English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2017

Washington Wachira: For the love of birds

Filmed
Views 897,260

From the glorious crested guinea fowl to the adulterous African jacana to vultures that can pick a zebra carcass clean in 30 minutes, Washington Wachira wants us all to get to know the marvelous species of birds that share the planet with us. If you're not already a fan of earth's feathermakers -- or concerned about their conservation -- you will be after you watch this delightful talk.

- Wildlife ecologist, nature photographer and safari guide
Birder and ecologist Washington Wachira started the Youth Conservation Awareness Programme to nurture young environmental enthusiasts in Kenya. Full bio

With me here today
00:12
I brought something beautiful.
00:14
This is a feather from one of the most
beautiful birds we have in Kenya,
00:16
the crested guinea fowl.
00:21
But this feather is more than just that.
00:24
If you've taken time when you are outdoors
00:27
to look at the feathers around you,
00:29
you'll have noticed
00:31
that there is this huge variety
of different sizes,
00:33
shapes and even colors.
00:36
The feather is one of the most
astonishing pieces of technology
00:39
invented by the natural world,
00:44
and for centuries, this feather
has helped birds to keep dry,
00:47
to keep warm and even power flight.
00:52
Only one section of the tree of life
can actually make a feather.
00:56
Among all the world's animals,
01:01
birds are the only ones
who can make something
01:03
like what I'm holding today.
01:05
I personally have given them a nickname,
01:07
and I like to call them the feathermakers.
01:10
It is the major difference between birds
and any other animals we have on earth,
01:14
and if you can't make a feather,
you cannot call yourself a bird.
01:19
(Laughter)
01:23
For us humans, who are earthbound,
01:25
birds represent freedom.
01:28
This feather has enabled birds
to conquer gravity
01:31
and take to the air
in an extraordinary way.
01:34
Don't you sometimes wish
you could fly like a bird?
01:37
Birds are my passion,
01:42
and I want to change the way
each one of you thinks about them.
01:45
The easiest reason I love them so much
is because they are beautiful.
01:49
There are 10,000 species in the world,
01:54
and each one of them
is uniquely beautiful.
01:57
Birds are amazing,
02:02
and this talk is dedicated
to all the birds of the world.
02:04
(Laughter)
02:08
(Applause)
02:09
Indeed, these birds have been
part of our lives and cultures
02:13
all over the world for centuries,
02:18
and every society has a story about birds.
02:20
You probably have heard
childhood stories of different birds
02:23
and how they relate with man.
02:27
I personally recently learned
02:29
that our human ancestors
would follow flocks of vultures
02:31
and then they would help them
02:35
to identify where carcasses
have been dropped by large carnivores,
02:36
and these humans will scavenge
and eat part of that meat.
02:40
Birds have been used as brands
and labels all over the world.
02:45
You know the bald eagle?
02:49
It was chosen as the national
emblem for the US
02:50
because of its majestic strength,
02:53
beautiful looks
02:55
and even a long lifespan.
02:57
And just like us humans
02:59
who have managed to live
in virtually all habitats of this earth,
03:01
birds have also conquered the world.
03:05
From birds such as
these beautiful penguins
03:09
that live in the cold ice caps
03:12
to even others like the larks,
03:14
who live in the hottest deserts
you can imagine.
03:16
Indeed, these species
have conquered this world.
03:19
Birds also build houses like us.
03:23
The real pros in housebuilding
03:26
are a group of birds
we call the weaverbirds,
03:28
and this name they were given
03:31
because of the way
in which they weave their nests.
03:32
An interesting one:
03:35
birds also love and date
just like us humans.
03:37
In fact, you'll be surprised to know
that males dress to impress the women,
03:40
and I'll show you how.
03:46
So here we have a long-tailed widowbird,
03:48
and this is how they would normally look.
03:50
But when it comes to the breeding season,
03:53
everything changes,
03:55
and this is how he looks.
03:57
(Audience murmurs)
03:59
Yeah?
04:01
Birds also, multiple species of them,
04:03
do love to touch and cuddle
just like humans.
04:07
And I know you're
wondering about this one.
04:10
Yes, they kiss too,
04:12
sometimes very deeply.
04:15
(Applause)
04:17
Some have even learned
to cheat on their spouses.
04:20
(Laughter)
04:22
For example, the African jacana:
04:23
the females will mate with multiple males
04:25
and then she takes off
to find other males to mate with
04:28
and she leaves the male behind
to take care of the chicks.
04:31
(Laughter)
04:34
(Applause)
04:36
And birds help us so much,
04:40
and they play very crucial roles
in our ecosystems each day.
04:42
Vultures clean up our environment
04:46
by literally digesting
disease-causing pathogens,
04:48
and they finish carcasses
that would otherwise cost us lots of money
04:52
to clear from the environment.
04:56
A sizable flock of vultures
is capable of bringing down a carcass
04:58
the size of a zebra straight to the bone
05:02
within just about 30 minutes.
05:04
Owls help to rid
the environments of rodents
05:07
and this helps us a lot
because it saves us money --
05:10
we don't lose our crops --
05:13
and secondly, we don't have
to buy harmful chemicals
05:15
to handle these rodents.
05:18
The beautiful sunbirds
we see in our environments
05:21
are part of nature's pollination crew,
05:24
and they help our plants to form fruits.
05:26
Together with other
pollinators like insects,
05:30
they have actually helped us
05:32
to get most of the food crops
that we depend on for many years.
05:34
Unfortunately, the story of birds
is by far not perfect.
05:39
They are faced by numerous challenges
every day wherever they live.
05:44
Top on the threats facing birds
05:49
is habitat loss
05:50
and reduced food availability.
05:52
Birds are also hunted,
especially migratory species
05:55
and ducks that congregate in water bodies.
05:58
Poisoning is happening
to flocks that like to stick together,
06:02
especially in places like rice schemes.
06:06
Moreover, power lines
are electrocuting birds
06:09
and wind farms are slicing birds
06:13
when they fly through the blades.
06:15
Recently, we've heard the talk
of climate change
06:18
making a lot of headlines,
06:21
and it's also affecting birds,
06:23
because birds are being forced to migrate
from better breeding and feeding grounds
