Rock Creek Songbirds

IMG_2175 (2)
A venerable white oak which fell over in August 2017 at the corner of Piney Branch Parkway and 17th Street. Losses such as these are shrinking the tree canopy in Piney Branch and underline the importance of continued planting of native trees.

Rock Creek Songbirds, one of DC Audubon Society’s partners in restoring habitat for migratory birds, has developed an exhibit exploring how migration bonds the peoples of the Western Hemisphere in a common ecological future. The centerpiece of the “Songbird Journeys” exhibit is a film featuring stories from Latino residents of DC and National Audubon Society staff members about birds and nature which you can watch below. Supported by the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs and the DC Humanities Council, the one-room exhibit is “migrating” during 2016-2017 to schools, churches, and community venues around the city.

Rock Creek Songbirds is now in its fourth year of improving habitat in Rock Creek National Park for the wide range of resident and migratory songbirds, including the Wood Thrush — the District of Columbia’s official bird. Though the park contains large tracts of wooded areas, the amount of suitable habitat has been shrinking in recent years due to deer browse, competition from non-native plants, extreme weather, and overuse. Loss of habitat has been linked to the dramatic decline in Wood Thrush populations throughout its range.

The initiative fits into Audubon’s strategic plan aimed at protecting and enhancing habitat for birds through the four flyways that cross America. The migrants from Central America and Mexico that reach Rock Creek Park travel along the Atlantic Flyway, which encompasses some of the hemisphere’s most productive ecosystems.

Volunteers plant trees in Rock Creek Park as part of the Rock Creek Songbirds initiative
Volunteers plant trees in Rock Creek Park as part of the Rock Creek Songbirds initiative

Approximately 500 native trees and shrubs have been planted or protected since Rock Creek Songbirds held its kickoff event with Casey Trees in November 2013. The focus of the planting effort is the Piney Branch stream valley area on the eastern side of the park. Species planted included oak, tulip poplar, serviceberry, redbud, dogwood, viburnum, eastern red cedar, and American holly. The National Park Service joined in with 50 trees on the grassy plain near the intersection of 17th Street and Piney Branch Parkway. DC Audubon supplied volunteers for pulling English Ivy and other invasive plants from the restoration area.

Students at Eaton Elementary School learn about geography as they study the migration of neotropical songbirds.
Students at Eaton Elementary School learn about geography as they study the migration of neotropical songbirds.

The Piney Branch tree restoration site borders Mount Pleasant, the home of a large Latino community. The Songbirds project partnered with two schools in that neighborhood, the Mundo Verde bilingual environmental charter, and Bancroft Elementary. Students there planted small nurseries to care for another batch of saplings, which were planted in the spring on a plot bordering the park. In the classroom, a large, interactive floor map was used to explain the geography of North and Central America, while the importance of habitat was emphasized as students made scale models of a stream valley. As both schools have substantial populations of students with Central American heritage, the migratory story is a particularly meaningful way to create a feeling of inclusion for young people of all backgrounds.

Other school partners include Eaton Elementary, Janney Elementary, and Maret. These schools held classroom sessions on the Wood Thrush and hemispheric migration, while senior environmental science students at Maret conducted a breeding bird survey in the Piney Branch valley.

For more information, please contact the initiative director, Steve Dryden, at 301-512-5899, or

Click here to see a list of the species seen during DC Audubon’s March 2014 field trip to the Piney Branch area of Rock Creek Park.

2 thoughts on “Rock Creek Songbirds

Comments are closed.