I’m at the 35th annual Society of Ethnobiology conference at the Botanical Gardens in Denver, Colorado.

Here are the abstracts presented at a session dedicated to ethnoornithology at the meeting.

First up was Nicole Sault of the Sally Glean Center for the Avian Arts with her wonderful paper “Condor Calling: Ethno-ornithology in the Peruvian Andes.”

Throughout the Peruvian Andes condors embody key values, but they are also caught up in various conflicts that swirl through the air. While biologists and ornithologists have studied condors, their cultural meaning has not yet been fully addressed. Condors are valued but they are also controversial.

Biologists do not agree on the actual numbers of condors and what is causing populations to dwindle. Government agencies are promoting condor tourism, but interest in condors has had some unforeseen harmful consequences.

Members of indigenous communities hold condors in high regard, but do not agree on how condors should be treated, especially regarding rituals of sacrifice. Condors have also been affected by global warming and political strife. 

Based on ethno-ornithological research conducted in southern Peru, this presentation brings together the perspectives of scholars and local communities in an interdisciplinary approach that honors the role of indigenous communities in understanding these issues.

Nicole was followed by Kevin Jernigan and his paper entitled “Similarities and Differences in Aguaruna and Western Ornithological Perspectives on Amazonian Bird Ecology“. Kevin is from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Research was carried out in the Peruvian Amazon in seven Aguaruna communities with 58 participants, from 2010 to 2011, focusing on knowledge of ecological interactions between local birds and other plant and animal species.

The research sites correspond to a transition zone between lowland and montane tropical evergreen forest, with very high diversity of bird and plant species. Participants described the preferred diet, ecological habitats, foraging level, nesting habits, importance in seed dispersal and other significant ecological interactions of local bird species.

Participants’ basic descriptions of avian foraging and reproductive behaviour show many parallels with western ornithological descriptions. However some important differences are noted in conceptualization of complex ecological relationships such as lekking and obligate army ant following.

Aguaruna explanations for why these relationships occur tend to draw on a very different set of cultural assumptions and concept of history and are best understood within the framework of perspectivism.

Finally, me (Bob Gosford)  presented my paper looking at some of my work on Australian Aboriginal bird knowledge: “A tale of two Goatsuckers – Nightjars in Australian Aboriginal life.

The Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus and the Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus are two nocturnal birds that are rarely seen but that figure prominently in Australian Aboriginal social and religious life.

In this presentation I will discuss the role of these birds in Australian Aboriginal life and culture, exploring the depth and breadth of the occurrence of these birds in those domains.

I will present two case studies – one examining the role of the birds as complementary but very different symbols of semi-moieties in the north of western Australia, the second looking at the role of the bird in the religious life of the Warlpiri people of the central deserts.

It was a great meeting – though as I write this from the floor of the meeting it isn’t over yet. As usual we had a great time linking up with people not seen for a year or more – if not before.

A real highlight for me was catching up with Amadeo Rea, whose magistral book “Wings In The Desert ” on the ethnoornithology of the Northern Piman peoples is one of my all time favourites.

Anyway, must dash – sessions to catch!


Bob Gosford