Do you eat birds?
If you've eaten a turkey or a chicken nugget, then you've eaten a bird! Providing an important food source is just one way that birds are important to humans. In the United States, more than 230 million turkeys are consumed each year, with almost 50 million of those turkeys being eaten at Thanksgiving.
Importance of Birds
You are probably familiar with birds as food. Around the world, people consume chicken, turkey, and even more exotic birds, like ostriches. Can you think of other ways that birds are important?
Birds and Humans
- In agriculture, humans harvest bird droppings for use as fertilizer.
- Chickens are also used as an early warning system of human diseases, such as West Nile virus. Mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus, bite young chickens and other birds, and infect them with the virus. When chickens or other birds become infected, this warns humans that they may also become infected in the near future.
- Birds have important cultural relationships with humans. Birds are common pets in the Western world. Sometimes, people act cooperatively with birds. For example, the Borana people in Africa use birds to guide them to honey that they use in food.
- Birds also play prominent and diverse roles in folklore, religion, and popular culture. They have been featured in art since prehistoric times, when they appeared in early cave paintings.
Birds and the Ecosystem
In addition to being important parts of food webs, birds play other roles within ecosystems.
- Nectar-feeding birds are important pollinators, meaning they move the pollen from flower to flower to help fertilize the sex cells and create new plants.
- Many fruit-eating birds help disperse seeds. After eating fruit, they carry the seeds in their intestines and deposit them in new places.
- Birds are often important to island ecology. In New Zealand, the kereru and kokako are important browsers, or animals that eat or nibble on leaves, tender young shoots, or other vegetation (Figure below). Seabirds add nutrients to soil and to water with their production of guano, their dung.
The kereru (left) and the kokako (right) are important browser species in New Zealand
pollinator: Animal that transfers pollen from one flower to another.
guano: The dung of seabirds.
- Birds are important to humans in many ways, such as a source of food and fertilizer.
- Birds are important to the ecosystem in many ways, such as pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds.
Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.
- Why are seeds enclosed in a tasty pulp?
- Give two examples of how animals disperse seeds.
- How do plants disperse their seeds differently from animals? What advantage would these plants have if their were no animals? When do these plants appear in the fossil record?
- How many seabirds were there at the 19th century peak of guano collection? How many are there now? What direction is the population going?
- How has the Peruvian government changed the way guano is collected?
- For what are people using guano?
- How does climate affect the quality of bird guano? Why is this quality important to the use of guano as fertilizer?
- What are two ways birds are important to humans?
- What are two ways birds are important to the ecosystem?