It’s always the same thing, the rarer something becomes, the more you see it plastered on walls, bags and clothes. Like books, that have become a fashion accessory, since we don’t read them anymore. Or tropical forests that are shrinking and are reproduced in our living rooms. In that terrible jungle of trends…that bloom with announcements of impending extinction, it’s now the bird’s turn! Parrots, parakeets, hummingbirds are all on the upswing, on wallpaper, or on re-editions of antique engravings. Magazines adore the birdcage lamps of Mathieu Challières. Clouds of sparrows appear in galleries or boutique hotel lobbies. Birds now seem to grow on trays, throw pillows, the stationers…Kilometre-Paris sells a one-of-a-kind shirt embroidered with a rare bird only found on an island in British Colombia (€950). A titmouse on your iPhone cover? Here it is. If the “jungalow” trend overwhelmed us with toucans and flamingos in its time, today it’s the humble blackbird, sparrow or robin from our gardens that upstages them. In metal, paint, glass or ceramic, they’re the hostess gift of the moment. If it’s an invitation for the weekend, opt for a modernistic bird house from Sourglassbuilt, you’ll make them happy (the humans, that is…).
And while deco seems to have come down with avian fever, scientists are swallowing hard. 421 million species have disappeared in Europe over the last 30 years. Bird populations living in agricultural zones have lost one third of their population in 17 years, announced the French CNRS in March of 2018. Our grandchildren will no longer be able to watch the lovely lark take off vertically, nor its buddy the warbler zigzag through the skies. It’s not really new, alas. In 1962 the biologist Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”, one of the first ecological best-sellers, and which is once again flying off the shelves. Thanks to her, DDT was banned in the United States. Since, we’ve invented other pesticides (which kill insects and thus starve birds) and generalized intensive farming (which deprives them of hedges and undergrowth to nest in). And the slaughter continues. Bird Lit (not to be confused with chick-lit!) is in full throttle. On the other side of the Atlantic, the writer Jonathan Franzen, has for a long time been obsessed with the extinction of birds, which according to him, have much in common with humans (they sing, found families, build houses and, in the winter, take long vacations in sunny places). In France, the writer-traveler-ornithologist Jean Rolin is also pessimistic. In “Le Traquet Kurde” (the European Stonechat), published last year, he tracked the endangered bird from France through the Middle East. As to Jenny Odell, author of “How to do Nothing” that we’ve already talked about, she rarely goes out without her binoculars. Not only because it’s an excellent way to “disconnect” completely. It is also, she says, the first step, very simple, of ecological awareness. Observe--or suddenly no longer observe—one particular species in your immediate neighborhood, makes the environmental menace much more concrete. And that makes you want to act.
Is that the reason that the millennials are recently enamored of ornithology? The Audubon Society, the major US group, has identified more than 9 million amateur ornithologists AND environmental activists who are 35 years old or younger, and who more often than not practice their new hobby in the city! Logical: now there is more biodiversity in a large urban park than on the Midwest plains. Driven out of the countryside, many birds have found refuge in parks. And tracking them has become more fun…thanks to new technologies! Birdsongs now have their very own “Shazam”, like Chirpomatic or Warblr. Paper guides have been replaced by instant recognition apps like Ibird or Merlin. We share observations and alerts on social media. Twitter leads the pack: “KIRTLAND’S WARBLER on the west side of the Central Park Reservoir in New York!” Quickly all the “yubbies” (young urban birders) surge in a hushed frenzy through Central Park at 6 in the morning for a treasure hunt! The cliché of the retiree dressed in a Barbour with binoculars is fast fading. Today women are adepts as well. In Brooklyn they can even enroll in a “Feminist Bird Club” created by Molly Adams, a young activist ornithologist. Her emblem is an embroidered badge (so millennial!) of a Spotted Sandpiper – cousin to the woodcock—a species known to practice polyandry. Molly Adams wants to organize “Girls only” outings so that feminine species can communicate with nature in peace…good or bad idea? It gives us pause. Though we think that the Ornithological outing 2.0 is an excellent idea for flirting, even for nesting, if you’re so inclined.