The Vanishing Birds
|Studies of Dead Sparrows by Vincent Van Gogh, 1885 -image source|
lfredo Roces often emails me articles by popular writer Juan Mercado of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
. A recent one needed a strong cup of coffee. It read ominous, a subtle cry for help. A puzzle. What the heck is going on? Philippine birds are going extinct?!
I was a pelican choked.
|Avian Inferno digital image by edd aragon |
There's guilt I've nursed inside a nest woven more than 50 years ago; vivid as I held still-warm, bloodied sparrow that dropped off a tree, downed by a slingshot fashioned out of branches of backyard señorita
guava tree. ¿Qué carajo?
My grandma Lola Pina
was so upset upon discovering her tree's missing Y
-branch. She knew it was me. Less branches means less guava fruit for you!
|Gaia-Gaia..Photo-Maya digital image by edd aragon |
Mother calmly explained that birds are precious, ate worms, must be respected, protected, etc..and finally added "for God's sake hijo
find something else for target practice!" I vowed it was last sparrow-hunt. Sometime later a street lamp exploded. I realized I was in a bigger trouble. Gotta go!
| Red-breasted cockatoos - edd aragon 2006|
Australia is home since 1979, more than half of my life spent in a vast country where laws for protection of wildlife are most rigid, allowing me to witness and learn more about endemic birds that have somehow adapted to cities, nesting in roof gutters, nonchalantly hopping along highways and feeding on plump insects smashed by car windscreens, or gorging on stolen potato chips and left-over meat pies.
| Rosellas up a palm tree - edd aragon 2006|
Rosellas, cockatoos, magpies, currawongs, peewees and hawks often visited my backyard where I kept chickens a few years ago.
| a juvenile currawong/ image: edd aragon 2006|
I also grew vegetables which attracted insects. Perhaps it was the lush and food around. Turtle doves became pests as they gobbled up wheat grains ahead of the chicken.
| Backyard chooks/ image: edd aragon|
While in a Manila street last year I was distracted by a commotion. There were men and boys running after a small but colorful parakeet. I asked one boy what the big deal was. He said they wanted to catch it because it was rare and can sell for a lot of money. Oh well, ask a silly question..
Fired up by Mr. Juan Mercado's article I felt the need to share and have it read by more people; and for better visual reminders I've gathered images from the web to illustrate them. With Mr. Mercado's kind permission I've featured his article in this blog entry including some feedback. For more outstanding avian photos visit websites of Philippine bird watchers clubs and/or societies (click on image source links).The time has come, I reckon that we all become bird watchers.
Ironically photographs and stamps may sadly be the last vestiges of these near-extinct birds. It's always never too late.. they say, but I still fear the day our grandchildren ask "Lolo
, what's a sparrow?"
Here now is Mr. Mercado's article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer
with images inserted.
FEATHERED DESAPARECIDOS by Juan L Mercado
The grey-haired visitor from Brussels was perplexed, ‘Where,” he asked,.” did your birds disappear to?”
In his native Belgium, storks tiptoe unhindered between tractors. Robins and pigeons fill the parks. “Feed the birds / Two pence a bag” is the haunting “Mary Poppins” refrain.
In contrast, birds here run a gauntlet of slingshots, traps and pollution --
|Philippine Eagle/image source National Geographic|
|Phil. Whiskered Tern/image source|
--and disdain.”If it flies, it dies”, a Negros gun club bragged.. We’ve razed forests, paved over mangroves (“Asphalt is the last crop’) and poisoned rivers that are habitats for birds..
The Mindoro imperial pigeon ...
..Sulu hornbill and ..
..Mindanao parrot finch have vanished, we wrote in 2004. Since then, the number of native species, threatened with extinction, have risen to 89.. Among these are..
..the Blue-Winged Racquet-Tail,..
..the Isabela oriole, ..
..the Dark-Eared Brown Dove, ..
..and the Chinese Crested Tern.
“Your children will no longer thrill, as we once did, to the heart-stopping dive of a hawk,” National Scientist Dioscoro Umali, told UP graduating students, just before his death.
“We’ve stripped the land of its beauty ,” he said “And the bitter tragedy is the victims are our grandchildren --- flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. “
Yet, the Philippines is a “mega-diversity ‘ nation,” notes the UN’s “State of Environment in Asia and the Pacific”. It’s wedged among the top seven countries that “collectively claim more than two-thirds of the earth’s biological resources.” The Philippines and Australia top Indonesia in number of “endemic” or native birds.
