Imperatives for Bird ProtectionThe aesthetic enjoyment and scientific fascination of bird watching is a manifestation of mankind's universal appreciation for its feathered friends. Birds have enthralled and inspired humans throughout history. Birds' vitality, resourcefulness, and grace have led people to adopt them-through metaphor, music and art-as ciphers for a range of social and moral ideals.
In the 1880's, the environmental movement - in particular the bird conservation movement - was launched in reaction to the endangerment of numerous bird species by indiscriminate hunting practices and the plume trade. Audubon societies were founded, the first one in New York State in 1887. In 1918, birds were granted protection with the signing of the Migratory Bird Treat Act. Today this act, signed with Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia, "prohibits the take, possession, import, export...of any migratory bird species, their eggs, parts and nests except as authorized under a valid permitů" No other animal species has been the subject of its own protection treaties. And in 1962, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring alerted the world to the dangers of pesticides as evidenced by their effect on birdlife. The plight of birds, a sentinel species of overall environmental health, informs stewardship strategies, including those with respect to buildings and infrastructure.
Bird-life is an important asset to the travel and recreational sectors of the economy. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, bird watching is the second fastest growing leisure activity in North America. An estimated 63 million Americans participate in wildlife watching and eco-tourism each year. In the process, they spend close to $30 billion annually, with a major portion related to birds.
Birds perform irreplaceable ecological functions by consuming vast quantities of insects, pollinating plants, distributing seeds, and consuming weed seeds. These processes help to maintain biodiversity worldwide, and they are contributions that have significant economic value. Insect control, for example, reduces damage to many tree species and maintains forest biomass. This in turn ensures the productivity of the timber industry, helps to protect against flooding and water pollution, and preserves the resilience of culturally important landscapes. Birds also help safeguard public health by eliminating many insect vectors of disease, diseases that include West Nile virus, malaria, and dengue fever.
[SIDEBAR WITH PHOTOS: In New York City, bird watching has become a popular and visible pastime. On almost any day of the year, bird watchers are easy to spot in Central Park and other large urban open spaces. In fact, many bird watchers consider Central Park one of the best bird-watching locations in the United States. One pair of birds that receives constant attention is the red-tailed hawks nesting on a building along Fifth Avenue. A recent effort by tenants to remove their nest fueled citywide protests demanding its replacement. Nearly every major newspaper carried the story as front-page news. The male hawk affected by the tenants' actions is known as "Pale Male" for his distinct white breast feathers. Since the removal and restoration of his nest, Pale Male has become an icon to New York City nature lovers. He is the subject of several books and a website of documentary photography that is updated daily. www.palemale.com]
Abstracting from a particular fondness for birds, human beings also seem to display an inherent love for all living things-a deeply resonant, even biologically rooted feeling that scientists call "biophilia." The "biophilia hypothesis" explains why people are sometimes willing to go to such great efforts to protect living things. Society is only beginning to understand the physiological, psychological and spiritual benefits of biophilia. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is compelling general motivation for the sustainability movement, and for promoting bird-safety in particular.