Two years ago this month I was at Montpelier in southern France for the 12th Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology (distinct from the Society of Ethnobiology, the subject of my previous post).

Going through some files from around that time I noted that I’d failed to post the abstracts from the Ethnoornithology session at that meeting.

It was a great session with a wide ranging set of papers from across the ethnoornithological globe of research. The theme of the session, which I was lucky enough to co-chair with the wonderful Fleur Ng’weno from Kenya, was “Birds and People – research from 4 continents.


“Birds and People – research from 4 continents”

Co-Chairs: Bob Gosford ([email protected]) & Fleur Ng’weno ([email protected])

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

A number of themes have emerged from the recent renewed interest and concentration on ethnoornithology, including: 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.

We will examine some innovative practical examples (short films, posters, first-language field-guides and checklists, etc.) that field researchers have developed to assist with their research.

Oral presentations

1 – Cultural ecologies of vultures and eagles in Modern Greece 

Kalliopi Stara, Rigas Tsiakiris & Lavrentis Sidiropoulos 

Email: [email protected] 

Abstract: The modernization and subsequent dramatic changes of rural practices in Europe have presented new challenges to European landscapes and related bio-cultural diversity. Using ethnographic methods we have studied in the last 10 years the conceptualization of vultures and eagles, the charismatic avian species of mountainous Greece. These emblematic birds function as cultural symbols in popular perceptions, political representations, local cosmologies and moral codes.

The special relation of carrion eating birds with death and unburied corpses is received as demonic in newer Orthodox Greece and conceptualizes them as wild, set apart and ominous creatures. That is confirmed by purification ceremonies of parts of the birds, in order to be used as artifacts (e.g. bones for making flutes) and magic actions, which aim to protect the humanized world from the dangerous and raw forces of nature.

However a marvellous exception confirms the different rules of scientific and folk taxonomies. The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) , one of the four vulture species that breeds in Europe, is categorized with the beloved migratory birds and not with the “ugly” carrion eating “impure” vultures. Its arrival at the spring equinox renders it as protagonist in passage and incorporation rites, such as ceremonial children songs and health or dairy product quality forecast.

Contrary to other vulture species, the Egyptian vulture instead of mediating at the circle of life, it does so at the circle of time and concretely at the momentous, for rural societies, passage from winter to spring.

Moreover, the 19 local names of the species describe its morphological characteristics, biotope, alimentary habits, and cultural value.

This exceptionally diverse for a single species folklore reveals the “linguistic ecology” of a globally endangered species that suffers another “tragedy of the commons” and at the same time the accompanied loss of ecological knowledge and cultural significance.

2 – Bird agrodiversity in home-gardens of seven ethnic groups in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico      

Martha Patricia Jerez-Salas, Marco A. Vásquez-Dávila, Fabiola Jiménez-Cubas, Juan E. Jiménez-Díaz, Marco A Cruz-Jacinto, Reina Allende-Nazario, Rosalinda Vásquez-Cruz, Fredy De la Cruz-Montesino

Email: [email protected]; [email protected]

Abstract: This presentation examines the avian agrodiversity species in an area managed by human beings, as well as genetic diversity of domestic birds and social aspects such as knowledge, management, economics and organization, among others.

The homegardens surrounding the houses of the families of the Zapotec, Chontal, Mazatec, Triqui, Mixtecs, Mixes and Tzeltal (indigenous people of Oaxaca and Chiapas), contains a unique bird agrobiodiversity: along with multiple phenotypic groups of chickens (Gallus gallus), turkeys (Melleagris gallopavo) and ducks (Cairina moschata), live in this anthropogenic space interesting wild birds like Burhinus bistratus, Ortalis vetula, Dendrocigna autumnalis, Ara macao and Crax rubra.

For local people, the presence of wild birds and domestic poultry has a food, medicinal, ritual and recreational importance.

In general, the care and handling of the birds is done by women but sometimes the responsibility falls on men. Based on the phenotypic description, we documented the presence of birds from South America, North America, Europe and Asia.

In this presentation, we will show how the integrated management of domesticated and wild species reflects the seniority and expertise of ethno-ornithological knowledge of seven ethnic groups from Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.

3 – Ethno-ornithology of southern Mexico: history, current status and prospects       

Marco A. Vásquez-Dávila,Martha P. Jerez-Salas, Marco A. Cruz-Jacinto, Juan E. Jiménez-Díaz, Fabiola Jiménez-Cubas, Rosalinda Vásquez-Cruz, Fredy De la Cruz-Montesino.

Email: [email protected]; [email protected] 

Abstract: Southern México is part of Mesoamerica, an area highly biodiverse and with a great cultural diversity.

This paper relate how – at the end of the eighties – our team began to study ethno ornithology in this biocultural area in two fields: a) ethnoecology of relationships between birds, plant and humans in the state of Tabasco and b) Traditional breeding of Gallus gallus in Oaxaca.

