RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
One of Baltimore's biggest parks is home to some 200 different species of birds. For many, like the black-throated blue warbler or the city's own Baltimore oriole, it's a stop on a long annual migration to Mexico and Central America. Lately, the birds are getting help from a crew of women - former migrants who settled in Baltimore after their own long journeys from Latin America. NPR's Lauren Migaki reports.
LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: A couple of times a month, in the middle of Baltimore's expansive Patterson Park, you can hear the chatter of women and kids as they haul bags of mulch and dig holes to plant shrubs and flowers. The women are building habitats for migratory birds as a part of the Patterson Park Audubon Center's Bird Ambassadors program.
SUSIE CREAMER: Some of the plants feed the birds directly with nectar or seeds, for example. But some of them are feeding insects, beneficial insects, that are then food for birds.
MIGAKI: Susie Creamer is the director of Audubon's urban education and conservation in Patterson Park.
CREAMER: If you think about a bird flying above up the east coast city after city, seeing a big chunk of green right here is a great spot to stop, rest and refuel.
MIGAKI: The birds migrate from the east coast down to places like Mexico and Central America for the winter. The women tending the park's gardens are themselves migrants from some of those very same places. To them, the bird's journeys look a lot like their own. When Creamer first considered inviting migrant women to participate in an environmental effort for migrating birds, she hesitated.
CREAMER: What I thought at first - is it a cheesy connection? Is this kind of silly?
MIGAKI: But there was a real connection because the orioles, swifts and warblers that inhabit Patterson Park are not just the same species, they are the very same birds the women knew back in their home countries.
CREAMER: The same individuals are traveling thousands of miles twice a year. And because many of them have traveled that distance, they know exactly how far that is. And so when I first mentioned it to them, it was literally an audible, oh, the same individual birds. And there was this sense of, like, oh, say hi to grandma for me. You know, saludos a Mexico.
MIGAKI: They call these birds neo-tropical migrants. Alexandra Gonzales recognized some of the birds from her former home in Mexico - so did her husband.
ALEXANDRA GONZALES: (Through translator) He used to grill them. My husband joked that he should grab one and grill it. But I said no, they're visiting and migrating. When I see them here, it reminds me of my garden back home in Mexico.
MIGAKI: Delfina Coto is also a part of the program. She migrated from El Salvador to Baltimore.
DELFINA COTO: (Through translator) The important thing is to cultivate the roots that we bring from our countries and how to identify what we have in common with these birds. The birds migrate from the north to the south - to the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico - just like us. That's what we have in common with our birds.
MIGAKI: The program started with Audubon's visits to local schools, but Creamer quickly realized that it wasn't just the kids who were interested in learning about the birds.
CREAMER: We were doing a little nature scavenger hunt, and I had this grandmother who took off running, ditched the kids, left them behind to find the next thing on the scavenger hunt. And it was like she was as excited for hands-on nature-based learning as the kids were.
MIGAKI: The effort to build bird habitats has spread beyond Patterson Park. The bird ambassadors have added plants and shrubs to schools and dozens of row houses nearby. At one school, an old canoe has new life as a giant planter.
COTO: (Through translator) The birds are now arriving to eat here. Before, we'd just feed them bread. But now it's the plants that feed them, and my neighbors congratulate me because all of us now have shrubs and plants in front of our homes.
MIGAKI: National Audubon Society leaders say the Patterson Park project is a new model - a way to enlist immigrants in the effort to protect migratory bird populations. Lauren Migaki, NPR News.
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