“The Messenger is particularly effective at sounding the alarm because it makes the issue highly personal. With exclusive footage, and high-tech cinematography, the movie offers an intimate look at the plight of the songbird. Stunning flight sequences...are conveyed in slow motion, making the complexities of wing movement, control, and rhythm visible to the human eye.” - Audubon
Just by sheer luck I found out about a film called, The Messenger. Hearing that title, one would probably gloss over it and think it was just another film at the local movie theater. Fortunately the winter 2016 issue of Living Bird, from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, featured an article about the film.
If you have the opportunity to see The Messenger, be prepared to be mesmerized by opening scenes of songbirds in flight in slow motion. As the film progresses other emotions are felt as one learns about the decline of songbirds around the world. This movie does take you around the globe with some disturbing information. Songbirds throughout the world have been declining and the message; the health of environments are suffering.
What are some of the major issues faced by migratory songbirds? The film begins with information about songbirds migrating at night, a fact that most of the public may not realize. Due to the amount of light emanating from cities migratory birds collide with buildings and windows. Domestic cats, not a natural predator in North America, take a huge toll on many species, migratory or not. Habitat fragmentation, particularly in the boreal forest region where energy production and logging are cutting into formerly pristine nesting areas. One of the latest concerns is neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics”, a systemic insecticide in which the active ingredient is taken up within the plant’s stalk, leaves and even the pollen. Some are even calling this pesticide the new DDT since it tends to persist and build up over time. Aquatic organisms, earthworms, bees and birds appear to be the most affected, but studies are just beginning.
There is considerable gloom and doom in the film, but also good science into the research of songbird declines. Perhaps viewing this film is what is needed to get each one of us to think about what we can do. Keeping cats indoors or, if outdoors, having them leashed. Work with veterinarians and cat rescue groups to spread the message. Plant native plants that provide food, shelter and habitat for migrants to use your yard or neighborhood for safety and refueling. Begin a campaign for your city to dim or turn off the lights on buildings, particularly during spring and fall migration. Do not use pesticides or herbicides which are not selective in the harm they cause. Just as important is educating yourself and others on migratory species and what the species face.
The parting shot in the movie was probably the most moving. Hundreds of dead birds that had been killed while on migration, were laid out individually on the floor of a building. What was not clear was if this was the mortality from an entire migratory season? A week? Was there someone at this demonstration explaining what was being shown? This information would have been good to know. The director showed the deceased birds as they were being laid out then showed families and children watching, birds being spread out, pan back to the children and back to the birds.
If you have the opportunity to view The Messenger, once, but I recommend more than one time, I think it will strike a chord. It has made a difference for me to take action, I hope it can make a difference for you.
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The Feathered Flyer blog publishes human interest stories about birding and habitat conservation.
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