20% of Earth's Birds Are Threatened with Extinction
© 2017 by Linda Moulton Howe
“If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”
- Charles Lindbergh, June 23, 1969, first human
to fly solo from New York to Paris in 1927
Great Egrets are common wetland birds. Their long legs extend beyond the body in flight,
and their all-white wings have a 4-1/2 feet wingspan. Image © by Michael L. Baird.
June 30, 2017 Missoula, Montana: In June 2017, the American Bird Conservancy warned at its website, “As the human population rockets past seven billion, natural habitats are increasingly lost. Those that remain are dotted with man-made threats. As a result, hundreds of bird species are spiraling toward extinction.”
In February 2017, the Vatican in Rome hosted a gathering of leading biologists and ecologists to discuss: “How To Save the Natural World on Which We Depend. The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.” Those words echoed Pope Francis during his 2015 encyclical: “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”
There are sobering statistics about the ongoing massive die-off of species in the 21st Century. Changing climate is causing starvation in ocean and land regions. Rising sea levels flood once-flourishing habitats. It's now estimated that around half the species on Earth today could disappear by the middle to end of this century, including 20% of the world's birds.
Those flying wonders of our planet today were once the huge, stomping dinosaurs before the asteroid hit the Gulf of Mexico and wiped the giant reptiles out after some 80 million years of existence. Today's birds are the dinosaurs' genetic legacy. The brains of birds such as the raven, crows and nutcrackers are so intelligent that human scientists have studied them. Human brains are built like a layer cake. A bird brain is built like a fruitcake.
And in a new book entitled The Wonder of Birds by New York Times contributor Jim Robbins underscores bird intelligence and the mystical intimacy that humans and birds have had for centuries. Jim warns that if humans continue to disconnect from the natural world of birds, animals and plants, we will disconnect ourself as a species from the strengths of our intuitions and our souls.
Jim writes: “Birds are far smarter and their brains are far more sophisticated than anyone imagined. Pigeons have taken the Eysenck IQ test, which was designed for people ... the pigeons performed better than humans routinely do.
“Some birds like the famous African gray parrot, Alex, can count as high as six ... Crows can remember a human face for years so that even the U. S. Army was looking into spy birds that could be trained to memorize faces of missing soldiers and targets such as Osama bin Laden, and then go out and search for them and report back.”
Birds have sophisticated cultures as humans do. Their ability to fly on wings above us seems to signal there are other dimensions. And there is that nagging gut sense that if birds die out, so will we. If we humans make serious efforts to protect all birds around the world, we might end up saving ourselves.
The Wonder of Birds © 2017 by Jim Robbins.
Available at Amazon Books and bookstores everywhere.
Jim Robbins, contributes environmental updates
to The New York Times and is author of The
Wonder of Birds © 2017 and The Man Who
Planted Trees © 2012, based in Missoula, Montana.
Jim Robbins, a New York Times contributor and author of The Wonder of Birds © 2017, and The Man Who Planted Trees © 2012, Missoula, Montana: “One of the reasons I wrote this book, it's my humble attempt to wake people up. My feeling is that we're on the edge of an awakening. The stress of where we are now may be forcing us or may be hastening a time when we wake up and we realize that the conundrum that we're in and who we really are. We are a species that evolved in nature over millions of years, and we're connected to it. And we have to realize the significance of those connections. There's a quote in the book from Carl Jung, he talks about humans have such a loss because they don't realize they're connected to the trees and the forest and the mountains and the emotional energy those things provide. My contribution with this book is to ask those questions. Are we connected? Are we evolving with the planet? Is it Gaia? Is that a real thing? I think it is.
Historic Partnership of Ravens and Wolves
Adirondack Wildlife.org: “Wherever wolves hunt, ravens are present, scavenging prey,
and sometimes leading upwind wolves to potential prey, or to carcasses too tough for
even the ravens’ heavy, pick-like beaks to penetrate. Ravens not only scavenge wolf kills, but
steal up to one third of a carcass, by continually carrying away chunks of meat, caching
and hiding them both from the wolves and their fellow ravens. A fascinating new study
suggests that, since an adult wolf can, by itself, kill any prey smaller than a large moose,
the real reason wolves hunt in packs, is to minimize the portion of a carcass lost to ravens!
