Why Do Birds Matter?
From authors to ornithologists, avian enthusiasts share their thoughts.
For our March-April 2013 issue, we asked a variety of avian enthusiasts why birds matter. We were thrilled with the responses, which ranged from poetic to practical, and personal to global. Hollywood director Wes Craven gave his two cents, as did field guide author David Sibley, activist Bill McKibben, authors Barbara Kingsolver and Terry Tempest Williams, and so many more—including Audubon staff and members from around the country. We want to hear from you, too, so join the conversation in the comments section.
Birds make any place a chance for discovery, they make a garden seem wild, they are a little bit of wilderness coming into a city park, and for a bird watcher every walk is filled with anticipation. What feathered jewel might drop out of the sky next? —David Sibley, Author
Birds are important because they keep systems in balance: they pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses and recycle nutrients back into the earth. But they also feed our spirits, marking for us the passage of the seasons, moving us to create art and poetry, inspiring us to flight and reminding us that we are not only on, but of, this earth. —Melanie Driscoll, Director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Flyway
The sheer ubiquity of birds makes them almost unavoidable. Birds are the always-present possibility of an awakening to the natural world that too many people have not yet experienced. —Corey Finger, Blogger, 10,000 Birds
Birds are wherever we are. They are our companions. Birds are mediators between heaven and earth. —Terry Tempest Williams, Author, When Women Were Birds
To abuse, to waste, to overuse—that’s immorality. For me, it’s very much a question of doing the right thing. And I wake up every morning and listen to the birds and take their song to heart and go back and sing for them. —Brian Rutledge, Vice President Rocky Mountain Region
Why do birds matter? It’s a funny question. Imagine asking a cardinal, “Why do humans matter?” He would sing if he could, from the top of a telephone pole, “They don’t! Not at all! Look at me!” Every species basically thinks we’re the real one, and all others are food or set decoration. If you could step back and register all our noise at once, you might get a glimpse of the real deal: life on earth. —Barbara Kingsolver, Author, Flight Behavior
Birds remind us that there are angels. —Jane Alexander, Actress
Birds matter because they give us wings. And because if we save the birds, we will save the world. —Pepper Trail, USFWS forensic ornithologist
Great fiction is often praised for evoking a strong ‘sense of place.’ Birds do the same. In my own backyard, watching the types and rhythms of birds each day and each season heightens my appreciation for the subtler workings of the landscape. And when confronted by a seemingly alien place, say a desert or mountain tundra, the birds carry me from confusion to understanding. Seeing the world through the eyes of birds gives me a sense of place like no other. —Chris Canfield, Audubon’s Mississippi Flyway Lead
In an age when we experience so much of our world through glass—screens, windows, windshields—birds are a vital connection to the wild. They reach across any barrier, flitting, surprising, and dazzling, always there to refresh my sense of wonder. —Thor Hanson, Author, Feathers, The Evolution of a Natural Miracle
Birds matter not least because amazing migrations remind us what an interconnected web we live in, from pole to pole. —Bill McKibben, Author, environmental advocate
Without birds, nature would lose her voice and the planet its most engaging envoys. Birds matter precisely because they matter to us. Environment is a concept. Nature a label. Birds are real, elements that live within our sensory plane. They spread their wings and bridge the gap between our world and the natural world. —Pete Dunne, Author, director Cape May Bird Observatory