Afterwards we documented how the Zapotec and Mixtec used the birds to predict the weather.

We conducted ethno-ornithological research with six ethnic groups of Oaxaca (Chontals, South Zapotecs, Mazatecs, Huaves, Triquis and Mixes); in the state of Chiapas we have worked with Lacandons and Tseltals.

In our paper, besides the taxonomy, we address historical and social aspects as worldview (myths, values, and beliefs), knowledge (ethno-anatomy, ethno-ecology and ethno-ethology); use (food, medicinal, ornamental, company) and management (hunting, gathering and breeding in captivity) of wild and domestic birds like chickens, turkeys and ducks. In all cases, birds have ritual significance and are part of ethnic identity.

It is noteworthy that other authors have provided valuable information on ethno-ornithology of the ethnic groups: Chinantec, Cuicatec, Northern Zapotec and Amuzgo.

In this presentation, we will discuss the prospects of our work in at least two fields: 1) a theoretical and methodological framework and 2) an Ethno-Ornithological Atlas of southern Mexico, an area of biocultural importance worldwide.

4 – Some Reflections from Compiling a Hausa Bird Lexicon 

Adam Manvell, United Kingdom

Email: [email protected] 

Abstract: Hausa is a major Sub-Saharan language spoken as a first language by perhaps as many as 40 million people.

The core Hausa speaking area stretches across most of the northern Nigerian states and much of southern Niger, an area approximately the size of Germany (a little larger than Côte d’Ivoire).

In 2002, as a pleasurable aside to my doctoral research, I compiled a provisional list of Hausa bird names with a local hunter, and since then I have looked for comparative names in my spare time.

So far, I have located eleven additional sources, including two unpublished lists and several lurking in hard to find publications. They have been composed in different ways and at various times and places over a period spanning almost one hundred years.

In uniting these into a preliminary lexicon, several interesting questions have come to mind, which I would like to share and discuss:

The diversity and importance of methods used to ascribe Hausa name(s) to a specie(s): how best to do it?

The value of identifying not only the naming informant(s) in time and space, but also socially: which people hold what bird name vocabularies and why might they retain or change elements of them?

Some characteristics of the names so far collated: does your ‘step on lily‘ lay eggs?

What could a more socio-geographic approach to the recording of Hausa bird names tell us about language change?

5 – The identification and analysis of feathers and animal hair in Te Papa’s Māori cloaks

Hokimate Pamela Harwood

Email: [email protected] 

Abstract: The Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa) holds more than 200 cloaks (kākahu) that incorporate feathers and hair.

In 2007 the feathers of more than 18 native and 8 introduced bird species were identified in Te Papa’s Māori cloaks using the microscopic analysis of the feather down to allocate bird order, comparisons of feather morphology in museum bird skins then determined species where possible (Harwood, 2011).

Taxonomic studies based on microscopic feather structures were initiated by Chandler (1916), and then supported by Laybourne and Dove (1994) in the identification of bird strike remains in the USA. Microscopic analysis has proven successful in identifying feathers and in some cases determining provenance of ethnological collections in American museums (Pearlstein, 2010).

More recently, the identification of mammalian hair in Te Papa’s Māori cloaks was conducted by replicating forensic studies that compare the microscopic scaling (cuticular) patterns of the hair shaft and internal medulla characteristics against a reference hair database (Petraco & Kubic, 2004; Teerink, 1991).

The verification of hair from the native kurī (Polynesian dog: Canis lupis domesticus)) in Te Papa’s Māori cloaks, and the introduced feral goat and Angora goat in later cloaks illustrated the gradual extinction and replacement of the kurī dog breed as it interbred with introduced European dogs in the1800s.

Methodologies and significant findings from the feather and hair identification of Te Papa’s Māori cloaks will be discussed.  Examples showing how feathers and hair were attached and why certain species may have been used will be highlighted.

The recovered knowledge regarding the use of materials and techniques by Māori weavers has provided an appreciation of the innovative inclusion of a wide range of native and introduced bird and mammal species in 19th century Māori museum cloaks not fully recorded until now.

Finally, I It is suggested that the identification of feathers and hair in taonga Māori (particularly cloaks) in museum collections warrants further research.  Current projects using DNA and isotopic analyses of cloak materials such as feathers, hair and New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.) proposing to reconnect selected kākahu with their geographic origins are explored.

6 – Observations of bird activities in Katanga (DR Congo): comparing local interpretation with the “scientific” version 

Michel Hasson, Michel Louette

Email: [email protected] 

Abstract: During the preparations of the manuscript for the book “Birds of Katanga”, many interviews were taken from local people.

On many occasions they had a good interpretation of bird behaviour they had observed, but there are some examples of wrong interpretation as well.

Example: African Broadbill Smithornis capensis.

