ICE logoFurther to my previous post here on the 33rd Society of Ethnobiology meeting at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, the following week I traveled up to the small resort town of Tofino for the 12th International Congress of Ethnobiology conducted by the International Society of Ethnobiology. There I joined with my colleague from Nature Kenya, Fleur Ng’weno, to co-chair another symposium on Ethnoornithology. It was wonderful meeting and, as you can see below, there was a great variety of material presented. My favourite presentation was by my friend from the University of Dschang in Cameroon, Bobo Kadiri Serge, who talked about the bird knowledge of the Banso people of Northwestern Cameroon in central Africa.

Panel Session – 12th International Congress of Ethnobiology – Tofino, Canada, May 9 to 14 2010

Recent International Developments in Ethnoornithology – application, methodology and research

Session Description:

In this session we seek to illustrate some of the work being undertaken by researchers and indigenous people from across the globe with an interest in birds, people, cultures and the land and environments that they share.

The recent development of interest in ethnoornithology, particularly in its application to emerging needs, started in late 2005, when the Australasian Ornithological Conference at Blenheim, New Zealand hosted a one-day symposium dedicated to ethnoornithological work in the Austral region. Ten papers from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea were presented at that symposium followed by a lengthy open discussion forum. Following that conference the web-based Ethnoornithology Research and Study Group was established in early 2006 as a clearing house and contact point for those interested in collaborative research and to allow the sharing of news and information about their activities with other workers and researchers. In August 2006 a roundtable session was held at the International Ornithological Congress in Hamburg, Germany. Following that meeting a collection of papers will be published in early 2010 by Earthscan in a book entitled “Ethno-ornithology: Birds and Indigenous People, Culture and Society”. This book is the first example of ethnoornithological essays and research published in a single volume.

In 2007 and 2008 a number of presentations were given and dedicated ethnoornithological sessions and symposia conducted at international ornithological, sociological and anthropological conferences – highlighting the cross-disciplinary nature of ethnoornithology and the need to communicate recent developments to other disciplines. A highlight of this period was the “First Ethno-ornithology Meeting in Kenya” organised by Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – with the National Museums of Kenya and Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK) in October 2007 at the National Museum in Nairobi. A number of themes have emerged from this recent renewed interest and concentration on ethnoornithology, including a focus on methodology, issues related to the application of indigenous bird knowledge to land and conservation measures and practice, the development of training, economic and employment opportunities from low-impact, high-value local participation in birding tourism with a cultural focus, the re-evaluation of previous ethnological research and the creation of alternative career pathways for young and mid-career practitioners in both the applied and social sciences.

These themes are repeated in the papers presented in this session for the 12th ICE.

The presentations in this session are relevant to the themes for this Congress, in particular the importance and relevance of indigenous bird knowledge to a wide variety of conservation, resource and species management efforts on lands owned or managed by indigenous peoples, or land and species that indigenous people may not have legal ownership of or responsibility for but to which they retain traditional connections, responsibilities and interests. Several of the papers will examine methodological issues that relate to the conference themes of cross-cultural and inter-generational transfer of knowledge and more general themes. Of particular importance in this area is the consideration and development of appropriate methodologies and the conduct of research practices that ensure that local participants retain appropriate controls over project design and outcomes.


1 – The Australian Aboriginal bird knowledge project – the how, why, where, what and with whom

Robert Gosford

Ethnoornithology Research & Study Group

Alice Springs, NT, 0871 Australia

In 2005 I commenced collecting material for a book project to be published in late 2010, that will, for the first time in one volume, examine Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of the more than 780 species of birds found in Australia.

The “mainstream” ornithological literature contained little material of relevance to this project; but a wealth of material on local bird knowledge among the hundreds of language groups and many Australian Aboriginal cultural blocs was found in the literature of the applied and social sciences disciplines and a range of other academic and vernacular sources.

In 2009 I conducted fieldwork for this project and traveled extensively across the country to meet and talk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and groups.

In this presentation I will discuss both the literature and field-based research aspects of this project, describing some of the methodological processes that I have developed and applied and I will also consider some of the practical concerns and pitfalls that I have encountered.


