Imagine a world without birds

How strange it would be to wake up to a world without birds; it would be an eerie silence, a disturbing quietude, one that would be immediately missed.

We are often surrounded by nature’s symphonic bird song, yet don’t recognise it, nor often pay attention to it. Yet this beautiful wonder of life signals something that gets to the heart of an essential balance in nature that underpins much of life on earth: our ecosystem, which is a vast and interrelated natural community of flora and fauna.

Take the key stone from a bridge, and what happens? The entire edifice collapses. On earth, much the same can happen; many species represent this key stone of nature, and birds are no exception.

Simply put, a world without birds would be chaos, and what we take for granted is often fundamental to our way of life. As Corey Finger of 10,000 Birds has said, “birds are the always-present possibility of an awakening to the natural world that too many people have not yet experienced.

The effect on flora

Darwin circa 1880

In 1839 Charles Darwin set sail for South America under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy, Darwin’s political opposite. The boat, the famous Beagle, was hardly equipped for what was planned to be a two year journey, notwithstanding the fact it lasted for five.

On his journey, Darwin wrote copious amounts of notes, and one of his observations was on orchid pollination. His key notes were based on long moth tongues (proboscis) that are used for gathering nectar from orchids, thus carrying pollen and helping to fertilise other orchids. What is interesting is that birds can also be lured to orchids to carry pollen. The African orchid, Disa, contain pollinaria that stick to the feet of certain species of bird.

This interesting and complex co-evolutionary association is known as Ornithophily; subsequent adaptions of co-evolved birds include brushy tongues, long bills and the capacity for hovering flight: hummingbirds and honeycreepers. However, the point is this, and it is an important one, that if birds were to disappear so would a whole host of world flora. Darwin’s genius lay in the realisation that earth’s interrelated ecosystem is balanced through selection in magnificently subtle ways.

In one recent New Zealand-based study, the stitchbird (hihi) was found to be almost extinct. As a consequence of this near-extinction, the Gloxinia bush experienced a rapid decline because fewer stichbirds could pollinate the plants. As the notable Australian ecologist, Matine Maron, said, “it is not just about losing a species from the face of the earth. Losing key species from local areas can result in ecosystem collapse.”

The New Zealand Stitchbird (Notiomystis cincta)

The effect on insects and crops

It is interesting to note that around 10% of an industrialised nation’s crops are consumed by insects, a considerable amount. This impact would be magnified hugely by the absence of our wild birds; the consumption of insects by birds being necessary to keep these insects in check. And, ultimately, there would be a vast increase in the numbers of spiders, worms, and other such insectivores that would otherwise be consumed by birds.
Yes, it would be possible to solve this problem by dumping greater amounts of pesticides on crops, but what damage would this ultimately do to the food we consume?

Our birds are a wonder

Birds make our gardens interesting, they bring with them a small bit wilderness into our parks, and they ultimately bring us closer to nature. As well as the direct impact on our ecosystem, much art and poetry has been inspired by these wonderful creatures. A world without them would be a dark world indeed.

Our advice is this; the next time you hear a bird, slow down, listen to its song, and take some time to appreciate the true beauty of one of nature’s most glorious creations.

Share your thoughts. How do you think the world would be affected?