Why do birds matter?
It’s an odd question: why do birds matter? Self-evidently they have their place in the food chain and within a range of ecosystems, but it seems that birds have the power to touch us in a way that few other classes of organisms do. We value birds in many ways: culturally, artistically, philosophically and economically. Throughout history, many of our most enduring cultural symbols have been birds, from Horus, the Egyptian god of creation, often depicted as a falcon, to Quetzalcoatl, based on the resplendent quetzal, who dominated the traditions and beliefs of the Maya and Aztecs of Central America. ‘There is something extraordinary about birds,’ says the RSPB’s Martin Harper. ‘It’s the nature of their flight, their songs, their migration. They lift our spirits, they are just there, we see them every day. Imagine if we couldn’t.’
Loss of birds is also a serious problem for humanity at a utilitarian level, for it has an impact on food production, carbon storage and climate change. ‘There are great, unknown consequences about what happens when you remove a species from a complex food system. If we don’t address the challenge, nature will bite us back,’ says Harper.