Silenced songbirds | Inquirer Opinion
Viewpoint

Silenced songbirds

“A bird sings because it has a song,” Chinese sages claim. An Inquirer “Viewpoint” column on silenced bird songs sparked a cyberspace discussion on the savaging of the Mindoro imperial pigeon and the Isabela oriole, among other birds.

“The number of native species threatened with extinction is now 89,” the column “Feathered desaparecidos” noted. These include the blue-winged racquet-tail, dark-eared brown dove, the Mindanao bleeding heart and the Chinese crested tern.

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The Philippine eagle is, hands down, the best known. An eagle, weak from loss of blood due to shotgun pellets, was treated by Pastor Abanag, veterinarian Stephen Toledo and teachers in Calbiga, Samar. They entrusted the recovering bird to the National Wildlife Rescue Center.

“This means the Philippine eagle is still in Samar, particularly in areas where there are virgin forests,” concluded the Department of Environment’s Danilo Javier. By happenstance, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s San Jose Timber Corp. logs this last patch of natural forest.

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At the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao, mating calls “would resonate among its 35 birds in July or August,” manager Tatit Quiblat said. Now, these “sex vocals” are heard in May, a full two months earlier. Is weather, gone out of whack, confusing even the eagles?

Birds perform multiple tasks, from curbing insect infestations to scattering seeds. They are also a unique early warning system. When birdsongs are silenced, that signals “the environment is under severe tress,” notes “Philippines Red Data Book.” Species survival becomes precarious.

“Here’s a beautifully illustrated version of the Inquirer column on vanishing birds, courtesy of Edd Aragon,” author-editor Alfredo Roces e-mailed from Australia. Aragon works as a newspaper artist in Sydney. He wove bird photos into “Viewpoint” —which he uploaded.

“I’m just a courier who hopes it is not too late,” Aragon e-mailed. “The Filipino youth is picking up on protecting our environment… I fear the day when our grandchildren ask: ‘Lolo, what is a sparrow?’”

“Thank you, thank you! What a lovely thing this Edd Aragon did,” e-mailed Dette Pascual from Iligan. “As a little girl, I’d see this red and black hornbill in a forest near our farm. It’s gone now. But one wondrous morning, last week, I saw a flock of white herons in formation passing over our Dalipuga-by-the-Sea home. There is a bird sanctuary in next door Misamis Oriental.”

Aragon’s photos also swamped Libia Chavez of Cebu with memories. “Orioles were ubiquitous in our school campus. From trees beside the river, kingfishers would swoop into the river. During summer vacations, we’d shoo hawks from snatching baby chicks. Now they are only images from our past.”

There was a twist in Carol Montilla’s e-mail from Leyte: “Strapped for funds to enroll his children, a father asked to do gardening jobs for me. In gratitude, he gave me a bird he caught in wilds of Palo.

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“It was an exact replica of what Edd Aragon pasted on to the Viewpoint column: a hornbill from Sulu. It is a threatened species.

“I dubbed him Rufus. He makes a loud noise when he sees me and bows his head, offering it to be caressed! One day I shall have to surrender him to DENR, as he is one of a few 150 hornbills now in existence worldwide. Any dvice? Friends say I can take care of him better.”

The eminent scientist Jurgenne Primavera lobbed Montilla’s inquiry to ornithologists and avian enthusiasts. Some of their responses follow:

If Ms Montilla is in Leyte, scientists replied, that bird is probably the subspecies buceros hydrocorax semigaleatus. All wildlife cannot be kept without a DENR permit.

“It will be difficult to raise that hornbill in the wild,” Lorenzo Vinceguerra e-mailed from Geneva. “He will not survive a day.”

Birdwatchers Club’s Arnel Telesforo agreed: “He has to learn to find food and recognize other hornbills.

“The only way is to feed him within a cage, in the forest, for a couple of weeks. Thereafter, open the cage and offer food on top. This way, he may slowly adapt to life outside the cage. Contact with more people must be avoided.

“If kept in captivity, (by the DENR?) he will never get the chance to be a wild bird again. Better a week in the wild and then die by….? But then, he’d be forever a caged bird.”

There are “two recognized avian extinctions“here, ornithologist J.C. Gonzalez wrote. “These are the Ticao tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini ticaensis) and Sulu bleedingheart (Gallicolumba menagei). Scientists use the term ‘functionally extinct’.”

Under this strict definition, “everything else is still considered extant,” and that includes the Cebu flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor). A few were rediscovered in 1992.

Dominic Couzens’ “Atlas of Rare Birds” (2010) described the Philippine eagle as a “lost cause,” Gonzales added. “If we don’t preserve our endemic feathered treasures, they’ll just be remembered in stamps.”

In Rasa Island, Palawan, a project seeks to save 1,000 or so red-vented cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), writes GMA managing editor Yasmin Arquiza. These are remnants of the singing “abukay” flocks we heard as kids.

Razing of mangroves and forests, plus poaching, severely decimated this bird’s population. Rasa Island holds today the highest density. And that’s only 200 birds. The UN has declared the cockatoo, whose white plumage sparkles brilliantly in flight, as critically endangered.

“Songbirds exposed to polluted environments sing more,” says a BBC feature on exotic birds in cities. “But they also die early.”

(Email: [email protected])

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TAGS: Chinese sages, conservation, Environmental issues, Philippine Eagle, Philippine Eagle Center, Philippine wildlife, Songbird, songs
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