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Literary eagle to the rescue of songbirds


A file photo of a songbird. (Photo by Bernard Weil)

It’s another cry to save the songbirds.

Jonathan Franzen, author of award-winning book The Corrections, wrote a lovesong for songbirds in The New Yorker in 2010, for The Telegraph later the same year. Now, he has written an extensive piece in the National Geographic, appropriately titled the Last Song for Songbirds.  

Franzen’s heartbreaking story is about the decimation of the migratory birds by hunters and poachers in southern Europe but he explores the one most important question: How can we stop this slaughter of songbirds across the Mediterranean?

(According to the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, up to 10 million songbirds are illegally killed annually, often for a Cypriot dish called ambelopoulia. Poachers usually sell the birds to restaurants.)

The story takes Franzen to Egypt’s bustling markets, its coasts, to its Bedouin. The story also takes him to Tirana in Albania where he talks to nouveau hunters about what makes them shoot little birds. He talks to them, their wives. 

Franzen, being Franzen — and again, the man who wrote The Corrections — writes the magazine story as a novel where hard facts are interspersed with short conversations with those he interviews. And then there are historical notes. 

But this paragraph is likely the most important part of the story:

“The most hope-confounding cultural disjunction, however, may be this: Egyptian bird hunters make no distinction between catching a fish and catching a bird (indeed, in the Nile Delta, they use the same nets for both), whereas, for many Westerners, birds have a charisma, and thus an emotional and even ethical status, that fish do not.”

Can the songbirds be saved? It's not clear. 

Even if you are not a fan of songbirds, even if you don’t like Franzen’s writing style, this piece is definitely worth a read.   

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh


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