2 – Flavour or Fore-Thought: Tuhoe Traditional Management Strategies for the Conservation of Kereru (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae) in New Zealand

Philip Lyver, Chris Jones, James Doherty, and Henrik Moller

Landcare Research, P.O. Box 40, Lincoln, 7640, Christchurch, New Zealand; Tuhoe Tuawhenua Trust, P.O.Box 3001, Ruatahuna, Rotorua, New Zealand; Centre for Study of Agriculture, Food & Environment,, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

Traditional knowledge from indigenous cultures about wildlife populations can offer insights beneficial for management in the face of global climate change. Semi-structured interviews and workshops conducted with Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) elders from the Tuhoe tribe in the Te Urewera region of New Zealand provided knowledge about traditional management strategies for Kereru (New Zealand pigeon; Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae), and signals of changes in local climate patterns and how these influence Kereru. We used a population simulation exercise to demonstrate the feasibility of a harvest management strategy used by Tuhoe to sustain Kereru. Our models also indicated how potential changes in climate, and subsequent decisions about harvest timing, might affect a theoretical Kereru population. Elders identified mana (authority), mauri (essence or life force), tikanga (traditional custom), and ture (societal guidelines), and the use of tohu (signals or markings), tapu (sacredness), muru (social deterrent), and rahui (temporary harvest bans) as key elements and ideologies in the traditional management of Kereru. They linked an increased climatic warming trend to 3-4 month delays in the fruiting of some trees deemed important for Kereru nutrition and body condition (e.g. toromiro – Podocarpus ferrugineus). Tuhoe have traditionally harvested both adult and newly fledged Kereru when they are feeding on toromiro fruit, so a 3-4 month delay in fruiting could potentially defer the harvest until the pre-breeding period. Our simulation models demonstrated that harvesting Kereru adults and fledglings in the post-breeding stage had less impact on population abundance than only harvesting adults only during the pre-breeding phase. The model indicated that Tuhoe would need to re-evaluate their harvest strategy if climate-induced delays in toromiro fruiting were to become more frequent. This study emphasizes how using both science and the full matrix of traditional knowledge can offer wildlife management the better of two worldviews.


3 – Kia Mau Te Tītī Mo Ake Tōnu Atu: A cross-cultural partnership for adaptive co-management of a traditional Māori seabird harvest

Corey Bragg, Rosemary Clucas, David Fletcher, Sam McKechnie, Henrik Moller, Jamie Newman and Darren Scott

Centre for Study of Agriculture, Food & Environment, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; Department of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Mātauranga Māori (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) and ecology have been applied in partnership since 1994 to assess the sustainability of the traditional tītī (muttonbird, sooty shearwater) harvest by Rakiura Māori from 35 islands adjacent to Rakiura (Stewart Island), New Zealand. Our cross-cultural, Participatory Action Research approach has identified shared goals and improved understanding, but also precipitated conflict and challenges for researchers and the kaitiaki (Māori environmental guardians). Key determinants of whether science can be applied alongside mātauranga for adaptive co-management of the climate change threat are (a) a shared respect for the other’s knowledge, (b) confidence in one’s own knowledge, (c) an absolute commitment to vesting power in the research process with the community, (d) increased investment in communication, and (e) instigation of a much slower and culturally appropriate ecological research process.


4 – Ethno-ornithology of edible birds in Kenya, the significance of quails, tsitsindu, as food and source of income among the Luhya of Western Kenya and status of affected species

Mercy Njeri Muiruri and Patrick Maundu.

Ornithology Department, National Museums of Kenya. P.O. Box 40658, Nairobi, Kenya; International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), C/o ICRAF, P.O. Box 30677, Nairobi, Kenya.

With 1100 birds species recorded in Kenya, the country is among the richest in bird diversity in Africa. Additionally the country is endowed with a rich culture. Over millennia, communities have interacted with birds and used them in various ways including food, medicine, ornaments and as natural wake-up calls. Birds foretell impending calamities such as storms, drought and locust attacks. People gather songs and tunes from birds; build characters by their examples and in dry spells people learn new food types from birds. Birds guide hunters to bee nests and alert people of intruders including wild animals. Perhaps the most important use of birds in many communities is food. Although most birds can be used, only a few are preferred. Common food birds in Kenya include Weavers, Thrushes, Robins, Doves, Quails, Francolins and Guinea Fowls.

