The largest owl in North America, the Snowy Owl. New research shows that this individuals size may help with his popularity among us humans, but his lack of colour might not (Image Credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Characterizing the cultural niches of North American birds (2019) Schuetz & Johnston, PNAS, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1820670116
For all our attempts to maintain objectivity in science, often the reality is that the more people value a bird species, the more likely our conservation efforts are to be successful through public support. As such, figuring out which birds are popular, and where, could give us some crucial information on where we’ll need to fight hardest to help species persist, and where our efforts at science communication could use some work.
This week we look at a novel paper that tries to assess which types of North American birds are popular with the public, and whether that popularity is confined only to their home states, or whether it is shown in surrounding areas as well.
More than perhaps any other taxa, birds have managed to associate themselves with the beauty of nature. An ecosystem devoid of bird calls just feels like it’s missing something, and whilst tigers, koalas and elephants might be the face of many a conservation movement, you can’t lure them to your backyard or local park with a simple feeder (at least I hope not). The bird-watching community worldwide is massive, and ranges from casual backyard birders to those who are willing to travel far and wide to see a new species.
For bird scientists, there are pros and cons to the public’s love affairs with birds. The bird community is a huge source of information and a great place to raise awareness of conservation issue. Yet at the same time, our idealisation of birds has led to a lot of misconceptions, both about their population health and their private lives.
Professor Dan Baldassare came into bird ecology through a fascination with animal behaviour. The author of the fantastic paper “The Deal With Birds” (which we’ll get into in a subsequent article, Dan has spent his academic career studying the lives of a range of birds, from the striking Northern Cardinal to the incredible vampire ground finch.
I spoke to Dan recently about our relationships with birds, some of the positives that have come from it, and how our perception of them may have blinded us to some of the realities of their lives.
Image Credit: Warrieboy, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
It’s 5 o’clock in the morning. Whilst the sun has yet to rise and everyone is fast asleep, dedication and passion have awakened you. With a comfortable set of hiking boots, a thermos filled with coffee or tea and a pair of binoculars around your neck you venture into the local forest or mountain area. Hours you spent there searching, looking and listening. When you finally see those recognizable shades of pale brown and chestnut dashing by, or hear that distinctive, vibrant melody interspersed with prolonged pew-pew’s and swift chook-chook’s, you realize that it was well worth waking up so early.