Friday, July 20, 2018

A Cure For Ornithophobia

I’ll bet we have all met people who don’t appreciate birds. You know the type. Just as you’re enjoying a quiet spot of birding, relishing the grace and beauty of a Spotted Flycatcher or watching a Peregrine beating up the waders, along comes Mr Dickhead, all mouth and an over-abundance of non-functioning brain cells. He’s hoping to wind-up a nerdy birder. Although he’s never met a birder he knows they are all nerdy 'cos his mate in the pub told him. 

Spotted Flycatcher

"Spotted anything interesting pal? What use are birds anyway? I can’t sleep at night because of bloody seagulls on my roof from dawn until dusk. And they shit too much. That is when they are not rooting through my bin bags and scattering KFC boxes all over.” 

“And those sodding pigeons, rats with wings I call them, clogging up the town centre and crapping everywhere. Same with those duck things in the park. My kids can’t eat their jam butties in peace without “Quack, quack, bloody quack. Give us our daily bread”. 

There’s not much point in trying to explain science to a moron, someone who’s never taken the trouble to think about birds’ role in the natural world; how birds maintain sustainable population levels of their prey and predator species and, after death, provide food for scavengers and decomposers. How birds are important in plant reproduction through their services as pollinators or seed dispersers and why birds are important members of many ecosystems. 

I suppose the poor chap could have a touch of Ornithophobia. Yes, there’s a name for a person's abnormal and irrational fear of birds, or someone with a dislike of birds because of their habits or reputation as pests e.g. Carrion Crows, Collared Doves, Jays, Starlings, Gulls, Magpies and pigeons (feral & Woodpigeon). 

In such cases, keep it simple. I mention that birds eat a lot of insects, bugs and creepy-crawlies, all the things that Mr D also hates, and that if birds didn't do that, the world would be knee deep in such things within the week. Such a mind-blowing, revolutionary idea is often enough to make their dimmed light flicker, at least for the time being.  Off he goes in search of more worldly knowledge and I go back to birding with a cheery under my breath “bugger off”. 

But, here’s proof. “Birds around the world eat 400 to 500 million metric tonnes of beetles, flies, ants, moths, aphids, grasshoppers, crickets and other anthropods per year.”


It’s from Science Daily, 2018. The numbers have been calculated in a study led by Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland. The research, published in Springer's journal The Science of Nature, highlights the important role birds play in keeping plant-eating insect populations under control. 

"Nyffeler and his colleagues based their figures on 103 studies that highlighted the volume of prey that insect-eating birds consume in seven of the world's major ecological communities known as biomes. According to their estimations, this amounts to between 400 and 500 million tonnes of insects per year but is most likely to be on the lower end of the range. Their calculations are supported by a large number of experimental studies conducted by many different research teams in a variety of habitats in different parts of the world. 

"The global population of insectivorous birds annually consumes as much energy as a megacity the size of New York. They get this energy by capturing billions of potentially harmful herbivorous insects and other arthropods," says Nyffeler. 

Bee Eater

Forest-dwelling birds consume around 75 per cent of the insects eaten in total by birds which make up about 300 million tonnes of insects per year. About 100 million tonnes are eaten by birds in savannah areas, grasslands and croplands, and those living in the deserts and Arctic tundra. Birds actively hunt insects especially during the breeding season, when they need protein-rich prey to feed to their nestlings. 


Further, the researchers estimated that insectivorous birds together only have a biomass of about three million tonnes. Nyffeler says the comparatively low value for the global biomass of wild birds can be partially explained through their very low production efficiency. This means that respiration takes a lot of energy and only leaves about one to two percent to be converted into biomass. 

"The estimates presented in this paper emphasize the ecological and economic importance of insectivorous birds in suppressing potentially harmful insect pests on a global scale -- especially in forested areas," explains Nyffeler, who says that this is especially so for tropical, temperate and boreal forest ecosystems. 

"Only a few other predator groups such as spiders and entomophagous insects (including in particular predaceous ants) can keep up with the insectivorous birds in their capacity to suppress plant-eating insect populations on a global scale," he adds. 


A study from 2017 which Nyffeler also led showed that spiders consume between 400 and 800 million tonnes of insects each year. Other predator groups like bats, primates, shrews, hedgehogs, frogs, salamanders, and lizards seem to be valuable yet less effective natural enemies of plant-eating insects. He says their influence seems to be more biome-specific rather than on a worldwide scale. For instance, lizards help to suppress insects on tropical islands, but less so on a broader scale. 

"Birds are an endangered class of animals because they are heavily threatened by factors such as afforestation, intensification of agriculture, spread of systemic pesticides, predation by domestic cats, collisions with human-made structures, light pollution and climate change. If these global threats cannot soon be resolved, we must fear that the vital ecosystem services that birds provide -- such as the suppression of insect pests -- will be lost," says Nyffeler. 

Short-toed Lark

Maybe all birders should carry a paper copy of the above? It would come in handy when we next meet up with Mr Butthole; although the chances are he can’t read. 

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.


David M. Gascoigne, said...

Ah, Mr Dickhead, I know him well. Sometimes he is even accompanied by Mrs Dickhead who can be equally offensive. I tend to be able to detect, however, whether he is a totally close-minded and obnoxious Mr. Dickhead or whether there is a chink in his armour that can be penetrated to the smallest degree. I have to say that the more extreme types seem to be a little less in evidence these days, perhaps because of the proliferation of nature shows on television. I use every chance I get to do some public education and I can only hope that over time these ignorant, obnoxious, sometimes aggressive morons will be fewer in number. In the meantime I hope they are tormented by all the biting insects the birds they profess to despise haven’t had a chance to eat yet.