And while it may seem that wolves have the short end of this symbiotic relationship
with ravens, idle wolves and ravens have been observed playing together,
with ravens pulling on wolf tails, and wolf pups chasing after teasing ravens.”
COULD YOU PLEASE GO INTO THE EXTRAORDINARY DYNAMIC BETWEEN RAVENS AND WOLVES?
Right. Well, one of the scientist who's written probably the seminal work on raven intelligence, Bern Heinrich, wrote a book called Mind of the Raven. He's the one that observed this connection that wolves and ravens are in partnership. Ravens can see a long way. I mean, I've seen this myself in Yellowstone.
I've watched ravens and wolves travel together and feed on a carcass together. And the reason they partner up is that a raven can see miles from its vantage high in the sky, and it can see when there's a dead carcass. And they'll alert the wolves, a pack of wolves, to the presence of this protein on the ground, and then they'll call out, the wolves will come there.
And of course the raven can't open the carcass, doesn't have the strength or the teeth, and the wolf will come and open the carcass up and then everybody eats. In fact, one of the reasons they think ravens evolved to be so smart was because of their need to evade the teeth of the wolf as it feeds to know which wolves are safe, which wolves are a threat, how to avoid them in order to get the most out of the carcass. So this partnership has taught the ravens and caused them to evolve an intelligence that they need—memory, attention, all those smarts are a matter of their survival as they feed on a carcass.
Ravens Follow Eye Gazes As Humans Do
IN FACT, HEINRICH AND ONE OF HIS COLLEAGUES, THEY STUDIED THE PROCESS OF GAZING. HUMANS CAN GAZE AT ANOTHER HUMAN'S FACE, AND THEY CAN WATCH AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO THE EYES OF THE OTHER HUMAN, AND IF THEY SWITCH TO ANOTHER ANGLE, HUMANS WILL THEN LOOK. AND THAT WAS CONSIDERED TO BE A HIGH INTELLIGENCE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THEY STUDIED RAVENS' GAZE FOLLOWING?
Yeah, gaze following. They put up a wall, and they put the ravens on one side of the wall. The wall runs straight perpendicular to the human observer, and they put ravens on one side of the wall, and on the other side they put an object, and then the human looked to the left of the wall, and the raven follows the human's gaze, which is also a sign of advanced intelligence. And to the point where the raven would either hop up on top of the wall to look over and see what the human was looking at or go around the wall and check out what was going on on the other side. And that's seen in very, very few animals. But ravens, it's common for them to do that.
Crows and Ravens Think Like Humans
and Rival Primates in Ability to Deceive
Reptiles, dinosaurs and birds branched off from tetrapodes before mammals evolved on another
branch from tetrapodes. The crows and ravens are corvids in the family Corvidae,
which are the most intelligent birds on Earth. Source: Ptrrupprecht.
There's also the case, Huginn and Muninn, the two ravens which are named after Odin's ravens. Odin, the Norse god, he had two ravens that went out into the world and reported back to him on what they saw. So this fellow, this researcher, Thomas Bugnyar in Austria, he had two ravens, and he named them after Huginn and Muninn, and they were very smart. One of them was checking out film cans that had food in them, and the other one would come over, and as soon as one of them opened it, the other one would come over and steal it. So the first one started taking the tops off and faking that he was finding something in the film canisters. And then when the other raven was occupied with that, he would hop over to the one that was full and feed on the one that was full.
Ravens Kill and Store Food For Long Timeline
“The raven flew out to one of the stranded grebes on the ice
and pulverized it with its long beak until the grebe was dead. ...at the end
of the day, all 141 eared grebes on the ice that day were dead (May 2004).
I've never seen anything of this magnitude. I didn't believe ravens could
do that much predation in one day.”
- Terry McEneaney, Yellowstone National Park Ornithologist,
watched four ravens systematically kill 141 eared grebes
stranded on icy Yellowstone Lake, May 2004.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle.com, August 28, 2004.
THAT IS WHAT YOU CALL UNDERSTANDING THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND YOU AND BEING ABLE TO OUTFOX IT. AND THERE IS ANOTHER ASPECT OF THE RAVENS THAT YOU DESCRIBE ON PAGE 151 OF YOUR BOOK, THE WONDER OF BIRDS. I WONDER IF YOU COULD GO INTO THE YELLOWSTONE EVENT THAT I FOUND ASTOUNDING ABOUT WHAT THE RAVENS DID WITH THE GREBES?