Different communities have developed various technologies and skills for hunting and trapping birds. The Luhya of western Kenya have developed a complex way of trapping Quails, (tsitsindu), where the male is used as the bait to attract the females. Some birds such as Owls are not eaten because of superstitions. Most birds of prey are also avoided, mainly because of their detestable diet including frogs and reptiles such as snakes. A major cultural distinction can be noticed between farming communities and pastoralists (animal keepers), where the latter are not keen on using birds for food.


5 – Producing a bird checklist for Dakatcha Woodland Important Bird Area in Kenya

Fleur Ng’weno

Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society

P.O. Box 44486, Nairobi 00100, Kenya

The Checklist of the Birds of Dakatcha Woodland was published by Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – in 2009. This Checklist includes bird names in the language of the Giriama people who live in the area, and is part of the advocacy effort for the conservation of a unique habitat.

This presentation traces the steps taken over 18 months, from the realization that the young men training as guides for birdwatchers already knew the names of the birds in their local language, to the publication of the checklist. It identifies the different consultations necessary, including compiling a scientifically accurate bird list from several sources, writing down the names used by local people, comparing them with other lists, checking the spelling, designing the format, seeking advice from ornithologists, anthropologists, linguists and tour guides, going back to the community several times, and finally putting it all together.

Essential recommendations for a similar checklist are: The person working on the checklist needs to be (or consult with) an experienced ornithologist or bird watcher, knowledgeable about bird habitats and distribution, and able to edit out incorrect records; and the local people need to know and use the local names in the field in order to match the local names to the scientific names.


6 – Mapuche and Yahgan ethno-ornithology in the sub-Antarctic forests of South America

Francisca Massardo & Ricardo Rozzi

Universidad de Magallanes

Parque Etnobotancio Omora

Puerto Williams, Chile


Universidad de Magallanes & Instituto de Ecologia y Biodiversidad Chile

Dept Philosophy, University of North Texas

1704 W. Mulberry, EESAT Bldg 225, of. 320 E, P.O.Box 310920, Denton, TX 76203-0920

The temperate forests of southern South America were and still are inhabited by a unique ornitho-fauna and a unique mosaic of indigenous cultures. Among the latter, the Yahgan indigenous people live in the insular territory of Cape Horn, representing the southernmost ethnic group of the world between 55 and 56°S. Between 2000 and 2002, we recorded Yahgan and Mapuche bird names and traditional ornithological knowledge by working with the grandmothers Úrsula and Cristina Calderón, and the Mapuche poet Lorenzo Aillapan.

For this work, we considered a set of 58 bird species of the native forests of Chile. Among them, 42 species live in the Yahgan territory of the insular subantarctic forests of Cape Horn Archipelago (54.5–56°S), and 57 species live on the lafkenche territory at the coast of Temuco (39°S). This study recorded 10 new Yahgan bird names which, in combination with names recorded by other researchers yield a total 38 names, i.e., 93% of the 42 species bird species found in the Yahgan territory.

Mapuche names were found for 55 species, i.e., 97% of the 57 species living in the Lafkenche territory. The work with Aillapan yield more than 10 new names for birds, indicating the high variety of mapudungun names for each bird species. Both, Yahgan and Mapuche bird names express onomatopoeic, morphological, behavioral, and habitat characteristics of the birds. The record of new Yahgan and Mapuche names indicates the need for ethno-ornithological research and conservation efforts of the cultural diversity inhabiting the temperate forests of South America..


7 – Birds, the Banso people of Northwestern Cameroon and their culture

Bobo Kadiri Serge

Department of Forestry, Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences

University of Dschang, Cameroon.

