The Messenger (2015) Script

Once we believed that birds were messengers... between humans and the supernatural world.

We would interpret the flight and songs of birds to foretell the future.

We came to understand that bird behavior heralds the change of season... and warns us of the coming of storms.

Miners once brought tiny songbirds— canaries— down into coal mines.

When the canary stopped singing and fell from its perch, this was a signal to the miners that their own life was in danger.

Today, once again, birds have something to tell us.


Little jumpy.

It's an old female. Oh, a repeat bird. Yay.

She's been tracked before.

She feels underweight to me. We have to make sure we weigh her.

I think birds have always inspired people.

They're beautiful to look at, they're beautiful to hear, and because there's a mystery surrounding their disappearance.

When you consider the life of an individual migratory bird, you can appreciate what the challenges are.

For the first time ever, we can track an individual bird... over its entire migration journey.

This bird's about to fly down to Brazil and back.

About 15,000 kilometers.

These birds travel amazingly fast.

They'll fly from here, the Canada-US border, down to Mexico in five days.

It's incredible.


A lot of songbirds give these little flight calls... which we think are for air traffic control to prevent collisions.

The first step was to figure out a way to record these calls coming down.

I experimented with shotgun microphones... and then eventually to the microphone that I built myself.

And that was one of the ways I pieced together this jigsaw puzzle... of the identities of a lot of these calls.

This is a hearing aid microphone element.

And they're quite small.

Uh, they're very sensitive, and they have good, uh— very good quality sound pickup.

I mount the microphone inside a two-gallon paint bucket.

I found out that this was one of the cheapest, most efficient ways... to actually record flight calls.

A lot of the songbirds migrate at night.

The departure seems to happen about a half an hour after sunset.

And the reason we think they migrate at night, these are small songbirds and there's larger birds that will eat them.


We now have some evidence that there's at least birds up there... because we're hearing these call notes.

There's a few little chips happening.

And we have the radar image.

This is the last hour. That's amazing. Yeah, yeah.


The question of how long these migrations exist, I would just say probably as long as birds existed.

Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of years, definitely.

Aristotle thought, and it's a famous quote, obviously, that, uh, the swallows go down in the mud in winter.

I think that's actually quite amazing that somebody stood there and said, "Hey, these birds are moving. Where are they going?"

And really just realizing there's some major phenomenon that we don't understand.

The question of how many migratory songbirds die is an interesting one.

We can only estimate it, obviously, because we don't know how many songbirds are out there.

Probably the best estimate is that 20 billion migrate, so half of them don't make it back, and that's a huge number.

On the order of 10 billion die every year, and we find a few here and there.

We know that a few are eaten by predators, by other birds, but where the majority goes, we have no clue.


Just a fantastic night.

Uh, lots of thrushes. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, warblers, some sparrows.

There has got to be millions of birds moving tonight.

And just this steady flow.

Just zip, zip, zip.

And it just goes on, back and forth, twice a year.

You know, these birds are tied to habitat.

They breed in certain habitats. They go to certain regions.

So if you're monitoring the population of a species, you have this way of tuning in to the condition of the planet.

The sky is filled. The sky is filled.

But I know it's going to change.


Tonight is a special night because of this memorial to September 11.

We're in the peak of bird migration in New York City, and that light is so powerful that it confuses birds.

And under certain conditions that can be deadly.

Couple of birds up very high in the beams.

If large numbers of birds are attracted, starting to descend closer and closer to the light, we are able to shut the lights off.

The thing that we worry about is that birds may collide with one another... or with some of the structures that are around here.

The last thing that anybody wants to see at this site... is a bunch of dead birds littering the streets.

So starting to see a little bit of a different pattern on radar.

This is the reflectivity image telling us how much is up in the atmosphere.

Definitely larger migration, more intense migration than we were thinking.

This is the Bill Evans special.

It's a pretty cool tool of the trade.

Hopefully we'll get a little more information to identify what the species are.

Birds face an increasing number of threats.

There are some major changes as the world has industrialized.

Over the past century, the level of artificial light pollution has skyrocketed.

Birds evolved in a world where they're primarily migrating at night, orienting with the magnetic field, celestial bodies, various other cues that they can use.

Light trumps that.

A bird— Whoa!

A very low bird there.

They are sticking around the beam quite a lot.

There are certainly enough birds up there to warrant being worried.

Hey, Susan. There's a bird on the deck.