The UN sponsored World Migratory Bird Day on May 8 last year. . It’s theme was: “Save migratory birds in crisis – Every species counts!”. No less than 77 species of egrets , plovers and sandpipers rest at Olango Island, off Cebu,, as they traverse the East Asian Migratory Flyway, to flee winter.
Worldwide, a staggering 1,227 or 12.4% of the total 9,865 extant bird species in the world are currently classified as globally threatened. Of these, 192 are tagged “Critically Endangered..”
An estimated 19% of all known birds are considered migratory. BirdLife International classifies 11% as “Globally Threatened.”
Today, the Philippines has deteriorated into a “bio-diversity hot spot” ---one of the region’s 12. This strip expends from Indian Ocean islands, Eastern Himalayas to Sri Lanka. Many endemic species face extinction within this belt.
Deforestation saw “a number of bird species disappear from Cebu, Negros,Panay and Mindoro,” the UN study notes. “Of highest priority for conservation are Indonesia’s Lower Sundas, Eastern Himalayas, Luzon (especially Mindoro)” it adds.
On an Ulaan Bator hilltop, I watched hawks , swoop from clear Mongolian skies. Childhood memories of hawks swooping to snatch chicks in outlaying barrios resurfaced. “My grandchildren never saw this,” I mumbled. “And they’re poorer for the loss.”
The Master from Galilee used the image of a hen, sheltering chicks from marauding hawks, to underscore “the time of visitation.”
|North Negros Forest Reserve image source|
Birds perform multiple tasks from curbing insect infestations to scattering seeds.
In the shrinking North Negros Forest Reserve, 20 percent of trees will fail to regenerate, if the present rate of hunting continues, a University of British Columbia study notes.
Like rivers, birds make up a unique and sensitive early warning system. When rives dry up, or birds disappear, they signal that “the environment is under such stress that species which lived in them for thousand of years, can no longer survive,” the Philippines Red Data Book notes.
The graybird and flower pecker (dicaeum quadricolor) were unique to Cebu. They’ve been wiped out and are now numbered among “feathered desaparecidos”.
Add to these “disappeared” the Black-Hooded Coucal,..
..Negros Striped-Babbler, ..
..and Flame-Templed Babbler..
Cebu Daily News’ mascot is the endangered black shama or siloy. But ‘I haven’t seen a siloy,” columnists Roy Lu wrote. ‘Worse, I have seen other birds that will never sing again: the tukmo, the kukuk.”
“Concentration of endangered birds is larger in islands like Hawaii, the Philippines, Indonesia or Mauritius’, periodic World Conservation Union surveys found: .”
Island birds are smaller in number and range. They become vulnerable when forests, as in Mindanao are razed , or rives like Abra are laced with toxic chemicals and human nature waste. In Cebu’s Guadalupe river, coliform pollution exploded by 6,000 percent within a four year period — a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records.
Complacency stems from greed, indifference and ignorance. Used to past abundance, many assume ‘there’s more where they came from. .Well, there’s none.
But no bird, herb or fish disappears alone, Oxford University’s Dr. Norman Meyer warns. When they go, so do their unique genes—life building blocks.
Genes are spliced into ‘miracle rice,” high-yielding corn, or, even Dolly the sheep, if you remember.. Other go into drugs against cancer, AIDS, etc. No one knows what may-be needed the day after.
This “killing curve of species, is genetic forfeiture”, Inquirer observed..” It seals off little understood options for our grandchildren.”. Loss of species is irreversible obliteration of unique life forms. No one has yet invented recall from annihilation. Extinction is forever.
‘And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill?” asks the mythical Chief Seattle. “if all the (birds) were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit.” ####
( Email: email@example.com )
via Juan Mercado:
Jurgenne Primavera is one of the world's top 100 scientists featured in a Time
magazine cover last year (she is a specialist on mangroves) she forwarded Edd's illustration of the column feathered desaparecidos to her friends. below is her note. you'll love the prickly way she handles scientific names. johnny mercado p.s. see carol montilla's startling note below.
Please share this column (thanks, Johnny!) with other bird-lovers. A minor note is that the flower pecker's scientific name is spelled Dicaeum quadricolor, and not any other way.