06:25
because unfortunately
where they used to live
06:29
is no longer habitable.
06:31
My own perspective
towards birds was changed
06:34
when I was a small boy in high school,
06:36
and there was this boy who struck,
06:38
injuring the wing and the leg
of a bird we called the augur buzzard.
06:40
I was standing there,
06:44
just a mere 14-year-old,
06:46
and I imagined a human being
in a similar situation,
06:48
because this bird could not help itself.
06:51
So even if I was hardly
any biologist by then,
06:54
I gathered with three of my friends
and we decided to house the bird
06:58
until it had regained strength
and then let it free.
07:02
Interestingly, it accepted
to feed on beef from our school kitchen,
07:05
and we hunted termites around the compound
for its dinner every day.
07:10
After a few days, it had regained strength
07:14
and we released it.
07:16
We were so happy to see it flap its wings
07:17
and fly off gracefully.
07:20
And that experience
changed the way we looked at birds.
07:22
We went on to actually make a magazine,
07:26
and we called it the Hawk Magazine,
07:29
and this was in honor of this bird
07:31
that we had helped
within our own high school.
07:34
Those experiences in high school
made me the conservationist I am today.
07:37
And a passion for birds
should especially matter for Africa
07:43
and all Africans,
07:46
because among all other continents,
07:48
Africa hosts some
of the most amazing bird species
07:50
you can find anywhere in the world.
07:53
Imagine having a name like "shoebill."
07:55
That's the name of that bird.
07:58
And there are countries like DR Congo,
08:00
Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya
08:04
who are leading the continent
in highest numbers of diversity
08:06
when it comes to the species.
08:10
These birds continue
to provide the continent
08:13
with very crucial ecosystem
services that Africa needs.
08:15
Moreover, there is huge potential
08:20
for Africa to lead the world
in avian tourism.
08:22
The economy will definitely benefit.
08:27
Imagine how many communities
will benefit from groups of tourists
08:30
visiting their villages
just to see the endemic birds
08:34
that can only be found in those villages.
08:37
How can we help birds together?
08:41
There is now a chance for all of you
08:43
to turn your passion for birds
08:46
into contributing
to their continued survival,
08:48
and you can do that
by becoming a citizen scientist.
08:51
Citizen science is a growing trend
around the world,
08:56
and we are having scenarios
where people are sharing information
09:00
with the rest of the community
about traffic updates,
09:03
security alerts and so on.
09:06
That is exactly what
we realized as bird-watchers,
09:08
and we thought, because birds
are found everywhere,
09:12
if we've got all of you
and everyone else in Africa
09:15
to tell us the birds
they find where they live,
09:18
where they school,
or even where they work,
09:21
then we can be able to come up
with a map of every single species,
09:23
and from there scientists will be able
09:28
to actually prioritize
conservation efforts
09:30
to those habitats that matter the most.
09:33
Take for example these two projects,
09:36
the Africa Raptor DataBank,
09:38
which is mapping all birds of prey
in the continent of Africa,
09:40
and the Kenya Bird Map,
09:44
which is mapping about 1,100 species
that occur in my country, Kenya.
09:45
These two projects
now have online databases
09:50
that are allowing people to submit data,
09:53
and this is converted
into very interactive websites
09:55
that the public can consume
and make decisions from.
09:58
But when we started,
there was a big challenge.
10:02
We received many complaints
from bird-watchers,
10:04
and they will say,
10:07
"I'm in a village,
and I cannot access a computer.
10:08
How do I tell you
what birds live in my home,
10:11
or where I school, or where I work?"
10:13
So we were forced to renovate our strategy
and come up with a sustainable solution.
10:16
It was easy:
10:21
we immediately realized that mobile phones
10:23
were becoming increasingly
common in Africa
10:25
and most of the regions
could get access to one.
10:28
So we came up with
mobile phone applications
10:31
that you can use on your iPhone
and on your Android phone,
10:35
and we made them freely available
10:38
for every bird-watching
enthusiast out there.
10:40
So we came up with BirdLasser,
which is used by the Kenya Bird Map,
10:44
and also we have
the African Raptor Observations,
10:49
which is now used
by the African Raptor DataBank.
10:52
This was a huge breakthrough in our work
10:55
and it made us get
enormous amounts of data
10:58
from every birder
out there in the regions.
11:00
With this, we realized
that citizen science
11:04
is indeed very powerful,
11:06
the reason being,
citizen science is adaptive.
11:08
And we were able to actually
convert many bird-watchers
11:12
to start sharing new information with us.
11:16
When we were starting,
11:22
we didn't know that birds
could be a huge gateway
11:23
to approaching conservation
of other forms of animals.
11:26
Interestingly, now
in the Virtual Museum for Africa,
11:29
we have maps for dragonflies
and damselflies,
11:32
butterflies and moths,
11:36
reptiles, frogs, orchids, spiders,
11:37
scorpions, and yes,
we are even mapping mushrooms.
11:42
Who could have imagined mapping mushrooms?
11:45
So this showed us that indeed
we've created a community of people
11:48
who care about nature in Africa.
11:53
I hereby call upon all of you
11:56
to join me in promoting the value of birds
11:58
within your communities.
12:02
Please just tell your friends about birds,
12:04
for we are always inclined
to love and care for that which we know.
12:06
Please spend a few minutes
in your free time
12:11
when you are at work,
at school, or maybe at home,
12:14
to at least look around you
and see which beautiful birds are there.
12:17
Come join us in citizen science
12:20
and tell us the birds you're finding
in the places where you visit.
12:22
Even simpler,
12:26
you could buy your child or your sibling
12:28
a pair of binoculars
12:30
or a bird book
12:32
and let them just appreciate
how beautiful these birds are.
12:34
Because maybe one day
they will want to care
12:37
for that one which they know and love.
12:40
The children indeed are our future.
12:43
Let us please teach them
to love our feathermakers,
12:46
because the love of birds
12:49
can be a huge gateway
to appreciating all forms of nature.
12:51
Thank you very much.
12:55
(Applause)
12:57
Thank you.
13:02

