I've just come from seeing The Messenger, at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan sponsored by the Washtenaw Audubon Society and the the Michigan Audubon Society. I'm not going to lie. It was a cruel and disheartening film. But also a completely honest and eye-opening film looking nakedly at the peril all bird populations in the world face. The Messenger focuses on songbirds - everybody's favorite this time of year.
There were scenes of enchantment and beauty, scenes to describe ingenuity in bird research and scenes to reveal cleverness in bird conservation that all hint at some hope we will be able to save our world's songbirds.
I liked the film - a lot - and recommend it. I plucked the 3:00 minute film trailer from You Tube for viewing. But I was aware that I was watching the film in a theater full of individuals who all belong to the church. During one of the quiet moments I would have been able to hear a pin drop, so rapt was the audience attention.
The Messenger needs to be seen by school children, school teachers, farmers, loggers, politicians, truck drivers, car manufacturers, people who are afraid of insects, people who live in high-rises, people who vote ... and on and on and on. Really, is this going to happen? I think we all know the answer is no.
In the closing scene a seemingly largish group of people are gathered in a room somewhere in Toronto. Gathered are children, parents, grandparents, men, women who have collected the dead birds from pavement around Toronto's skyscrapers. They are arranging the dead birds in a patten of color and species and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birds. Many may have seen a similarly arresting photo published in the Audubon Magazine. What finally gives the horrible scene some hope is the stunned sadness on the faces of the children as they look at all of the dead birds. I imagined this as a moment imprinted on their young brains they are unlikely to forget. Then I imagine them making their school science project on bird conservation, then winning their science fair and being given an award by the city's mayor ... and, so on.
It's not the researchers who are going to save songbirds. They will highlight the perils, but it's up to the rest of us to do something. So, we can start at the beginning. Keep our cats indoors, do not give financial support to [cat] capture, spay and release programs, select and give financial support to one conservation group which you feel best represents your concerns, plant native plants and trees that attract insects and have berries, drink expensive and better tasting organic, shade grown coffee, turn off the lights in your house, believe in the science of climate change, and anything else you can think of, which is probably many more things. Finally, vote responsibly. Recognize that activities which imperil songbirds are not going to lead to jobs, jobs, jobs despite the fact that some politician stands on a stage and says as much.
In the meantime, while you are thinking about how you will save songbirds, you might like to read The (almost) Impossible Task of Filming Songbirds in Flight, from The Messenger's director Su Rynard's blog.