.. here is another reaction from carol montilla in leyte: Hello Johnny...thanks for the vanishing birds info you sent. Let me share with you a brief story...I have always been a bird lover and even in America, I picked up a dying pigeon downtown, its wings badly damaged and I slowly nursed it back to good health, "walking" it at the park with my dog and finally setting it free after nearly a year.
Three months ago a father desperate for funds to enroll his little ones asked to do some odd gardening jobs for me and in gratitude, awarded me with the biggest bird I have ever seen. A bird who flew so low at their home near the wilds at Palo, Leyte.
Was I amazed to discover from the internet that it is one of a rare breed now...an exact replica of the photo you sent of the hornbill from Sulu. I have christened him Rufus..and Rufus is an endearing one, he makes a loud noise when he sees me and instantly bows his head towards me, offering it to be caressed!
know that one day I shall have to surrender him to DENR as he is one of a few 150 hornbills now in existence worldwide. Any advice? Friends say I can take care of him better..que sera. Regards
from Victor "Bimboy" Peñaranda, Philippines:
I came up with a modest proposal to friends in conversation and to persons who happen to attend my lectures, on how to care and conserve our natural heritage, especially birds: Know their names and know them by sight.
When you start to identify and name them, you gain a certain kind of interest and start to understand them (trees, flowers, fishes, birds). When you meet them during walks or picnics, you start to create a relationship with the bee-eaters, coucal, mynah, kingfisher, doves and those that can be found in your neighborhood or surrounding areas, you also start to understand their habitat: trees, other forms of vegetation, the stream, the ricefields. This relationship breeds sympathy, kindness and even genuine concern. You start to tell people about them, including your wife and children. You start to listen to their different voices, know them by the pattern of flight, their feeding habits, their plumage, their natural beauty. They can be experienced. You begin to realize that forests, birds, streams, turtles, fields, lake are everyday blessings. They should maintain their grace; they should not be harmed -- something we in our family have agreed upon and promised to practice as opportunities arise. Try to bring as many children into this circle of communal experience. No need to preach or agitate. They have to know the birds they meet and learn how to name them as if they have been gifted a role in Genesis.
This morning i met a pair of wild doves (bato-bato), a mynah (martines) feeding on the ground, a grassbird (turyok), bee-eaters who snatch insects in flight , a coucal (sabakot) --- and try my best to be a good neighbor to them, even if we all know that the encroachment of settlements and modern industries are endangering them. How do i explain that the wilderness is very much a part of me and everyone of us? i have to know the precious names of those i stand to lose and want to save in my wild life.
After a big flood that devastated the island of Samar in 1989, i joined a gang of friends in organizing a campaign to end commercial logging in Samar. Most of those who went on board were Waray based in Samar and in Metro Manila. Some of those in Metro Manila decided to relocate in Samar, hinting that they have found an excuse to return to their hometowns. They jokingly called their shift of attention and vocation from the national capital to the forests of Samar as "Total Recall." This was accompanied by the formation of an NGO that could accommodate our dreams.
In 1991, the government declared a total ban in commercial logging in the entire island. But that was not the end of our problems. There was constant threat from the corridors of power, especially from Congress, to bring back logging and to introduce big-scale mining operations to break the ban. In 1997 we finally got a an Executive Order declaring all forests of Samar as forest reserve. But after a few years, a new law allowed big foreign mining interests to invest, explore and exploit our mountain resources. The threat was countered in 2000 when the contiguous old-growth and regenerating forests of Samar were declared by government as the Samar Island Natural Park, the largest remaining low-land rainforest in the archipelago. This was supported by UNDP.
The people of Samar took pride in their achievement. That's why when the big mining companies made their move to trash the Natural Park in 2002, there was massive resistance. The three bishops of Samar and the bishop of the diocese of Palo in neighboring Leyte formed an alliance with civic groups and local governments to thwart the intentions of multinational mining companies who forged ties with logging corporations (one of which is owned by a senator). The mining companies backed off.
All is quiet in the Samar front right now, but people of that island have made a virtue of being restless. They, including the veterans of the 1980s-90s campaign, keep their antennae raised to sense any form of danger. Of course, we're all hoping that the successor generations will swell the ranks of advocates for the wilderness, when (and where) it really matters. Oo nga pala, the Samar Island Natural Park has to be declared formally by an act of Congress. That's why the mining companies have not lost hope. -- bimboy
from Bless Salonga, Sydney:
Very interesting fact about the Sulu Hornbill, more reason why they should be protected. You are so right, we torture animals in the Philippines. Being able to feed sea gulls in Bondi Beach (when we lived there) with our left-over bread crusts for over 10 years makes me feel sad. Most of our countrymen have not had the privilege to get this close and have gain our feathered friend's trust (well except for the homing pigeons); they don't know what they are missing out!