Jo said...

Hi Phil,
Mr D would hate sleeping and living on this farm: the barn owls screech all night and can sometimes be seen (if you get out of bed) gliding across from one tree to another. In the day time the trees above the dairy are bending with egrets - and what a raucous call they have. The herons are and ibises (full - up here) are just as noisy. Not to mention the spurwing... Thanks for the information. I really enjoyed every image of a bird with an insect or worm in its mouth. Go "nerdy berders"! (so said specifically and tongue-in-the-cheek! Have a great day. Jo

Rhodesia said...

LOL I had to laugh at Mr Dickhead, thankfully I do not seem to meet up with him often here. A lot of interesting info in this post as well as some great photos. I have only seen a few hoopoes around this year and none that I have been close enough to take photos of. Maybe they will still appear on the lawn as they have the last few years when feeding young.
have a good weekend, Diane

Patrycja P. said...

Without birds all nature (and of course people) would be in trouble. That’s why we, humans, should be very grateful to these little, beautiful creatures. Birds make our world better. Sadly, not all of us understand it...

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

This article certainly made me think about what the world would be like if birds weren't busily eating insects.
I might well come into the group of people you find obnoxious because although I can see that studying and understanding birds is important, ticking them off as a hobby seems strange. I now I live in an urban area (instead of a coastal one) and I miss the masses of birds and their variety around my old home - but I can't say I ever made sense of bird-spotting. (Though had great respect for the various people and organisations who were studying birds and helping to conserve their habitats.)

eileeninmd said...

Hi Phil, luckily I have not met such an ignorant person about birds. I am happy for all the birds, especially the bug eating birds. All wildlife has a purpose on earth, we need them all. Thank you so much for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend!

Wally Jones said...

Ahh, but just think how boring life would be without the loud-mouthed interlopers of the world!

That is a very interesting study, Phil. The bit about insect consumption by spiders motivated me to suggest to my Gini we take up spider-watching. We shall become "spiderers". She rather quickly disabused me of that notion.

Mister Interloper would have liked me, as I tend to indulge such ignoramuses (being quite closely related to them, I suppose). I recently told one about how climate change has so severely affected the birds' regular diet that they are now attacking people in large cities. Her mouth remained open for a moment and she then laughed and said "oh, you're kidding!" but glanced over her shoulder nervously as she wandered away.

It is quite evil of me to engage in a battle of wits with unarmed subjects, but I sometimes can't help myself.

Have a wonderful weekend!

sandyland said...

I've been warned by many not to feed in my yard - will leave dirt - the opposite ,they clean away unwanted slugs etc I don't get people maybe they are jealous of burd's freedom to fly away from stupidity0- i am

sandyland said...

wish I could see a hoopoe close up

Lowcarb team member said...

I think there are quite a few Mr. & Mrs D's in all walks of life !!!

I love seeing birds, and have learnt so much from visiting bird blogs such as yours …

All the best Jan

Anni said...

I hope this will go thru. I've tried a couple of times already...

Love the reference to Mr. Butthole & Mr. Dickhead! Sounds like something I'd come up with. lol

Great pictures & stats!

Thanks for joining us at I'd Rather B Birdin', as always.

Betty Crow said...

What an absolute jerk! I know a couple of people with an abnormal fear of birds, but fortunately they don't complain about my enjoyment of them. Love the Cuckoo and the colorful bee eater. Okay, love them all.

Andrea said...

Very nice article to put many findings altogether. With my father's death we leave most the trees unprunned and uncut, we also increased the number of birds in our property. But i hate presence of the crows, which are too intelligent for all of us. It can also get mother's pet chicks, our volunteer papaya fruits, avocado, etc. And they give the orioles the fight for their lives during the dry season when the crows try stealing their eggs or fledglings. It is amazing to see them fight on air, very noisy too. I guess they also are successful in driving the guaiabero away. I can imagine what will happen if a lot of crows appear with Mr Dickhead and Mr Butthole, as they sit in the park! hahaha

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Wow, Phil. You're always instructive but today is like a visit to an encyclopedia. Great info. I'm not a birder nor a bird hater. I love most creatures except roaches, snakes, ants, and alligators (I live in Florida). I love to watch birds tho I must confess I don't know a lot of bird names and often don't really care. I just love to watch them. Pelicans are one of my favs - they waddle on the ground and don't look like they can fly. Then off they go elegant in the air and dive with mouth open to scoop up a fish. They get used to folks who fish and hang around piers were people clean their catch. They want heads, etc. Anyone walking on the pier is given a good look see - are they going to feed me? It frightens me to think of bird haters doing something to them.

1990's Free Radio Listener said...

It seems to me that there is a more compelling case to be argued regarding the point of Mr. DH's existence...

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I was going to remark that People like that can’t read but you beat me to it. That guy lives in Florida too... and probably everywhere.

italiafinlandia said...

What a great post! Thanks for all info.
Insectivorous birds are particularly useful in Finland against the abundance of mosquitoes. The land is wet in many spots: swamps and marshes. Insects live well there. Putting a few birds' houses in the garden can help a lot! Mr D should come and see... ;)

Angie said...

Phil - I read parts of this out loud to my husband, and we were laughing out loud … I fear we have run into one or two of these fellows in our time, and not just in the UK. I say, if you don't like birds, don't go where they are! In other words, stay in your house out of sight!

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