It was flying around right at ground level.

Around here in this area? Yeah. It was just in this sort of zone right here.

Yeah, I think it's time to pull the plug.

Birds are down pretty low here.

We're gonna leave 'em on for five more minutes.

We have to do it now.


We're already hearing the calls drop off tremendously.

And we'll see what the next period of light holds.


It's a warbler.

They're small, so they don't get major trauma, but he's hit the window.


A friend of mine told me, "Did you hear about birds flying into Toronto's buildings at night?"

And I was so captivated by this... that I had to go and see if it was happening for myself, and I've just never looked back since.

By far the most common cause of death to these birds is severe head trauma, where the brain hemorrhaging is so significant that they will die from that impact.

There's broken bones, there's cracked beaks.

Sometimes the beaks totally fall off.

Um, there's feather damage.

All right. How many have you got?

Too many.

Now one thing that, uh, we're noticing... is we're picking up a ton of Canada warblers, which is— A ton of Canada warblers? Well, a ton for us.

I think there's well over 20 so far.

Oh, great. A species of concern. Yes.


There's little things we can do by just changing our work habits... that can reduce this problem significantly.

How often can you say you flick a switch and a problem disappears?

You turn off lights, you're going to be saving birds lives.

Birds do not perceive glass.

What they're seeing is the reflection of the environment that they're in... or they're seeing, uh, what would be a clear passage to something on the other side of that transparent glass.

The more natural the environment, the greater the threat.

One of our records for daytime is over 500 birds... over a six-hour period at just two structures.

And you can stand at the base of these structures... and you just catch the birds as they're falling.

You can bend down and pick up a bird, and two have fallen on your back.

Oh, here's a second little guy.

They're so close to each other.

Maybe they were even flying together.

It is now illegal... that if you knowingly are killing birds in significant numbers, knowingly killing birds as a result of light reflecting off of your building, you are breaking the law.

What you have to do is demonstrate due diligence.

You have to demonstrate that you are doing all you can... to prevent this problem from occurring.

The key is treat that glass with markers, and you will be dealing with a great deal of the problem right there.


The good days? You can stack them up really bad.

You can have 10 or 20 dead birds, one after the other, and you find one live and that one live you get to release.

And that just completely makes the day for you. It truly does.


Songbirds are perhaps most vulnerable during migration itself.

They have no choice but to come down and land in peoples' backyards and in our parks... where often they face a real threat of mortality... while they're just trying to refuel and continue on their journey.


For the longest time, we really didn't have a good estimate of the total number of birds... that were dying due to cat predation.

When you talk to cat people, they say, "My cat doesn't kill any birds."

Well, you know, that's actually possible.

But some cats actually kill a lot of birds.

You know, one, two, three, five a week— one every day.

So we actually undertook this study that examined all of the research to date... within the US, Canada, Europe.

We pulled together as many studies as we possibly could.

And we were quite surprised by the numbers.

We came up with a conservative estimate of 1.4 billion birds... killed by cats per year.


Cats have been around and part of human civilization for a long time.

That said, it doesn't mean that they have been moved to places... where they are natural components to these fragile ecosystems.

They're just not.

They are as invasive as West Nile Virus.

They're as invasive as kudzu vines or zebra mussels.

They are not natural components of the environment anywhere.

There are at least 32 species of birds... that are known to have been caused to go extinct at the paws of cats.

Humans are ultimately the issue here.

And so, we've got to come up with some solutions.

We've got a conundrum that we've got to deal with.

We can't continue to allow cats to change the population size of wildlife.


I was just cutting birdsongs into a groove.

I took the chiffchaffs.

And, of course, a good track needs vocals, and there's a bird who sings very good vocals.

It's coming now. Boo.

It's the "boo-boo-boo-hoo."


I think the water thrush is singing again.

I'd like to see that tanager. It's coming closer.

Not all birds sing.

If you think of a Canada goose, they don't sing. They honk.

Herons don't sing. Ducks quack, they don't sing.

None of those birds are songbirds.

And about half of the world's birds are songbirds.

And they all have this special syrinx for making really complex sounds, which to us usually sound very beautiful.

Even though I do this every single spring, that first sighting of a scarlet tanager is magic.

But there are individual species that you don't hear anymore.

We used to have four or five pairs of cerulean warblers in our forest.

Now I only hear one pair.

Same with water thrush.

