First, Do No Harm


Birds, songbirds as well as all others, have a tough time surviving. See my latest book, Beaks, Bones, and Bird Songs for fascinating details. Science can help save many birds but it’s hard to protect them against the idiotic behavior of some of our human species.

I read in the news about two law students who went into the wildlife display at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and caught, decapitated, and threw around an African Helmeted Guineafowl. I don’t know what UC Berkeley Law School can do to punish these morons but California has 176,000 lawyers and certainly doesn’t need two more like these guys.

The other day I received an e-mail from a psychologist who was counseling a client who is living at a campsite somewhere in southern California and, according to him, is being harassed and driven out of his campsite by House Finches. He’s shot dozens of them but they keep coming back, he says. The House Finches are being assisted in this effort by orioles and “fig birds.” He plans to move to the desert where he thinks there are no House Finches. I suggested northern Canada instead.

I have received many e-mails from people who claim they were being harassed by crows, blackbirds, starlings, etc. Some fear they will be harmed and threaten to shoot the birds. Now, I have been in many bird nesting sites over the years and have even climbed Osprey nests to band the young, and I have never been physically touched by a bird. I’ve been dive-bombed by terns and hawks, but none have ever touched me. The only time I have ever been hurt is in the process of handling birds – large parrots, hawks, eagles and owls can do a bit of damage to your hands unless you are careful.

In Kentucky, off-road vehicles are running over the nests of endangered Least Terns in a protected area which is off limits to any kind of human activity, even walking.

On Duck Island, off the coast of Connecticut, there was a major rookery for Great and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Little Blue Herons and other species. Campers came and built a giant bonfire, causing many birds to abandon their nests. Some renested, only to be disturbed a month later by more picnickers with a bunch of dogs.

Off of Long Island, an Oystercatcher chick was taken from its parents by a teenager. He took it to school to show his friends and teacher. By the time wildlife officials retrieved it, it was dying of starvation and could not be saved. I got an e-mail from a young lady last year who said she found a Killdeer chick and wanted to know all about it and how to feed it and keep it. I told her to release it immediately where she found it but I never heard from her again.

Birds are totally at the mercy of humans. We have to respect them and our shared environment. It’s bad enough that we are poisoning and destroying their habitats; why do some people complain about them or harass them? I hope the guineafowl-killing law students are never admitted to the California bar and are relegated to window-washing buildings with lots of bird poop.

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