Forgive us our sins against the birds

cassowary_3Birds have been in the center of human attention since the dawn of time. The birds have inspired human cultures – from adornment, to dance moves, to habits. Birds as food is well-documented in human historical archives. Birds have even found a place in religion – immortalized in songs, stories, and rituals. Bird figurines are fashioned from precious stones, carved into wood, shaped out of a rock, molded into glass and even beaten onto metal. Some models are miniature replicas, others like the Nazca  hummingbird outline in the Peruvian desert is close to 100 meters in length and can only be seen from the air.  The modern technological feat of air travel has its source of inspiration in birds.

Once upon a time, beautiful and exotic bird feathers had their price weighed in gold and were traded alongside spice and precious metals. From high couture to indigenous culture, bird feathers has been and is still being used as a significant dress accessory.

Apart from satisfying human values, birds also serve important ecological function. Birds carry pollen from flower to flower ensuring seed production.  The birds even disperse seeds across the landscape that eventually grows into trees in the forest.

Selective harvesting of the best looking bird to satisfy human desire has caused certain bird populations to decline. Through natural selection over time, the brightest bird with the handsomest feather is also the possessor of good genes. Selectively removing the best birds removes the good gene from the gene pool.

With anti-pouching laws in place, extinction through harvest had been minimized. The main threat on birds these days is anthropogenic activities that destroy the habitat of the bird. Logging is one such destructive activity. Logging obliterates the home of the birds and destroys their food source, and in turn paves the way for increased predation.

Climate change, an anthropogenic driven change to the world climate is driving birds up the altitude and when there is no more space, the birds go over the edge. Extinction is inevitable. When that will happen is just a question of time.

Locking birds in aviaries is not a substitute for preservation. If animal indeed do have rights, then keeping birds in aviaries is a crime.   Birds are born to soar into the heavens but aviaries clip the wings of these birds and subdue their instinctive need for depth and breadth in space.  Studies have identified that most tropical bird species are nomads or transient species and move within  certain latitudinal gradients over a large area following availability of food.

In a mixed flock aviary, a number of birds are put into a single aviary. In the wild, these birds would not normally associate. In nature some of these birds occupy space at the top of the canopy while others in the mid canopy and others in the understorey. This division is a function of adaptation to minimize competition. At the different levels, the micro-climate is also specific for the insect, fruits and small plants found in that layer – which in turn is food for the birds. An aviary does not take that into consideration.

Birds in aviaries are fed a standard diet of fruits. Even if all are frugivores, some species feed on insects for extra nutrients. Others have been seen in the wild to practice geophagy – or soil eating for its mineral and salt content. The feathers of birds serve special function including advertisement of fitness, health, sexual fitness, camouflage and even stealth. Colored features are not grown but are the result of ingesting the colors from the food that is eaten.  Being fed a standard diet compromises the integrity of fitness advertisement.

Some birds need to remain in a group for competition to ensure the fittest genes are selected. For instance, the lek in Bird of Paradise is done by a group of male birds and never done by individual birds. Furthermore, without the required environment, a bower-bird may not be able to build required dance area to entice the female.

Just like humans, a reduction in personal space results in different psychological issues. Aggression, depression are two main ones. But changes can happen at the cellular level that affects other functions like mating rituals, reproduction and even the responsibility of rearing chicks.

At the end of the day, when humans finally meet the maker of the birds, we will be found guilty of all the bad things we have done against the birds.

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1 Comment

  1. October 23, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Good post! Sins against not only birds, but many other wildlife such as snakes.


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