So the species— you can still put a checkmark— but their numbers are really low compared to 20 years ago.

And it's just a matter of time before I go out in the forest one year and I say, "Oh, no cerulean warbler this year. No more water thrush."

Someday, maybe no more wood thrush.


So we're almost there.

As soon as we stop the car, we'll jump off and hide in the maïs... so that they have the time to leave.

We should try to be very fast.

We will go to the border of the houses.

We'll be able to see the birds in the cages.

And we take some pictures. We— Shit. What is that?

Can you see it? Is it the police? No.

Okay.

It was not the police.

Over there on the corner.


We know many trapping sites.

We have made research and different ways to locate these trapping sites.

Then we check them on the ground.

We don't know how many.

We know that it's more than 200 and less than 1,500.

If each place captures— every year catches let's say 10 or 20 ortolans, we're talking about the entire breeding population of Central Europe, which is here.

From the beginning, it's always clear to all of us... that we will have to face danger.

I'm here because I care for birds, for ortolans in this case, and I will not step back.


If hunters are annoyed and angry now— when we have done nothing— it will be much tougher in the next days.

But what we cannot accept is that we leave the prisoners in the cages.


You cannot defend a tradition which is not sustainable anymore.

And many of the trapping sites are abandoned now because they cannot catch.

I hear rumors that people are catching one ortolan in a season.

So if ortolans disappear from this migration route, there will be no tradition.

And a tradition is not something that must be kept alive at any costs.


About 105 years ago, bird banding started.

And it was a major change in research.

That you could finally have an individual and follow this individual.

Although it was very difficult because you had to tag 10,000 individuals... to have one where you know where it finally goes or dies.

Icarus is a new technology platform... that allows us to communicate from very small devices globally.

You have a radio tag that is sending a very short encoded message... over about a 400 kilometer distance to a satellite.

It's decoded from many tags down here, and then it's going into a database... where it's very simple for everybody to check... what has my animal done in the last few hours.

Now with these global databases that we have, for the first time we can connect the entire movement of life across the globe.

Because what we want are entire life stories of individuals... so that we get the entire decision process of this animal... and can follow it through its entire lifetime until it dies.

But the most important question I think that we have scientifically with Icarus— where do animals die?

Because if we know that maybe in one population it's habitat destruction.

Maybe in another one it's, uh, hunting.

Once we know where the majority of animals die— and it may be a multitude of factors— then we can start to preserve them.

This is a mock-up of the tag that will fly in 2016 on the first songbirds.

So this tag has to communicate with an antennae on the space station... in about 400 kilometer distance.

And you can imagine this is— I mean, over this distance it's easy, but 400 kilometers is a large distance, so it's a complex issue.

I mean this is really something that has never been done before in that size range, and it's really a complex little computer that's on there.

Sort of like a cell phone given to the animals... so it can carry it around and communicate with us.

Our community of researchers will become global.

That we don't do local studies anymore but connect the dots globally.

And it's— In a way, it's the fulfillment of the early promise... of tagging individuals with bands, questions that were brought up a hundred years ago.


It's a recapture.

See, it has already a band on one of its legs.

It's a mourning warbler. The female wouldn't have the black bib.

So we know just by looking at it that it's a male.

I just found that band.

It was caught the first time... in teak.

In a teak site.

Well, it's amazing that it came back to the same place too.

It not only came back to Central America, but it came back to Costa Rica, and in Costa Rica... to Cartago— Turrialba— and then to think that in Turrialba, it came back to the CATIE farm.

And within the CATIE farm, which is, like, 1,000 hectares, it came back to the same teak plantation... when we caught it in February 2013.

So, that's what they call site fidelity.

When I started working with songbirds, I fell in love with the migrants... just because they were so tiny and fragile... but also so strong and determined.

I mean, they really wanted to get somewhere.


We keep having problems... with deforestation and fragmentation, and that's profoundly affecting the viability of a lot of these populations.

Approaching a farmer just to tell them that we need to conserve... is no longer enough.

They usually have other priorities.

But telling them that they might be receiving a service... that is allowing them to save money, for example, in insecticide or in any other inputs, might be a good way to convince them to have more trees in their farms... and to attract more birds to their farms.

And that's where the birds and the coffee berry borer story comes into play.

So, the coffee berry borer, it's a tiny beetle... that drills a hole within the coffee berry.

It's originally from Africa.

It's a big problem because it will basically live inside it... and lay their eggs, and that will destroy the coffee berry.