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Washington Wachira - Wildlife ecologist, nature photographer and safari guide
Birder and ecologist Washington Wachira started the Youth Conservation Awareness Programme to nurture young environmental enthusiasts in Kenya.

Why you should listen

If you take a walk, the animals you're most likely see are birds. Birds are some of the most fascinating creatures on earth. We wake up to their songs in the morning; they're in our cities, farms and even schools. They are, however, facing many challenges, and we should do something to help them.

By age 14, Washington Wachira was already on a career path towards nature interpretation and conservation. Wachira holds a BSc in environmental science and is currently taking an MSc animal ecology from Kenyatta University. Washington founded Youth Conservation Awareness Programme (YCAP) to nurture young environmental enthusiasts in Kenya. He is a keen writer and has published multiple articles in a variety of local and international publications. As a result of his conservation passion, he has won many awards including Mr. Environment and Ambassador for Nairobi Province in 2012 and The Daisy Rothschild Award in 2015. He is a passionate and talented nature photographer featured in many publications worldwide. He has won multiple photo awards including the first position in the underwater category of the 2016 East African Wild Life Photo Competition and Honourable Mention in the Best of Nikon Kenya 2016 Photography Competition.

Wachira is an experienced safari guide and has led many expeditions and research projects across Kenya. He founded Cisticola Tours, a tour company that leads professional birding and nature tours across Kenya and the rest of East Africa. Through Cisticola Tours, he has been leading multiple sustainability projects to support bird conservation and help communities to appreciate birds and nature. He is also a member of the Bird Committee of Nature Kenya, Chair of the National Bird of Kenya Sub-committee, the Country Representative for Kenya at Youth Africa Birding and Manager for the Kenya Bird Map Project. He is a National Geographic Explorer for his work with African Crowned Eagles, and he is a birds of prey graduate student with The Peregrine Fund.

More profile about the speaker
Washington Wachira | Speaker | TED.com