Birds are a wonderful way for people to develop an awareness and love of nature and appreciate the crisis going on around us. Birds are stark, beautiful reminders of what we are letting slip through the web of the world and existence.
Richard Flanagan wrote in an article titled, ‘Birds are liberation that never ends. But enjoying their company is also to know an inconsolable sadness’: ‘I adore birds. I watch birds for hours. Their freedom and joy move me. Something in their play and way suggest minds far different than ours.’[i]
A couple of weeks ago Delia Falconer talked of different mindsets: ‘Birds have always been small agents charged with carrying the burden of our feelings simply by following the logic of their own existence. The Irish imagined puffins as the souls of priests. The ancient Romans released an eagle when an emperor died in the belief it would ‘conduct his soul aloft’. In the Abrahamic religions, doves are given powers of revelation. We have even been inclined, right up until the present, to imagine birds as the souls of our recently departed returned to us, if only for a moment.’ [ii]
This is Sunday morning, but I am imagining not souls just corpses. Skyscrapers are killing up to a billion birds a year in USA alone, then there’s roads, chemicals, habitat loss and hunting for fun. Chris Jordan in his documentary ‘ALBATROSS’ recorded tens of thousands of albatross chicks birds lying dead, their bodies filled with plastic on Midway Island, a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. [iii]
(See my poem ‘240 grams’ on deaths on Lord Howe Island – represented in two anthologies of ecopoetry.
The Paradise Parrot is the only Australian bird officially declared extinct since European colonisation. In 1922, Cyril Jerrard captured the first and only photographs of the parrot. Two years later wrote, ‘The one undisguisable fact [is] that the advent of the white man has spelled destruction to one of the loveliest of the native birds of this country.’[iv]
The numbers of the golden-shouldered parrot in Queensland have dramatically faltered in recent decades due to land clearing. I went looking for this beautiful parrot with birding friends and Wyn about 12 years ago. I had rung the station owner in Cape York and she told us where to look. We couldn’t find one, but we were in 50 degrees and only lasted a couple of hours.
Yesterday, I was out with the Bellingen Birders and the species count for the morning was 104 including some small beauties: Red-backed Fairy-wren, Barred Cuckoo-shrike and Chestnut-breasted Mannikins – and large ones: Black-necked Stork (Jabiru) chick, Osprey, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle.
We left early to catch the Magpie family in the early light.
Listening to the small Brown Thornbill – a bird most people see as an LBB (little brown bird or LBJ, little brown jobbie) was a delight. Kathleen Dean Moore worries about the looming loss of wild music heard in the songs of birds: ‘There are stories in the music we hear, stories about faithful bonds, about love and loneliness, about fear and the urgency of ongoing life. When we listen, we set aside our own stories and recognize and honour the stories told by others, no matter how unfamiliar they may be. This is the beginning of empathy. This is a necessary condition for caring. And caring is what will save the songs.’[v]
We are lucky here, in a rich biodiverse region, but development is hurrying on all the time, native forests are being logged and animals like the Koala, Quoll and Yellow-bellied Glider are in worrying decline.
And we were infuriated was seeing three dogs let loose off a boat on the spit at Yurruun.Ga making the Beach thick-knees run off. They are probably nesting there and are threatened species. The rule on Crown lands is that dogs must be on a leash. So many dog owners are completely irresponsible.
In 2010, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted the Strategic Plan, containing 20 ‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ to tackle the loss of nature. Birds are excellent environmental indicators and Birdlife International has found that the world has failed to meet in full any of the 18/20 Aichi Targets assessed.[vi]
The report notes that, ‘Citizen scientists are increasingly mobilising and sharing data on the occurrence and abundance of birds, enabling innovative approaches to their conservation.’ I have been involved in a few citizen science projects and written essays for Forest Ecology Alliance (FEA) including one on citizen science. FEA is working hard to save NSW State Forests from indiscriminate logging regimes. Here is an extract.
The number of animals living on Earth having plunged by half since 1970. Researchers have called the massive loss of wildlife a ‘biological annihilation [and a] frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation.’[vii]
[i] Richard Flanagan, The Guardian, 1 Nov, 2019.
[ii] Delia Falconer, ‘On birds: feathered messengers from deep time’, https://theconversation.com/ 1 October, 2021.
[iii] The film ALBATROSS was offered as a ‘permanent gift to the world’ on World Oceans Day 2018, and was screened at the United Nations. See https://www.albatrossthefilm.com/
[iv] Andrew Stafford, ‘We are going to lose these birds the quiet fight to save the golden shouldered parrot’, Guardian, 8 Aug, 2021.
[v] Kathleen Dean Moore, ‘Listen: Four Love Songs’, https://emergencemagazine.org/op_ed/listen-four-love-songs/ 16 April, 2021
[vi] Birds and Biodiversity Targets, September 2020. https://www.birdlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/birds_and_biodiversity_targets_report.pdf
[vii] Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo, ‘Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines’, PNAS July 25, 2017.