Why do birds mat­ter?

Geographical - - DOSSIER -

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.

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