I remember the first time we visited Greenpatch in Nowra; placed bird seeds on our hands, heads and on our laps and those lovely local birds invited themselves to the feast and fed from our hands.
from CP Tagamolila, Chicago, USA
It is a shame that these beautiful creatures are being annihilated indirectly or unintentionally. Among others, slingshots should be outlawed as a toy for children without proper education, in the Philippines. With this instrument so prevalent, even 4-year olds or older kids who still do not understand the consequencies of their actions, can kill birds! I am ashamed and remorseful to say, I was one of them when I was growing up.
from Ed Labadia, New Jersey, USA:
might sound quite selfish of us...
but in our lifetime we won't
suffer the griever consequences..
silang mga di ipinanganganak ngayon
who will inherit the barren Earth.
from Mario Aldeguer, Sydney:
A very sad state of vanishing wildlife in The Philippines indeed Edd. I use to hunt these birds and bragged then if I shot one from a longer distant because I was just bloody IGNORANT! Nobody really taught us these birds should not be hunted or should only be hunted based on reproduction cycles and numbers. Education on preservation should actually be an important subject in our schools in Pinas......I think the re-introduction of the native species into our wildlife can be an option if there are firm laws to protect.The punishment for killing a panda in China without authority is DEATH....they mean business.The general consensus is we have more important things to worry about than wildlife.
Mate what is really frightening is the destruction of our coral base surrounding villages and populated area.....our staple food is basically fish and we are destroying its food source without really doing anything about it.....I feel sorry for the next generation. Thank you for sharing .
from Cita Hoersch, Sydney:
Thank you so much for this. Will forward it to Maria James who is the founder of Miss Earth Australia. I will ask her to include this in her Agenda when she have the Miss Earth Pageant this year.
Surprisingly, Miss Earth pageant was started in the Philippines but we have not progressed very much with regards to protecting our environment. People like you and Juan Mercado can spread the word. Keep up the good work.
from Tony Ablen, Hawaii:
Nakakalungkot isipin ang mga nababantang paglaho sa mundo ng mga nagagandahang ibon na matatagpuan lamang sa Kapuluan ng Pilipinas. Dahil sa kagahaman at kagaguhan
ng mga hunters; ng mga developers (deforestation) na sinisira ang pugad at tahanan ng
mga nilikhang ito; mga nambibitag; sa atin na ring pagpapakawala ng carbondioxide na lumalason sa mga hayop na ito; sa mga walang pakialam kung maglaho man ang mga
species na ito, (we could all well be involved in their extinction).................tony
from Violi Calvert, Sydney:
..You are right ..that the answer is through education. Our hope is through the enlightened young generation.
While we are talking of what needs to be preserved for the present and future generations, there is also the Haribon Foundation doing a great job in trying to protect "sites, species and habitat". Here's the link to their site: http://www.haribon.org.ph/
They invite people to be members [either as individual or as an organisation] and also encourage people to buy/pay for seedlings. Our fraternity-sorority group have bought a number of seedlings per member and also joining as a member organisation.
from Tom Baena, Sydney:
There are a lot of things in the Philippines that we took for granted. I can remember my grandfather used to tell people off every time they use to shot birds with a sling shot, near our restaurant, which had a lot of trees, flowers and birds. I can also remember the beautiful public plaza and municipal buildings that were built during the Spanish era. Those things are now gone. I only realised how beautiful they were now that I lived here in Sydney.
There was a Japanese gun position made of concrete at the backyard of my great grand parents house, that I used to play at when I was a kid. I saw it two years ago in rubbles as the people thought that there was a treasure buried there. So they distroyed it. It was part of history. It is so sad to see all these wanton destruction of historical sites by corrupt public officials looking for a quick buck.
Perhaps it is time that Filpress should start/support an educational campaign in conjunction with Haribon and other conservation organisations in the Phils. to save our birds, trees, old buildings, Churches, Government offices, public squares that were built in the Spanish era etc...
Please count me in if there is going to be one.
Thanks for the feedback. Comments to this blog are moderated and shall take awhile to display - edd