One of the best times of day to walk through the Byes is at dusk- that moment between day and evening when the sun is just beneath the horizon the birds burst into chorus. At times I can feel my body reverberating with the song, and I feel a real connection with nature. Our fore fathers and mothers understood that connection very well. Crows were notorious for scavenging grain and scarecrows were a familiar sight. There is an old planting rhyme “One for the pigeon, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.”
But while the crows have a bad reputation, other birds are also seen as a threat. In China in the late 1950’s Mao Zedong believed that sparrows ate too much grain and fruit. To make the crops as efficient as possible, he ordered sparrows to be eliminated (along with rats, flies and mosquitos.) Nests were destroyed, eggs broken, and chicks were killed. They even used pots and pans to prevent the sparrows returning to their nests, so they had nowhere to go. Some people estimate that 600 million sparrows were killed- making it almost extinct in China. But what Mao Zedong had not realised that as well as grain, the birds also ate pests like insects and locusts that did more damage to the crops. Without the sparrows to prey on them the crops became infested and died off. Mixed in with other environmental factors this led to a great famine with many millions of people dying from hunger. Birds have a role to play.
Nowadays, we can see the number of birds reducing in our skies, gardens and farms. Part of this is due to loss of mixed farming with diverse habitats for birds. There are changes in the types of crops grown that no longer provide different nesting for birds, some ground based, some in trees. A single crop in a larger field size limits the opportunities for foraging for the birds which need to be different in spring and winter. Grassland management leads to a reduction in wilds seeds and insect, important for the birds’ diet, without even the effect of pesticide considered. And climate change has an impact on the birds with the extremes of very cold winters and very dry summers.
The intricate balance and connection of life is one that affects all nations- both now and in the past. This folktale is based on a Balinese story, but there are other versions across the world.
Gecko (a small lizard) had a delicious supper of mosquitoes and then closed his eyes. But he couldn’t get to sleep! The fireflies were flashing away and keeping him awake. He got up from his bed and asked them to please stop flashing!
“Ah!” they said, “But we are providing light at night so that the creatures don’t step into the poop made by the cows.” So Gecko goes to the cows and asks them please not to poop in the road.
“Ah!” say the cows, “But that’s because there are big holes left by the rain. We fill them so the creatures don’t fall into them”. With a big sigh, Gecko goes and finds the rain and asks them please not to make such big holes.
“Ah!” Says the rain, “But we make such splendid puddles for the mosquitoes. Without the puddles they can’t lay their eggs and grow. If they don’t grow, then all the creatures that eat mosquitos will go hungry.”
Gecko thought back to his supper and realised that everything is connected and has its place. So he went back to bed, and slept where he couldn’t see the fireflies, dreaming of tasty mosquitos!
So, when we hear the birds at dawn or at dusk, they are just one part of the connection between us and the crops that grow and feed us.