Signifying Birds in Culture, Language and Ecology

WYNDHAM, Felice - Oxford University
Karen PARK - Oxford University
John FANSHAWE - BirdLife International

Around the world people notice birds, talk about birds, and learn from birds. Birds are often identified as messengers, augurs, teachers, and beings that have the power to affect one’s life and livelihood, especially with respect to ecological change, shifts in weather, and both good and ill future happenings. In this paper we review bird-human communication histories in several regions and culture groups, with particular illustration of Ayoreo ornithological knowledge in the Paraguayan Chaco, Rarámuri ornithology in Northwestern Mexico, and material from Great Britain and North America. Patterns emerge from preliminary analysis, such as the predominance of non-passerines in (culturally defined) especially communicative birds (cf. Boster, Berlin and O’Neill 1986), the tendency for communication to be perceived as moving from bird to person rather than vice versa, and the persistence of markers of ecological relationships in spoken language long after certain lifeworld interactions between humans and birds are lost.