Because birds live in trees, changes in the bird population
reflect the status of the environment. Thus, bird
enthusiasts also consider themselves environmentalists.
"Birdwatchers are the most ardent of conservationists,
because they'll do anything to preserve their favorite,"
said Tim Fisher, a British businessman in the Philippines
when he is not being a birdwatching tour leader.
The term "birdwatching", to the uninitiated,
connotes a passive and leisurely activity without
much consequential benefit to the community. However,
this venture into the wild advances scientific knowledge
as well. In their weekly sessions, the "birders",
as they call themselves, track the birds' migratory
patterns, identify new species, and report them to
the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The National Museum, being the country's repository
of cultural and environmental treasures among others,
would consequently place them in reference for subsequent
research studies. Presently, the ornithology section
of the museum's zoological department has 19,000 specimens
in storage and display, a sizeable proportion of which
were contributed by bird enthusiasts.
example, the Calayan Rail, a small, dark, low-flying
bird, was sighted and identified by bird enthusiast
and wildlife biologist Carmela Española. A
volunteer member of the Isla Biodiversity Conservation,
Inc. (IBCI), she saw four of the newly identified
species in May 2004 while conducting survey research.
Calayan Rail is only found in Calayan Island, the
biggest in the Babuyan Group of Islands in Northern
Philippines. At the present time, it falls under the
"vulnerable" group of the Red List Threat
Categories compiled by the International Union for
the Conservation of Nature. (The other classifications
in the continuum are "extinct," "extinct
in the wild," critically endangered" "endangered,"
"near threatened" and "least concern".)
the "critically endangered" category is
the Philippine Eagle, the Philippines' national bird,
considered one of the rarest eagles in the world since
it is only found in the Philippine islands of Luzon,
Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. The Philippine Eagle Foundation
(PEF), in its mission to conserve the eagle that has
the broadest wingspan (up to 7 feet) in the world,
has employed captive breeding. "We propagate
them, breed them, then soon we release them, "
said Tanya Hotchkiss, Manila Liaison Officer of PEF.
may be recalled that in April of last year, the organization
released Kabayan, a captive-bred raptor, but the 17-month
old eagle died after 261 days in the wild. Asked if
captive breeding is indeed a viable solution to prevent
the extinction of one of the rarest eagles in the
world, considering Kabayan's plight, Hotchkiss replied
that it is the only long-term solution to restore
the eagle population in the wild. The thick rainforests,
which the eagles consider as their habitat, are already
denuded, preventing their natural reproduction.
organization presently keeps Pagasa, the first captive-bred
Philippine eagle, now 13 years old. He will be kept
captive to serve as the organization's educational
mascot for nature conservation, Hotchkiss added.
IBCI is another environmental organization which showcased
its advocacy during the Bird Festival. Its thrust
is exploring small islands such as the Babuyan, where
Espanola sighted the Calayan Rails. President Carl
Oliveros explained that species in smaller islands
are mostly endemic, that is, found in just that one
place. Thus, when these birds become extinct-for reasons
that could range from hunting to habitat destruction-they
are most likely gone forever from this world. Besides,
bigger and more established organizations tend to
work on the country's larger islands; "we work
on gaps that are not yet filled," he added.
like Fisher, Española, and Oliveros, regularly
take a peek through their handheld devices to view
the country's 570 bird species, of which 180 exist
only in our 7,107 islands. These figures reflect the
country's remarkable level of rich biological endemism
in relation to its land area, according to Mads Bajarias,
Jr., co-founder of the WBCP and himself a bird enthusiast.
popular sites where birds abound are the Candaba Swamp
in Pampanga, El Nido in Palawan, Lake Sebu in South
Cotabato, Sierra Madre Nature Park in Cagayan, Sagada
in the Mountain Province, Olango Island in Cebu, and
Mt. Apo in Davao.
as our country is, threats to its sustainability are
a reality. Logging, mining and hunting pose great
risks to the environment, thereby affecting the ecosystems
that survive on them. This was the message the First
Philippine Bird Festival sought to convey. In its
series of activities, the event broadened the public's
knowledge about nature-that caring for mother earth
goes beyond not picking flowers in the backyard garden
or hurting animals in the zoo. Instead, it is a concerted
effort to conserve an intrinsically linked community
of wildlife and its various habitats.
Lu, president of the organizing club, looks forward
to the time when birdwatching will be a required subject
in schools. Through such education campaigns, the
people will know what to save and why-to preserve
the environment. "And if they know what to save,
they will save," he said.