Birds are not just diverse, vivid and extraordinary. They can also save our souls lets protect them
For most of my life, I didnt pay attention to birds. Only in my 40s did I become a person whose heart lifts whenever he hears a grosbeak singing or a towhee calling, and who hurries out to see a golden plover thats been reported in the neighbourhood, just because its a beautiful bird, with truly golden plumage, and has flown all the way from Alaska. When someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh and shake my head, as if Ive been asked to explain why I love my brothers. And yet the question is a fair one: why do birds matter?
My answer might begin with the vast scale of the avian domain. If you could see every bird in the world, youd see the whole world. Things with feathers can be found in every corner of every ocean and in land habitats so bleak that theyre habitats for nothing else. Grey gulls raise their chicks in Chiles Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth.
Emperor penguins incubate their eggs in Antarctica in winter. Goshawks nest in the Berlin cemetery where Marlene Dietrich is buried, sparrows in Manhattan traffic lights, swifts in sea caves, vultures on Himalayan cliffs, chaffinches in Chernobyl. The only forms of life more widely distributed than birds are microscopic.