Yeah, we think of ravens primarily as being scavengers because we see them along the road eating a squirrel or something that got flattened. But ravens also can kill and quite ably. This one event that was accounted in a study, 100 and some eared grebes landed on a lake that looked like it was open but was frozen, and there was no snow, so they couldn't see the ice. When they tried to take off, the ice was so slippery, they couldn't. They couldn't run far enough to get traction.
And the raven saw what was going on, and dozens of them started coming out onto the ice and eventually killed all the 150 or 200 eared grebes and pulled them apart and stashed them in the snow. That's what ravens do. They cache their food, and they're able to cache their food because they know when another bird is watching them or not. So they know whether or not their food is at risk. So they've killed a whole large flock of eared grebes in front of the Yellowstone bird biologist.
AND THEN STORED THEM IN THE SNOW, SO THEY WERE SHOWING THEY WERE AWARED OF TIMELINE NEED AS WELL.
Right. That's a big question about these smart birds is whether they have something called "theory of mind." Whether they can use past events to plan for the future. Humans do that. The jury is out on whether other animals do it, and the primary candidate for that kind of advanced behavior is the raven and other corvids because of incidents like this. Researchers, they think that these birds have learned ably what's happened in the past, and they are hiding this food for future events.
Extraordinary Memory of Clark's Nutcracker
I WAS SURPRISED TO READ IN YOUR BOOK THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THE BLACK-WINGED NUTCRACKER WILL DO IS THAT THEY CAN TAKE AS MANY AS 33,000 NUTS AND PUT THEM IN 2,500 TO 5,000 DIFFERENT LOCATIONS IN ORDER TO EAT THEM OVER A WINTER AND SPRING.
Every fall the Clark's nutcracker spends several weeks gathering food stores. What makes it
unique is that it harvests more than 30,000 pine nuts, buries them in up to 5,000 caches, and then
relies almost solely on its memory of where those caches are located to survive through winter.
Source: Science Daily News.com
Right. Clark's nutcracker is what that's called. They live in high country in the mountains, and they cache these nuts, and it's a huge mystery exactly how they do it. But a lot of scientists study them to understand how memory works, how it changes the shape of the brain, how it enlarges the hippocampus. They've compared these to taxi drivers in London who learn thousands of streets, something called the Knowledge amongst cab drivers in London. The same thing. It's a larger hippocampus that enables them to do this. But somehow they do it. It's still a mystery how they manage to do that many.
THE NUTCRACKER IS GENETICALLY RELATED TO THE RAVEN?
Yeah, they're both corvids, so they're in the same family. Corvids are ravens, crows, nutcrackers, Steller's jays, those are a group of birds that are probably the smartest group of birds in the world.
Birds and Reincarnation of Souls
“In Plato's view the number of souls was fixed. Birth therefore is never
the creation of a soul, but only a transmigration from one body to another.”
The Ba, part of the soul represented by a bird (hawk) with a human head.
The Ba was the part of the soul believed to be able to fly and was able
to leave the tomb and revisit the dead person's haunts in the mortal world
and journey in the Underworld. The Ba kept returning to the tomb until,
following the judgement of the earthly life, the Ka and Ba could be reunited
in the afterlife. The Ka was the part of the soul believed to be
of a person that survived after death. The Ka was a spiritual twin born with
every human and lived on after death. The Ka was confined to an existence in the
tomb until it could rejoin the Ba and travel to the afterlife. The tomb was therefore
the temporary dwelling-house of the soul. The Egyptians were desperate for
the Ka to survive and unite with the Ba so the Akhu, the divine spark, could
emerge and the soul could enter the world of immortality in the perfect afterlife.
DO BIRDS TELL US ANYTHING ABOUT REINCARNATION, THE RECYCLING OF SOULS?
Well, certainly many cultures believe that birds are souls that have been reincarnated. I wrote about the group of African-American people in Washington D.C. who have reintroduced bald eagles to the Anacostia River. And as these eagles have come back, they have named the eagles after the people in their group, the Earth Conservation Corps, who were killed in their dangerous neighborhood. And perhaps this is a spontaneous belief that birds carry the souls of people who have died. And it's very common to think that birds are somehow some sort of angelic beings that are connected to humans on a soul level.