The present paper aims at documenting how birds are perceived, used and managed by the Banso people of the Northwestern region of Cameroon. Due to their ability to hunt and domesticate many species, the Banso use birds primarily for food as they are considered rich sources of protein. Fowl that run wild are mostly used in traditional ceremonies like sacrifices, marriages, burials because it is believed that they still have links with ancestors and have not been modified. Depending on the nature of the ceremony, the color and sex of the fowl count. Traditional knowledge also involves the use of birds in folk medicine. Birds are not known to cure any illness but they are highly used by local practitioners. Quail eggs are given in the treatment of heart attack. Birds’ flesh is recommended to reduce the occurrence of gout. To make the healing process more serious, rare species are demanded. Over the past, birds were known as omens of good or bad events. The cry of an Owl at night is a bad omen and it is believed that something bad will happen or has already happened. The Great Blue Turaco is known to call at particular hours. The cock’s crow in the morning has always been used to tell time but its crow late at night or too early in the morning is considered as evil. The Banso usually attach evil to hawks. Hunters are aware that the call of the White-crowned Hornbill is alerting the monkeys to run away.

Spiritual protection is attached to certain birds. As such skulls, bills, feathers and/or claws of the Guineafowl, Parrot, Hornbill and Eagle are often seen in strategic corners of the house or are attached to the waist of hunters or traditional chiefs and doctors. Feathers of the Crowned Eagle and Fishing Owl are always seen above doors of certain hunters as a sign of wisdom and courage. Red feathers of the Grey Parrot and Green Turaco are fixed on the cap of members of the traditional society in villages to mark their courage, and marking them as not being a common person, thus held in high esteem. Feathers of the cock, Hornbills and large birds are put on the cap of some elders for the same purposes. In most families, the gizzard, liver and lungs are eaten only by the family head or their heir; this is believed to give them power and supremacy. The arrival of the Barn (European) Swallow in the region in November/December is a sign of the beginning of the dry season. Pets are becoming more frequent in our society especially among children. They hunt Pigeons, Parrots, Lovebirds, Mannikins, Cordon Bleus, Finches, Seed-crackers and Malimbes, keep them in cages and take care of them, thus attracting people even from far. This has gone a long way to generate income. Other uses include personal adornments and general decorations. Thus, feathers and bills of big Hornbills are used in making dresses, especially the ’’juju dresses’’ used during traditional dances. Birds also have negative impacts on man, as Weavers, Sparrows, Francolins are known to destroy maize crops ready to harvest. Francolins, Doves and Pigeons also destroy prepared farms after tilling and planting to pick out planted grains. Traditional practices using Parrots, Hornbills, Eagles and Turacos for individual protection and honors in rural areas, have been observed as becoming a threat as some species become rare due to an over harvest and export of great quantities to Nigeria where such products are expensive.


8 – The Spotted Nightjar calls when Dingo pups are born: Birds as indicators in the Arandic region of Central Australia.

Dr Myfany Turpin and Veronica Dobson

Research Fellow, Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Griffith University

PO Box 3428, South Brisbane QLD 4101, Australia

In many cultures birds indicate things in the environment and can be harbingers of bad news through their role in mythology. Birds can signal where water can be found, the presence of game or other food, seasonal events, as well as danger or bad news.

In the course of linguistic documentation of Arandic languages, a group of related Aboriginal languages spoken in Central Australia, I collaborated on a project with scientists and Arandic speakers to document Arandic ways of reading the environment for impending cultural, ecological and meteorological events. In this paper I discuss some results of this project and methodological issues involved.

The project collated existing Arandic languages materials on this topic to create a text database. The database was sorted by either the sign (e.g. Spotted Nightjar) or signifier (e.g. Dingo pups). This was used as a stimulus for discussion with senior Arandic speakers. We found that a sign could have different meanings in different contexts or through different behaviors, and that there was some variability across the different languages, although particular signs were widespread. Whilst our project was to document all kinds of signs, birds were by far the largest category.

Arandic languages are highly endangered and speakers are gravely concerned that their languages are at risk. As a resource for learning and promoting Arandic knowledge, the project produced a series of bird posters. Each poster includes a photograph of the bird, its Aboriginal, scientific and common name, and information about what it signifies with an English translation. The posters group birds according to Arandic taxonomies, such as food signaling birds. These posters have also proven to be valuable for the elicitation of other aspects of local bird knowledge, including behavior, habitats, breeding biology and links to cultural and traditional beliefs and customs.

Session co-chairs:

1 – Fleur Ng’weno,

Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society

Mailing address: P.O. Box 44486, Nairobi 00100, Kenya

2: Bob Gosford,

Ethnoornithology Research & Study Group

Mailing address: post Office Box 4842

Alice Springs,

Northern Territory, 0872, Australia