I had no idea how lucky we are in the Pacific Northwest until I was watching an episode of ABC’s “Modern Family.” One of the characters, Jay, has taken an annual hiking trip for years in hopes of seeing a bald eagle; however, he has been unsuccessful. Today, all we have to do in Western Washington is look up and we may see a majestic eagle flying overhead. But it wasn’t always that way. For years, bald eagles were nearly extinct. Fortunately, after a lot of work, they made a comeback, and today they can be a reminder of what can happen if we band together to protect other birds that may be heading toward extinction. I believe it is now up to Generation Z to look up, give back and act on behalf of threatened birds that support our ecosystem. We need them, and they need us.

Birds are all around us. They are one of the most natural forms of beauty and sound. They are also an essential part of the planet’s ecosystems, and our earth can’t survive without them. Even throughout the pandemic, political unrest and riots, birds continued to sing and do their part to make the world a better place. As a 17-year-old, I want to be able to hear and see the same graceful, colorful and stunning birds throughout my life that my parents have seen, but I now know I may not.

Eagles and their 6-foot wings can remind us how far a conservation campaign can reach. Conservation champions, such as Rachel Carson and Roger Tory Peterson, have already led the way. In the 1970s, bald eagles and other raptors were rapidly declining. Fortunately, Carson’s tireless work led to the general public really caring and wanting to help. No one wanted to lose our awe-inspiring national bird. DDT, a highly toxic pesticide developed in the 1940s, was the biggest threat. Thanks to Carson’s work, it was banned in 1972, setting in motion a remarkable recovery by bald eagles and other birds of prey. In 1963, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were only 487 nesting pairs of eagles in the Lower 48 states. By 2009, there were more than 16,000 nesting pairs. All of this change was done before social media and its incredible outreach and potential for activism. Think what we could do now with social media like Instagram.

The fight must not end. Since 1970, 3 billion birds, or nearly 30% of the breeding population, have disappeared from North America. It is heartbreaking. The movement needs to continue. Because the environment remains at risk, many beloved species, including turtle doves, are also continually at risk because their natural habitats are suffering, and therefore their populations are decreasing quickly. As bird champion Roger Tory Peterson said, “Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll be in trouble.”

A male rufous hummingbird approaches a feeder for nectar. (Alan Berner/ The Seattle Times, 2009)

Did you know that hummingbirds can fly forward, backward and even turn upside down? I deeply believe that if my peers knew that birds such as our beloved rufous hummingbirds are at risk, they would want to help. We can help hummingbirds the same way that previous generations helped eagles — by raising the alarm that birds of all kinds are in trouble. The power of social media can bring problems to light and real change. Sharing images of our beautiful birds helps us connect with the sounds we hear when walking outside. Those images make us care.

With social media’s help, my generation can start by getting the message out about how seriously birds are being threatened by environmental damage. We can post pictures to bring awareness, use hashtags like #BringBirdsBack, follow conservation Instagrams and spread petitions online. We can use our new modern technology to spread the word globally. We can also share simple conservation efforts that will save birds — including avoiding pesticides and herbicides, protecting our planet from plastic, keeping hungry cats inside and reducing carbon emissions. 

Is there a bird you love, or that you saw once and thought was amazing, such as the snowy owl, which is also in trouble because of global warming? You can post a pic on your Instagram story and add #BringBirdsBack. Let’s do this together. Through the #BringBirdsBack campaign, we can start to make a change and help save turtle doves, hummingbirds, snowy owls and so many more birds. Let’s show the world what we can do.