AND YET THERE ARE THE RAVENS WHO ARE CAPABLE OF KILLING 140 GREBES ON AN ICE LAKE BECAUSE THE GREBES CAN'T WALK.
That's right. Ravens in particular are yin and yang. They are seen as the smartest animal connecting us to the higher intelligence, and also as some of the darkest. Look at Edgar Allan Poe and The Raven. The raven was a symbol of his descent into madness, so ravens have this very light and dark aspect to them, and they contain both of them.
WHY ARE THEY CONNECTED TO SUBJECTS HAVING TO DO WITH LIFE, DEATH, AND THE RECYCLING OF LIFE?
Well, I think we're connected to birds on a very deep level.
WHAT ABOUT RAVENS SPECIFICALLY?
Because they live amongst humans. They are not afraid of us. We see them all the time along the street or in cities. They're always around, and they're incredibly smart. People observe them for any length of time, they can see how intelligent they really are. So I think that part of it is proximity.
BUT WHY THE CONNECTION TO THE UNSEEN, THE BIRTH AND DEATH CYCLE?
Between ravens and the birth and death cycle?
RIGHT. THROUGHOUT HISTORY, RAVENS HAVE BEEN TIED INTO ISSUES OF GHOSTS AND DEATH.
I think it's because of their intelligence. I think there's a humanlike quality to them. Maybe even a superior to human quality because they can fly. The same way that wolves use them to find game, I think maybe the fact that they can fly and that they are incredibly intelligent gives them a feeling that they are superior in some ways to human beings.
BUT WHERE DID IT START HISTORICALLY, THE LINK BETWEEN BIRDS HAVING HUMAN SOULS?
That's as old as many civilizations. In Indonesia, there's hundreds of cultures there that live every day with birds in their midst. Birds somehow are connected almost like family to human beings. They believe some birds are actually uncle Charlie.
And those birds aren't killed. They're allowed to live and stay nearby. So I'm not sure when that started, but it's definitely very old.”
For further information about the 6th mass extinction ongoing on planet Earth, please see reports in the Earthfiles Archive organized in chronological order from 1999 to 2016 ongoing of which a few are listed here.
• 01/27/2017 — Only 7,000 Cheetahs Left In World — 21st Century Extinction?
• 01/27/2017 — Disturbing 40% Decline in Earth's Giraffes Since 1987 — Another 21st Century Extinction?
• 11/03/2016 — Latest World Wildlife Report Shows Steep Declines — World's Vertebrate Populations Half of What They Were In 1970.
• 12/18/2015 — Will New Paris Climate Agreement Be Able to Limit Global Warming to 2 Degrees C. (3.6 deg. F.) Above Pre-Industrial Temperatures?
• 09/24/2015 — What Has Killed Nearly A Quarter Million Saiga Antelopes Since May 2015 in Central Kazakhstan?
• 08/31/2014 — Part 2: Is The Dulce ET Underground Lab Linked to ETs from Zeta Reticuli 1 and Sirius B?
• 08/28/2014 — Earth Life Is Dying In A 6th Mass Extinction As Great As Asteroid Hit 65 Million Years Ago - But This Time the Cause Is Humans.
• 08/27/2014 — Sea Stars Continue to Die By the Millions from Alaska to California: Is It A Virus?
• 08/15/2008 — Amphibian Warning Bell of Mass Extinctions
• 12/22/2001 — Scientists Warn That Climate and Earth Life Can Change Rapidly
• 10/25/1999 — A Mysterious "Perturber" at the Edges of Our Solar System
The Extinction Crisis, Center for Biological Diversity:
"Sea level rise may drive coastal nesting birds to extinction," June 1, 2017, Phys.org: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-sea-coastal-birds-extinction.html
“Fifth of Bird Species 'Threatened,'” June 1, 2005, BirdLife:
"Four Ravens Wipe Out 141 Grebes in Yellowstone," August 28, 2004, Bozeman Daily Chronicle.com:
Cultural Depictions of Ravens: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_depictions_of_ravens
Ravens and Wolves: http://adirondackwildlife.org/WolvesRavens.html
"Researcher Uncovering Mysteries Of Memory By Studying Clever Bird," October 12, 2006, Science Daily.com: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061012094818.htm
"10 Amazing Birds That Have Gone Extinct," January 24, 2017, BirdLife: