By MICHAEL PERKINS
ANYONE LUCKY ENOUGH TO TAP INTO THE NATURAL PAIRING BETWEEN PHOTOGRAPHY and birdwatching will be humbled by observing the raw courage of winged creatures to survive despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary. Even in rural settings, one cannot help but be struck by the numbing crush of obstacles mankind has left for the natural world to stumble over; how our habitat is so tilted in our own heedless favor that nature must live, not with us, but in spite of us.
Within cities, the horror is even greater, as our life crowds out any and everything that does not directly redound to our needs. In such tableaux, it is incumbent on the photographer to become a journalist, a chronicler of what needs to happen if we are to carry on sharing the planet with, well, anything. And, as an amateur birdwatcher, I am reminded by what bad earth citizens we have always been when my eye is drawn to what, to my mind, is one of the most elegant and misunderstood birds in our nature: the starling.
Introduced forcibly to North America in 1890 by a fanatical Shakespeare aficionado from Britain, who believed that his new home should feature literally every species of bird mentioned in the Bard’s works, the first stateside starlings originally numbered only about one hundred birds in all. Predictably, those have since become millions, earning not praise for the bird’s adaptability and intelligence, but scorn from those who regard them as invasive pests or worse. These gorgeous creatures, whose plumage, in the changing light of the full day, literally contains the rainbow, have made the best of their fate over the centuries, much like any other erstwhile immigrant. Sadly, they are often hunted and hated as if they themselves had decided to invade our shores just for the fun of it. And so it goes with scores of other creature; untold species of animals, plants and birds have been forcibly introduced onto the continent by the most predatory pests ever unleashed on the planet; humans.
Starlings are plentiful nearly everywhere, but the intense sunlight of the American southwest can highlight their hues in spectacular fashion, something I never would have slowed down to notice were it not for the birding buddies my wife has generously shared with me. My initial interest was boosted in intensity during Lockdown, mainly because being outside was one of the only essentially safe ways to pass the time, speeding up my bird learning curve a bit (although I am still barely able to hobble along in the “beginner” division). It has produced a kind of evangelism in me, and I can never again see a bird without wondering to what extent my fellow humans have complicated or compromised its existence. If we can muster shame about anything, it should be our hideous habit, going back over our entire history as a species, of fouling our own nests.
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