Thursday, March 24, 2016

New film provides a look at our birds and their journeys

What is the future for songbirds like chickadees?
I had the opportunity this past week to see an amazing new film, a documentary about birds. The film was called The Messenger.

Now the reason it was called that is mentioned in the film's beginning and reiterated once or twice as throughout the film.

It goes back to the fact that ancient peoples viewed birds as messengers - messengers from the gods, messengers from the other side, messages from the spirit world - and it is the film's premise that they are still messengers today - and the message they have for us is one about our own future.

The film delves into several issues migratory songbirds face in our modern world; one of them is the way that they can get disoriented by the light that we as humans create in our cities. It shows how, in cities like New York and Toronto, our night-time lights can really produce a negative impact on their migrations up and down the coast from north to south and back again.

Connected with that is the way thousands of birds kill themselves flying into our city's high-rise buildings. This issue resulted in the birth of the organization FLAP as a response to it.

Another issue facing songbirds is the hunting of them for food.

That's right - food.

In France, there is a huge controversy right now about how the centuries-old tradition of hunting ortolans for food. The film actually interviewed one of the hunters, as well as some folks dedicated to stopping the practice. Although it is now illegal, French authorities, by-and-large, look the other way.

The film also looked at other issues facing birds, a big one being pesticides - including the 21st century production of grains which have pesticides built right into them by seed manufacturers.

The movie also documents the way our industrial development - the need to drill for oil, most noticeably - and how it can affect the bird population in the boreal forest.

The film takes us all over the world - from the Eastern Seaboard of North America, to the jungles of Costa Rica, the fields of France, the prairies of Saskatchewan, and the boreal forests of Alberta, to name but a few destinations.

It's a journey, a trip around the world, to see what it is these birds are facing - and what they, as messengers, are trying to tell us.
Female red-winged blackbird. Will their songs be silent soon?
Birds are incredibly adaptable, probably more so than mammals. Despite that, they are suffering. We're changing the environment so fast now, faster than birds can cope with it.

And while this does not bode well for them, it also has ramifications for us.

As one of the people interviewed in the film says, "Songbirds are really like the canary in the coal mine ... they are telling us something is wrong, something is happening on the planet that is not good."

That's why organizations like FLAP and Bird Studies Canada work so hard to try to figure everything out so we can make changes - for the birds...and for our own future.

The film is directed by Su Rynard. Not a scientist, not even a birder, really, she did a masterful job in bringing this film together. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous ... breath-taking beauty radiates from the screen. Probably why it's won so many awards.

Those of us who attended the movie were fortunate enough to "meet" and chat with her via Skype on the big theatre screen. Ah, technology. (Ironically, while technology can help us enjoy these types of experiences, it can also harm, as the movie points out.)

It played very briefly last Sunday, March 20 in Vancouver, at the Rio Theatre, one show and one day only. But it will be back again in May, for a showing May 9, again, at the Rio. Their website has information about other venues hosting it, and plans are in the works to

In the meantime, enjoy some of the marvelous footage in this trailer.

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