by Ben James and me, Ari Daniel. It was edited by Caitlin Pierce of the Rough Cut Collective. Audio mix by Rob Byers, Johnny Vince Evans, and Michael Raphael of Final Final V2. Our theme song and original music were composed by Ian Coss, with additional music by Blue Dot Sessions. Threatened is a production of BirdNote and overseen by Content Director Allison Wilson with production assistance from Sam Johnson. You can find our show notes with additional resources, BirdNote’s other podcasts, and much more at BirdNote dot org. Thanks for listening. See you next time.