In the Late Anthropocene
December 27, 2017 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Why Birds Matter (Jonathan Franzen for National Geographic)
posted by box (6 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I love birding. I sit in my backyard and every day I see Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, House Finches, Brown Thrashers, and Carolina Chickadees and watch overhead for the Fish Crows, Great Egrets and Red-shouldered Hawks. I sit in my backyard and also see determined travelers of all shapes and colors like Yellow Warblers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Indigo Buntings. Each day is the greatest show on Earth and all in my own backyard.
posted by narancia at 9:26 AM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Mentioned in the article, the first time I saw a painted bunting hanging around our birdbath I thought it was a joke. Either something artificially colored like an easter chick or an escaped exotic jungle species rather than one indigenous to Texas...
posted by jim in austin at 9:27 AM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Welp, I hope he does better this time than last time.
posted by kenko at 10:12 AM on December 27, 2017 [9 favorites]

Like Franzen, I have come to birding (or birding has come to me) as I've matured. The realization that as I've traveled I've enjoyed the wide varieties of birds i've seen, and yet i've ignored the variety in my own back yard. so i've set up a feeder station with a variety of enticing foods just outside of the window next to my reading chair. I even have a camera set up to capture my visitors for later study. it's great fun.
I've taken to reading birding essays and things i've read align with other areas that interest me, such as the effects of the anthropocene, and whether or not we are experiencing a mass extinction (the jury is, surprisingly, still out).
Unlike Franzen I know I am a dilettante, and my name would never get my musings published or garner my thoughts any attention. His intentions are good, but not very rooted in current science.

Truth is humans are a very, very successful invasive species. We've conquered pretty much every nook and cranny of the planet, we're still spreading, and that spread has consequences that go far beyond the thoughts or actions of individuals. Franzen breathlessly warns us of A person who says, “It’s too bad about the birds, but human beings come first” as if that guy is sitting at a diner arguing with the local naturalist. Every element of our activity on the planet at this point impacts the future of every species, and yet...
Birds are indeed remnants of the age of dinosaurs, which means they've survived mass extinctions before. I truly doubt they are going anywhere. My backyard birds are living the high life (so long as my neighbors don't get a cat). They have food all winter and a warm place to bathe. Chances are ravens and crows have never had it better.
Now I'm not here to say that biodiversity isn't at risk, or that conservation isn't crucial to a healthy, diverse planet, and that we all shouldn't be more aware of how much we have to lose if we don't act on anthropogenic climate change, but i am here to say that in the long run, when it comes to who will be around the longest, my money's on the birds, and the writings of celebrity dilettantes won't do much to change that.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:17 AM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a long time fan of pigeons, there's a part of me that feels a bit annoyed at the celebration of the most fragile and unadaptable birds. I recognize that biological diversity and preserving habitats are important; saving as many bird species as possible is a fine goal. But, ignoring the tens of thousands of tiny, smart dinosaurs that surround your home and marveling at the somewhat more brightly colored dinosaurs that are notable mostly for being really bad at surviving seems a bit odd.

I can see why penguins, flamingos, and raptors capture the imagination. The difference between wild song birds and pigeons is entirely lost on me.

And parrots are just assholes. All of them.
posted by eotvos at 3:24 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Parrots may be assholes but they feel misunderstood.
posted by ovvl at 3:48 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

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