We drink the coffee, we like the chocolate, so we need coffee plantations and we need agriculture.

So let's find a way to do it better.

This is the coffee shrub.

Then we have some other taller trees and banana plants.

Right here there's a cocoa shrub, also with some of the fruit.

And that's the whole idea, with different levels, uh, 'cause it creates also different habitat for different species.

We're building kind of a cage... around a coffee shrub.

We suspect that birds are eating the coffee berry borer.

So we want to make sure to detect that effect.

So birds won't be able to go in that plant... and won't be able to forage on top of that plant.

But then we have another one where birds can forage.

What we've seen so far is that infestation rates are higher... within the traps that were under the cage and lower outside.

We make sure that we have good habitats for songbirds.

They will help us back by eating some of the pests or the insects... that we don't want in the coffee plots.

Every single species, or every single individual of a species, plays a role within the ecosystem.

So by conducting... or by fulfilling that function in the system, they're also helping in certain ecological processes and services.

And the services are basically... what we as human perceive as something beneficial.

Pollination is a service.

Pest control is another service.

Seed-eaters also provide the service of dispersing seeds, and that's what is usually seen as their re-forestation service.

There are so many links that we don't know, that we don't understand, that— Especially in the tropical areas.

We don't know how fragile they are, and we don't know how many species depend on another species, and that's why all of those ecological links are so important.

Something is happening, definitely.

There are many different signs. We should pay attention.

When we start losing individuals, or populations start to decline, it's a cold, it's a flu that the Earth has.

Um, these are critical components... that provide us with not only an estimate of the integrity of the environment, but they provide integrity to the environment itself.

We are part of that environment.

Every time we lose a species, every time we reduce... the numbers of any animal that's out there... that's part of that important tapestry, that thread, we're reducing the environment that we depend on for our own lives.


Tree swallows are these acrobatic flyers.

They fly around and they catch insects.

Most of the insects they catch are things like mayflies... and stone flies, dragonflies and damselflies.

So when the weather is good and winds are calm, tree swallows are most happy.

Let's see who's in here.

There's six chicks and three more eggs still to hatch.

That's quite large for a tree swallow nest.

The parents would have to work pretty hard to keep them all going.

I've got feather, fecal, blood. Four— Four tubes? Yeah.

4:13. Okay.

We measure and weigh all of our birds... so we have a benchmark, a reference point of where they should be at.

20.5. Yep, 20.5.

Yeah, well, that's quite light for a bird of that size.

Weight is an indication... of how much fat they have on them.

So it means that they're probably not getting as much food.

The two groups of birds that are declining really rapidly... are the aerial insectivores, which are in the steepest declines, but we also see declines in, um, farmland birds or grassland birds.

These are the birds that tend to be associated with farms and agriculture.

Curiously, in both North America and in Europe, we're seeing the same kind of patterns.


We started looking at what the issues were... and what potential threats there might be to birds.

Wetlands are really our starting place.

They're the— They're the gauge for everything.

Most of these insects that you see flying around... actually have a larval stage that's in the water.

Mosquitoes, midges, these are important food for the birds.


Neonicotinoids are a group of pesticides... that kill insects extremely effectively.

They have a property that makes them useful as a systemic.

And a systemic means that it's just applied to the coating of a seed, and the plant takes the pesticide up with it as it grows.

So, in many cases, farmers don't have to spray... large amounts of chemicals.

They can just put their seeds in the ground... and have protection to their plants.

So that makes it very attractive for use.

The insecticide in the case of canola... is quite, uh, necessary for fighting flea beetle.

Oh! Oh, it jumped.

Oh, yeah. We lost it! Like fleas. Like fleas.

There's quite a bit of damage. There's got to be more than one.

And when there's a high level of infestation, you can have the entire crop disappear in about two days.


I have fields here only for the birds.

So they know they can breed here and it's safe.

I like to see birds here, uh, the skylarks, the pipits.

And they are singing and-and flying... high in the air and singing.

I like that.


We started looking at what the issues were around neonicotinoids.

The insecticide is actually very water soluble.

Perhaps these pesticides are becoming more mobilized.

They're not staying on the seed.

Perhaps they're moving into places like wetlands... and possibly killing what we call beneficial insects— insects that are not the species of crop pests... that are targeted by the insecticide.

So we have to actually make that link... between the water getting contaminated... and the birds not having enough food.