The male and female both engage in courtship flights. During this small circular flight with a short radius, a very loud vibration noise is emitted by the rustling of the primary feathers when flapping the wings. These sounds are not vocal. This circular flight with a characteristic noise can be heard all year, but peaks in the late dry season.

In Katanga it is believed that this bird must be crazy when it conducts its circular flight, based on the fact that the partner is never visible near the bird that performs, and that they have no idea that the noise could be the desired effect.  They therefore do not interpret this activity as a love parade.

Also, there are some stories told by people from the bush in Katanga that do not have an observation background.

7 – A bird’s eye view – the recent revival of ethnoornithology on four continents. 2005 to 2012 

Robert Gosford

Email: [email protected]

Abstract: In this paper I will present an overview of the recent international revival of interest in the ethnobiological sub-discipline of ethnoornithology.

In 2005 the biennial Australasian Ornithological Conference was the venue for the first day-long session dedicated to ethnoornithology at an international conference. This has been followed by numerous similar sessions and symposia at national and international conferences in a variety of disciplines.

Here I want to discuss some aspects of the recent flourishing and revival of ethnoornithology as an area for study, with particular emphasis on the practical application of ethnoornithological knowledge to indigenous and non-indigenous land management and the opportunities that ethnoornithology offers young students looking for interesting and relevant areas for study.

8 – The relationship between the Daily life of the Baka and bird calls in Southeast Cameroon

Yushi Yanohara

Email: [email protected]

Abstract: The Baka hunter-gathers of the tropical forest in the western Congo Basin have drawn the attention of anthropologists with their distinctive culture that is both reliant on and inseparable from their environment.

It has been hypothesized that their development into the “Pygmy” form has been an adaptive measure to ensure that they are physically suited to their environment. Other environmental factors, such as their restricted ability to see long distances due to the densely forested surrounds has contributed to the heightening of sensory abilities such as auditory and acoustical abilities.

Any sound in the forest can be an important daily information source, and the sounds of birds are an indispensable indicator of the ever-changing environment in the forest.

In this presentation, I would like to show a short film of the daily life of Baka with the constant background of bird song clearly evident. Segments of the film explain the significance of specific birds in their culture and society by analysing their appearances in Likano, a fable sang often to children.

9 – The birds of Kuna Yala (Panama): Inventory, ethnotaxonomy and tourism

Monica Martinez Mauri

Email: [email protected]

Abstract: The birds living in the forests of comarca Kuna Yala in Panama, and the way in which Kuna people classify the world of nature, are fields of research little explored by Panamanian ethnography and tropical biology. In Panama, there is no systematic study of indigenous systems of classification of birds.

The project “The birds of the Western sector of Kuna Yala: Inventory, ethnotaxonomy and tourism” founded by the Secretaria Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENACYT) (2010-2013) has built up a biological inventory of the birds of the region and tries to document the traditional knowledge of the Kuna people regarding their cosmology, their traditional ways of survival and use of natural resources.

The project aims to promote ecotourism in the region, develop guiding and checklists and train local guides. In this paper we seek to illustrate the work being undertaken by anthropologists and biologists with indigenous people to promote birding tourism. We will examine the development of the project, the goals and main results. (For more information:

10 – A ‘Mildly Interdependent Relationship’ between Local People and A Protected Wild Parrot Species through Indigenous Arboriculture

Masatoshi Sasaoka, Yves Laumonier 

Email: [email protected]; [email protected] 

Abstract: Manusela National Park in Central Maluku, east Indonesia was established in 1997. One of its main management objectives is to help conserve a CITES1-listed, protected wild parrot endemic to Seram Island, the Mollucan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis).

In this area, arboriculture (cultivation, protection and use of arboreal plant species) has been playing an important role in sustaining local livelihoods. Local people living in the uplands near the park create and maintain diverse human-modified forests such as forest gardens, damar forests and others through arboricultural practices.

Although current Indonesian law prohibits all agricultural activities inside national parks, some of these forests are located inside the park.

This study attempts 1) to shed light on how local people create and maintain human-modified forests through arboriculture; and 2) to clarify the relationship between the local people and the Mollucan cockatoo; and then 3) to discuss implications for future conservation.

Field research was conducted intermittently between 2003 and 2010 in a village, located in the forest interior of central Seram near Manusela National Park. Data was collected through interviews, participatory mapping, and participatory observation.

The cockatoos frequently use forest gardens and damar forests as foraging and nesting sites. Local people occasionally trap parrots attracted to these forests and sell them to intermediaries in coastal areas, thus earning some money in times of hardship.

This indicates a ‘mildly interdependent relationship’ between the Mollucan cockatoo and humans seems to have formed through indigenous arboriculture.

There is a possibility that the current national park management’s measure to strictly exclude any human intervention through agriculture inside the park is inappropriate to parrot conservation.

