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‘The epitome of nature’

Today’s Bird of the Day, the noisy miner, was suggested by writer and ecologist Simon Mustoe, author of Wildlife in the Balance: Why Animals are Humanity’s Best Hope.

He suspects it’s a controversial choice because, despite being native to Australia, noisy miners are much maligned on account of their propensity to “take over” our urban gardens at the expense of other birds.

While some bird lovers want the noisy miner culled, Mustoe thinks the traits that make them an annoyance are the same ones that made them a successful coloniser.

“If there is to be any doubt as to their importance in nature today, look at how capable they are at surviving in our sterile, chaotic, noise-polluted, dirty cities,” he said.

“Before sunrise I listen to their pre-dawn calls ringing out across the suburbs as groups squeal to each other. In the dawn’s cool, thin air, their sounds travel furthest and this defines the boundary of territories within which tight-knit family groups make a living.

“These territories cover almost the entire urban landscape, which no other small songbird has been able to do. This makes them incredibly important for ecosystem regulation.”

Mustoe said inside each family group the birds learn patterns of behaviour from each other.

“They quickly adapt their movements based on knowledge about the flowering seasons of plants, some of which aren’t even native to Australia, like the Japanese camellias that flower in my garden. Through shared knowledge and vocalisation they develop a rich culture and connection-to-country that enables them to efficiently regulate energy from plants.

“They are, in actual fact, the first step on the path to an improved ecology in which other birds can live. Removing them would simply delay that recovery.”

He said what he saw (or more commonly heard) when he encountered a noisy miner was the epitome of nature: a fastidious, all-consuming desire to modify the environment, to create a living space for oneself.

“Noisy miners work harder than any of us to do this. We mow, poison, weed and pollute. They cultivate and regulate our excesses.

“If we think we have a problem with noisy miners, that is because of the mess we’ve caused. They are cleaning up after us. They do this relentlessly, unpaid, unappreciated and they make our urban world less grey, healthier and more melodious for it.

“In a world where urban rumble is responsible for delayed learning in our children and increased human heart disease, we should honour any species able to coexist, since our future depends on it.”

He said the noisy miners’ success could have a lot to do with their noise.

“While even I admit to being occasionally irritated by this, their calls rise above urban rumble. This, their social structure and cultural sophistication, are the essence of what it takes to reverse the wrongs we’ve done to our own living environment.”

Ecologist Simon Mustoe says the noisy miner is cleaning up after humans – cultivating and regulating our excesses.

The importance of urban wildlife

Mustoe believes for humanity’s future it is critical to keep ecosystems stable.

“Ecosystems cannot deliver soil, food, water, fair climate and disease control, unless they contain the right diversity of animals … wildlife and humans, together,” he said.

“We’ve chosen to live in cities but forgotten how interdependent we are for each other’s survival. This makes urban wildlife more important than ever.”

In Wildlife in the Balance Mustoe said, “Though most of us live in cities, separated from the land, any assumption that wildlife is no longer critical to our future survival would be misguided. Peak success of Homo sapiens was only for a short portion of the time we’ve existed on Earth, while we were surrounded by abundant and diverse animal populations.”

Conservation wasn’t just about protecting distant wilderness, he told SSH. It was also about protecting our immediate life support systems, which means the places we live … our cities.

“Clean air, lower temperatures, clear-flowing creeks and rivers, market-gardens, parks full of birdsong … these are all basic human rights, because they are what we need to survive.

“We’ve a chance not only to make our cities more habitable but turn them into a source of wildlife, to rebuild the wilderness we’ve lost elsewhere.

“Remember, when you see an urban bird, you are seeing an animal actively rebuilding a habitable world for itself and all other animals.

“I’m personally looking forward to the silence of electric motors in the coming years, and the benefits that might bring. Urban noise creates angry birds, less able to keep ecosystems fully functioning.”

He said there was much more we could do but it started with creating a change in human values, where we recognised the critical importance of wildlife to humanity.

“This is a future we can easily imagine right now, one rich in a diversity of colourful wildlife. By letting ourselves be part of that, we simply build cities where all humans and other animals can live happier and healthier.”

Wildlife in the Balance (see more at simonmustoe.blog) is out now.


Follow @southsydneyherald on Instagram to see our birds of the day and learn about protecting urban biodiversity.

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