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Just passing through, with a song

Event celebrates the annual migration of birds through city

This is the time of year when C.L. Swatland dons her bird costume and dances to Latin music with similarly feathered children.

Swatland is special projects manager for Wolftree, a Portland-based nonprofit organization promoting science education. She helped enliven the festivities at the ninth annual Songbird Celebration on Saturday at the Wildwood Recreation Site, 25 miles east of the city.

The kid-friendly event celebrated the 350 species of birds either passing through or nesting in the region after having spent the winter in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The annual infusion of songbirds doesn't just lift spring spirits. It also helps keep less melodious species in check. That's because birds eat insects, including tree-destroying bugs such as the western spruce budworm and the Douglas fir tussock moth.

The sun shone invitingly on Saturday's celebration. Local bands such as Grupo Kultural welcomed the birds back with music, while binocular-toting biologists guided visitors through the woods to search for elusive rufous hummingbirds, western tanagers and yellow-rumped warblers.

Children glued bird costumes together and played name that tune with bird songs, while adults enjoyed shade-grown coffee from Portland Roasting Co.

Shade-grown coffee means that rather than cutting down trees to make way for a plantation, Latin American farmers plant their crops in harmony with the trees and bushes that serve as winter habitat for far-flying tweeties.

Making the connection between saving trees to the south and the annual return of the birds was a priority of festival organizers, including Swatland and Bill Aubrecht of Wolftree.

Aubrecht spent three weeks at the site of the celebration, teaching kids about the amazing journey these birds make up the Pacific Flyway and the endangered rain forests they fly up from.

There's plenty to be done on this end of the flyway to help out the songbirds as well. Festival organizers suggest:

• Ease back on the lawn chemicals.

• Reconsider your lawn. Birds like lots of different plants rather than a monoculture of grass.

• Put out a birdbath and a hummingbird feeder.

• Try a feeder near the window. That can slow down those birdbrains that crash into the reflecting glass during mating season.

• Keep the cat in the house or slow it down with a big, noisy bell. Cats kill hundreds of millions of migratory songbirds each year.

The Songbird Celebration grew out of the 1990 founding of an international coalition called Partners in Flight (www.partnersinflight.org). The group of government agencies and conservation organizations works to protect neotropical migratory birds on both ends of their journeys.