Thoughts on the Messenger



I remember feeling like a total dunce when it dawned on me that birds could starve. My dad was schlepping me + a juvenile red hawk to a wildlife rehabilitator. Someone had dropped it off at his veterinary clinic. I remember carrying the cage and commenting how heavy it was. My dad replied that I should be less wimpy and the bird was underweight, a little bony in the chest. That the first time I ever thought that aerial masters, cloaked in feathers, could starve.

What hard work it must be to be a hawk.

Just as hard as it is to be a songbird, with migration routes through city lights, pesticide-soaked fields, lurking (natural) predators, skulking invasive cats, poachers, vanished habitat, noisy oil rigs, power lines, and on and on.

Photo Source:

The clunkily-titled (yet gorgeously shot) film The Messenger makes clear what a miracle it is that any songbirds have survived this long into the Anthropocene, and how quickly we could lose them.

I would sum it up with the most devastating scene from the film. Chairman Mao ordered all of the tree sparrows killed in China in order to improve grain yields. The ensuing slaughter, executed with the civilian masses harassing birds into dropping dead of exhaustion, resulted in a bonanza for insects, as their chief predators essentially vanished overnight. They munched their way through the crops that Mao had believed the birds were stealing, while people starved. Hubris of the most catastrophic sort, but to be expected if your slogan is Man Must Conquer Nature.

And yet, in much more tangled and diffuse ways, the songbird slaughter continues.

More thoughts later on this tremendous piece, with an eye towards preventing more from going the way of the…well, you know.

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