Imagine a world without birdsong. It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? But song birds all over the world are in trouble – this is the motivation behind The Messenger, Su Rynard’s 2015 documentary that aims to raise awareness and, hopefully, galvanise action. Many of the causes of the birds’ decline are immediately recognisable: deforestation, environmental degradation, pesticides, climate change. But others spring to mind less readily – too many tall buildings, too much light at night, too many communications towers – things we may see as progress. But not for the birds, whose numbers have decreased dramatically in recent years.
The nightingale, whose prolific and inventive song was famously inspiration for John Keats, is down to about 3,300 pairs in Britain, a 57% in just 14 years. Loss of overwintering habitat in Africa is one of the causes, as well as reduced woodland understory in Britain, where the birds nest, due to the introduced muntjac deer.
Forest clearances in Africa and land use changes in the Sahel and further south seem to be affecting quite a few migratory species, such as the pied flycatcher and the wood warbler cuckoo. The springtime slaughter by hunters on Malta of turtle doves and quail has long been decried.
I haven’t yet seen the movie, but thrilled to the exquisite footage of the behind-the-scenes short film. The beauty of the bird’s flight is heartstopping, all rippling wings and curious swivelling heads. And if you worry about the birds being taken out of cages to be filmed, keep watching – the end of the film will make you happy.
Whether we regard these shining creatures as messengers from the gods or not, their loss from the world is unthinkable. It will be a mortal wound for the biosphere.
You can find out about hosting screenings of The Messenger, or taking action in other ways, here.