KALISPELL, Mont. — Did you know that we humans depend on birds for our survival?
They protect us by keeping nature in balance.
But many species are disappearing and could continue to go missing unless we work to protect them.
With its 442-acres of wildland, the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area in Kalispell is a refuge for birds.
That's where NBC Montana met Denny Olson, the conservation educator for the Flathead Audubon Society.
“We have 435 species of birds just in the state of Montana," he told us , " and a lot of them are here."
Birds love the chokecherries and snowberries that can be found at the refuge.
Its hollowed out trees filled with insects, are well-stocked pantries for birds.
Denny shows us a tree that has been home to a colony of Vaux's Swift.
"They roost in that tree in the summer," he said. "They migrate back and forth."
“They spend most of their lives in the air," he said. "They eat in the air. They sleep in the air. They mate and court in the air."
Denny said Sowerwine is part of the Rocky Mountain Trench, a bird migration corridor that stretches from Utah to Northern Canada.
“It's a migration superhighway," he said. "Some of them migrate through, Some of them nest here."
Sowerwine is at the confluence of the Stillwater and Flathead Rivers.
It's priceless habitat for our precious waterfowl.
Across the Stillwater River is the Big Island.
It's more than 300-acres of wildland and prime habitat for birds.
But you need a canoe to get there.
It's nice for bird privacy.
At Sowerwine, you can hear an orchestra of all kinds of birds singing their songs.
Denny calls them our first musicians.
“They’re musical," he said. "They're eye candy. They’re ear candy.”
The ornithologist can entertain you with his own bird calls.
He can sound like a chickadee, a Pileated woodpecker, the bittern, that lives in the swamps, and a killdeer.
But he said many of those sounds and the birds that make them are disappearing.
One of the prettiest songs he can replicate is Montana's state bird, the meadowlark.
He said the National Audubon Society has found that meadowlark numbers are down by 80%.
And it isn't good news for many other birds.
“The numbers of birds that we have in North America," he said, " have been reduced in the last 50-years by 30%.”
"In order of importance would be loss of habitat," said Denny. "When people build subdivisions woods disappear."
He said cats kill huge numbers of birds.
So do cars.
And the list goes on.
-Towers that birds run into on migration.
-Light pollution, which confuses birds at night so they run into things.
And then, said the scientist, there's climate change.
If nothing is done to curb climate change, " he said, "most of the good science says we will be missing about 26 species of birds that will never nest here anymore."
He said none of that is good for the health of the planet or humans.
“Without birds," he said, "we’d be dead.”
“Insect control is a big one," he said, "With ten- quintillion insects in the world. Four-hundred billion birds are on our side.”
Birds are the janitors that clean carrion from the environment.
They spread seeds that enrich our planet.
"Because they sit at the top of the food chain that go from native plants to native insects," said Denny, "they are the indicators of a healthy ecosystem.
The ornithologist and teacher is optimistic that we can help turn things around.
"We're really starting to try to do something about it," he said.
Denny and his Flathead Audubon Society are working hard to do their part.
The Flathead Audubon Society has produced a trilogy of bird videos.
'Birds Rock' is about how birds matter.
'Bird Trouble' is about the problems they face.
'Bird Help' suggests what we can do about it.
Denny is featured in all three videos.
But you wouldn't recognize him.
Denny uses theatrics to educate us on all things bird.
He is dressed in a graduation gown with a mortar board on his head.
His gown is festooned with bird feathers.
His fingers are feathers and his nose is a beak.
Denny's colorful alter ego is Professor Avian Guano, Antisociate Professor of ornithology.
"He's got some odd characteristics," said Denny. "He may have been studying birds a little too long."
But the professor is entertaining and Denny enjoys the theatrics.
"Ornithology and theater go together," he said.
The professor's lessons in ornithology and the serious threats our birds face are presented simply and are laced with humor.
Kids especially love the bird-like professor.
“They are the ever-present birds," said Professor Guano in the video. " When something is everywhere we eventually take it for granted.”
Denny, with his ever-present binoculars around his neck does not take our good friends for granted.
"We should be concerned because with climate change," he said, "we're going to lose species of nesting birds."
"If we don't do something about it," he continued.
But, he said, "I'm optimistic. It appears we're starting to try."
The man who has been teaching nature since 1976, said we can all make a difference.
We can start doing small things," he said.
He recommends putting native plants in our yards for birds to nest in, and to eat from.
"We can feed birds at certain appropriate times of the year," he said.
He said kids are especially good students.
“The kids that are growing up today have a really huge opportunity, " he said, "if we do our part now to see the same things that we have had.”
He's calling kids and people of all ages to help our bird friends, who have been helping us for 150-million years.