May is Utah’s Month of the Bird, Gov. Gary Herbert declares

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Bald eagles fly over shallow water and ice while hunting for fish at Farmington Bay State Waterfowl Management Area, near the Great Salt Lake. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday declared May as Month of the Bird for avian contributions to the state's history, biodiversity, recreation and tourism.

May is for the birds, according to a declaration issued Monday by Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert.

The Beehive State may also qualify as the Birding State, boasting habitat for 400 avian species, Herbert noted in declaring May as Month of the Bird, timed with many bird-related events across the state and the world.

“Utah is home to 22 Important Bird Areas that have international or state significance for biodiversity and birds,” the declaration states. “The Great Salt Lake and its associated wetlands are recognized as hemispherically and globally important breeding, staging and stopover habitat for millions of waterbirds, including shorebirds.”

Birding has become an economically important recreational activity and birds provide valuable services to humans “by dispersing beneficial seeds, feeding on harmful insects and invasive fish, and otherwise helping to balance natural systems,” Herbert wrote.

Birds also played a critical role in Utah’s pioneer history, commemorated in a sculpture of a California gull on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. In 1848, locusts were devouring crops when a flock of gulls swooped in to eat the bugs, ensuring the survival of a nascent Mormon settlement that would grow into Utah.

Conservation groups applauded Herbert’s ceremonial gesture.

“Utah is a critical stopover for birds like the western sandpiper that refuel at Great Salt Lake on their way to nest and raise their young in Alaska,” said David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society.

Audubon is among dozens of groups that had already designated 2018 The Year of the Bird, marking the centennial of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the nation’s seminal environmental laws protecting wildlife and its habitat.

Events scheduled this month include:

“That’s landmark legislation that is still important today, maybe now more than ever,” said Heather Dove, president of Great Salt Lake Audubon. “Birds are under tremendous pressure from all all sides, from loss of habitat to climate change. They are the canaries in the coal mine; if they are not doing well, we won’t be doing well.”