All but two that I've done so far... have had at least one neonicotinoid, if not two.

That obviously means that the chemical... was persistent in the environment... and got re-mobilized into the water.

So it tells me that the problem is getting worse, for one.

Um, that we actually may have underestimated... how, uh, pervasive the problem is.

But even during spring, before farmers have put seeds in the ground that have been treated, these chemicals are showing up in water.

What we're seeing now is what I term... prophylactic agriculture.

The chemical companies now are pushing very hard... for farmers to buy treated seed for all their crops, regardless of whether they need them or not.

I mean, there'd hardly be a parent... who sprays their child with DEET... when they're not actually going to go outside and be exposed to mosquitoes.

Because you're worried, right? You're worried about whether or not that is going to cause harm.

So why wouldn't we think the same way... when you apply insecticides... as a blanket across the entire Canadian prairies?

Many people are actually calling the neonicotinoids the next DDT.

This is really a case of survival.

If there isn't enough food around, life becomes very hard for these birds.

And a habitat that does not support healthy birds... will eventually cause the population to crash.


Well, the boreal forest in the winter is a pretty quiet place, and that's because it's a very difficult place to survive.

But come spring, the temperatures warm up.

There's a huge insect flux... that just provides an amazing food resource for the birds.

It's a huge ecosystem, and billions of birds come every year to the boreal forest to breed.

It's an amazing thing to wake up at 4:00, 5:00 in the morning... and hear the vast number of individuals singing.

I appreciate the energy— all the effort... that bird took to get here.

You know the fact that they're working day after day after day, finding food, raising young.

They epitomize the struggle and the benefits and the joys of, you know, just living.

Just the size of the boreal forest— it goes all the way around the Northern Hemisphere.

A lot of people can't even fathom it.

In April and May, you can watch carbon dioxide levels drop... because the trees have started to photosynthesize.

Oh, you're hitting a rock.

There we go. Ready?

Yes.

I study the impacts that humans have on birds.

My goal is to help identify... the risks of development to bird populations... and what are some of the things that people can do to minimize their impact on birds.

Yeah, this way, and you get a better— That's your best side. There.

Twenty years ago in the boreal forest, there was very little industrial development.

Since then, energy has come on board, forestry has become a much bigger player, and so we have a lot more heavy equipment... that we have to put in the bush that have different effects on different species.


What we found is that noise is simply interfering with communication.

The males are trying to attract a female.

And males might sing, and a female might think his song sounds kind of funny.

So if you're not communicating well that you are a strong male, the female may not choose to mate with you.

Increasingly it's going to be harder for birds to find a place that's quiet, and what the consequences will be when that happens— birds are going to be declining.


This is a conventional oil well.

This is a one hectare loss of forest.

On its own, one hectare is a small amount.

One hectare a hundred thousand times is 100,000 hectares of forest.

There's about three or four birds per hectare in the boreal forest.

That's about half a million birds' habitat... is being lost to these kind of things every year.

Add to that that every one of these... is connected to some kind of pipeline or a road or both.

It's like a spider web of infrastructure.

It's all quite small in and of itself.

But it's when you add it all together, all of a sudden you see a landscape that is very dissected.

The energy sector development that we're talking about... is not over just a small area of Alberta.

It's over Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, northern BC.

And so the area we're talking about for energy development in the boreal forest, what's going to change is an area the size of many countries.


Could we live without birds?

We don't know for sure, but, you know, without birds there's a lot of functions of the ecosystem that wouldn't happen.

And that's one of the fundamental concerns.

When you play with nature, pull one piece out, maybe that's a pivotal piece and you just don't know.

Here in Alberta, we have agriculture.

We also have forestry.

Now, we can add to that the energy sector, but they're all happening simultaneously.

One thing is added on top of another, on top of another, and on top of another.

And the question is, when is it too much?

When have we added up too much human disturbance to the landscape... that all of a sudden the birds are going to suffer in a way that we don't like.

For me, the fundamental component comes down to habitat loss.

A habitat is the things a species needs, and if we remove those, and they're gone, the species goes with it.


And this is a black-headed bunting.

A beautiful male.

This bird has got no fat. Zero.

These are migratory birds.

Be coming from northeast Africa... and will be going up into, uh, either the Caucasus or into Russia.

Somewhere up there.

This bird will stay here and feed for two, maybe three days... to enable it to complete the journey.

Okay, you can go.