It may be more important to maintain these human-induced habitats formed through arboriculture than to protect parrots by separating human resource use areas and parrot habitats. Further study is needed to explore how and to what extent indigenous arboriculture affects the possibility of coexistence between local people and protected parrots.

11 – Exploring perceptions of birdsong as a restorative stimulus

Eleanor Ratcliffe, Birgitta Gatersleben, Paul Sowden 

Email: [email protected]  

Abstract: Natural environments can facilitate restoration from fatigue and stress (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Ulrich, 1983). Restoration literature has largely focused on visual experience of nature, but recent studies have indicated the importance of audio stimuli in such environments; e.g. Alvarsson et al. (2010) found that birdsong with water was rated as more pleasant than urban sounds.

However, the authors are unaware of any published studies on restorative perceptions of isolated birdsong, or how such perceptions may vary between British and non-British birds.

These questions will be addressed through an exploratory qualitative study with participants resident in the UK, covering topics such as: sounds associated with nature, including birdsong, and psychological states generated by them; preference for and restorative perceptions of different bird songs; and familiarity and associations with different bird songs.

It is expected that birdsong will be related to positive perceptions of nature, and that preference and perceptions of restoration, as well as familiarity and associations, will vary between bird songs.

Study of restorative perceptions of birdsong will extend current work on multi-sensory restoration. Exploring responses to and associations with different bird songs may also clarify whether restoration is related to symbolic or perceptual qualities of a stimulus, or both.

This work aims to increase public engagement with nature by exploring psychological benefits of multi-sensory nature experience, thereby supporting evidence-based policy for conservation groups.

12 – Advocacy in Conservation Intervention on Cultural Ceremonies of the Loita Maasai of Kenya and Use of Birds in Head Gear. (not presented)

Mercy Njeri Muiruri

Email: [email protected]

Abstract: Loita Maasai is predominantly a pastoral community which occupies southern parts of Kenya and the northern districts of Tanzania. They still uphold their traditional lifestyle characterized by various ceremonies that mark specific stages and times of life existence.

There are specific ceremonies especially those of passing from one stage to the other, one “Emurata” initiation which involve serious killing of important birds species selected with reference to beauty and high socio- cultural values in the community to make a “Mutonyi” or head dress. Some of these birds’ species are rare, threatened or endangered according to the IUCN red data list.

The Maasai value their cultural ceremonies and therefore the demand for these birds is bound to persist to the future. While there are strong indications that the Schalow’s Turacos Turaco schalowi, has been significantly affected by the hunting, data on actual status is lacking.  The cause of decline on birds population in Loita Forests is not clear.

However, effects on human disturbances and climate change among many other factors, may have contributed directly to the decline of the birds species in Loita, Forests. Therefore, project is an appropriate and relevant initiative and concept, given the existing threats to indigenous knowledge about birds, culture, and the need for strengthening ways and means for indigenous peoples to confront these threats.

As well as support for the protection of indigenous knowledge by strengthening local people to do so themselves.

This paper therefore, is focused on advocacy for total abandonment of killing of birds, by considering possible conservation intervention, whereby, the community can practice sustainable use of birds by promoting an alternative measures such as use of beaded head dress which culturally services the same purpose as the “Mutonyi,” for conservation purpose.

13 – From Semantics to Culture: Ornithological Knowledge in Some Amerindian Languages of French Guyana

François Nemo, Pierre Grenand, Françoise Grenand, Antonia Cristinoi

Email: [email protected] 

Abstract: The aim of this communication is to present a study about ornithological knowledge among the Palikur and Wayampi of French Guyana. It is based on in-depth ethnolinguistic and ethnobiological fieldwork and will deal with all aspects of the issue, from the most linguistic ones to the most cultural ones.

As for linguistic and semantic issues, it will be shown that bird classification is multi-dimensional and that it is in fact the co-existence of various criteria which leads to the existence of a different layering from one group of birds to the other. It will also be shown that despite the cognitively performative nature of bird naming, the relationship between naming and knowing is in fact a complex one, which deserves a study on its own.

As for semantic theory, it will be shown that naming is ultimately based on semantic and cultural characterization rather than a process of categorization or shared properties. Similarly, the necessity of naming will be strongly distinguished with the necessity of identifying, showing that the huge diversity of criteria used in actual bird identification is irrelevant in the study of bird’s names and, the other way round, that naming is only the final step of an identification process.

The different criteria that are used in bird’s classification will be described one by one, and related with their cultural counterpart.

The co-existence of these criteria and the way they interfere will be described, showing ultimately that the impossibility to reduce semantics to the study of the sign/world relationship is due to the fact that in human languages the world does not exist independently of the human/world relationship, and consequently that signs, if anything, point at this human/world relationship rather than to the world itself.

A comparison of these folk classification systems with scientific classification will be made