Aras River Bird Paradise... is a very globally important wetland... because it's an oasis surrounded by very dry steppe.

Migratory birds depend on many different sites for their survival.

These birds are coming from as far as South Africa, 8,000 kilometers away, on these very long, difficult journeys.

This area is the driest province of Turkey.

Climate change is expected to increase the droughts in Turkey, in fact in some places tenfold.

Which means this area will become even drier.

As it gets drier, bird populations, uh, that depend on those habitats of course will decline.

Only 50 kilometers from us, we have Mount Ararat.

It's Turkey's tallest, and it's a visible sentinel for climate change... because it has lost 30% of its glacier in the past 30 years.

By the end of the century, there won't be a glacier on the mountain.

It could also mean the end of the wetlands at its base, because they are fed by glacier and snow melting.

All right.

Nice. We got a hoopoe.

In Sufi Islam, the hoopoe is thought to be a messenger between God and people.

So, to bring messages from the otherworld.

Um, I need the JB rings, please.

Mm-hmm. Thank you.

Birding has been my passion... and my life for a long, long time, and, uh, a world without birds is unthinkable.

If this type of wetland disappears, then it's gonna be one more nail in the coffin for migratory birds.


Okay, there. He's back.

He's in. Catch him, Bob! He's in.

It's our first geo male of the season.

Look at his band number. Want to check his band number?

Yeah. P-2-1-6.

P-2-1-6. That's who we're after.

I held this bird in my hand 10 months ago.

Caught him in the same house, we put the geo-locator on, and meanwhile he's finished raising his family, he flew all the way to Brazil, flew around the Amazon rain forest for about six months.

Flew all the way back again, and here we are déjà vu.

I've caught him again, and this time, we'll take the geo-locator off.

This slides off the leg. There you go.

Every bird has a different story to tell... about how fast it's flying, where it goes, how long it stops.

The timer value is 344 days, 17 hours, 40 minutes and six seconds.

I think this bird here has set a world record for purple martins.

I have not seen one before... get from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast in only two days.

So, our purple martins are in... one of the biggest rain forests on the planet.

Right where the red-eyed vireos are too.

I can tell you exactly what day he started migration in Brazil, which we haven't been able to ever do that before.

Wow. Incredible.

Uh, we know he was back on the 29th.

So at most it took him 25 days to zip back.

Over the hundreds of years, that's worked perfectly well until now.

Populations here are crashing, and I think the problem is climate change for purple martins.

Because they're so far away in spring.

We saw with this bird that just days before he got back, he was still in Mexico.

And he has no idea that the spring is cold or warm.

So we think the purple martins— the northern populations— have a really hard time adjusting their arrival date... to match what the temperature is doing.

The timing of migration is critical.

If they come back too early and the weather is cold, they could die.

If they come back too late, after the food has peaked, the young will starve in the nest.

Climate change is a new threat for songbirds.

Now, they've been suffering through pesticides and habitat loss... and big cities in their way for many decades now.

But this new issue, climate change, could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

This is a new stress on them.

We don't really know exactly how songbird populations... are going to be able to adapt to climate change.

If we assume that up until now things have been going down in a steady line, you say, "What's the future going to hold?"

If we keep going down that line, this is where we're going to be in 30 years.

But we don't know that we're on a line.

It could be that things spiral out of control, and all of a sudden songbirds that are still common now... suddenly disappear.

Here's a big bag of ruby-crowned kinglets.

Ruby-crowned kinglets. 1-2-2.

1-2-2.


The songbird populations are in big trouble... all around the planet.

The species that were present in people's backyards, in their forests, are just not there anymore.

Now, what we're seeing with these songbird declines... is 40 or 50 years in a row... of the populations getting lower and lower.

So we have only half the birds now... that we did back in the 1960s.

The reason we study birds is because... they are so linked to their environment.

They respond so quickly in terms of their population, in terms of their reproduction, that we know that if we study birds, we actually are mirroring the bigger problem.

This is real. This is— This is happening.

We are changing the environment faster than birds can cope with.

So we have to either stop what we're doing... and think about how to do it better, or, uh, pay the consequence of hearing total silence.


We think that songbirds... are really like the canary in the coal mine.

They are telling us something that's wrong.

There's something happening to life on the planet that's not good, and we need to find out what that is... and how we can change it.

We don't want to imagine a world without songbirds.

I don't know if we would survive it.