Birds are easily one of the most noticeable animals in the environment. Birds can improve our quality of life as they connect us with nature and remind us to coexist peacefully with wildlife. Birds also play unique roles in the environment and can be wonderful allies to the human being. In this article, we analyze how birds help the environment and how their behavior can be helpful to us.

How birds help the environment

Birds are widely recognized as environmental indicators giving us useful clues about the condition of our immediate surroundings. It is interesting to note that we can know so much about our immediate environment by simply observing them or employing much more detailed scientific procedures to study them.

Birds as reliable weather alarms

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

Some bird species in Ghana and other parts of Africa are vital components of farming traditions. Specimens like the Abdim’s Stork, White-throated Bee-eater, Yellow-billed Kite, Klaas’s and Diedrik Cuckoo are regarded as the harbinger of rain and considered a good omen as they signal the coming of rains for the farming season.

In the farming areas of Ghana, such as parts of the Western, Eastern, Ashanti, Northern and Bono region the sighing of these birds by farmers signal the onset of rains. These birds are intra-African migrants; that is birds that make seasonal movements in response to rain. 

So whenever you observe any of these birds in your backyard or flying over your car on your way to work, just smile because we are going to have a bumper harvest in the coming farming season.

In some parts of Africa, these birds are respected and protected because they are a valuable component of local traditions. Although these birds face various threats such as unstable climate and habitat loss, we can support them by ensuring we live sustainably and by supporting and taking care of our wildlife sanctuaries.

Birds as signals of environmental quality

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius

All components of nature are linked to one another in very unique ways. Birds interact with themselves, other groups of animals, plants and other features like water sources and rock formations. Many birds are only found in environments with an abundance of quality food. 

The absence of birds in general or specific birds in a particular area can be an indication that the environment has been altered somehow. For instance, the Pied Crow is a scavenger that feeds mostly on garbage, so the presence of more of these species in an area is a signal of improper waste management.

Many species of Eagles, Hawks and Kites have become less common because of the loss of forest cover that harbors other animals like rodents and lizards that they consume. In the same manner, many common water birds are not so common anymore in Ghana due to the loss of or shrinking of water bodies that support their lifecycle. This alteration of the environment also affects us as we also depend on the environment for our basic needs. 

Birds can warn us about environmental disasters

The Pied Crow Corvus albus

Ever heard the idiom “Canary in the coal mine”? Well, many decades ago, birds were used to detect toxic carbon monoxide in coal mines so as to prevent miners from being hurt from exposure to gas. 

Although this practice has ended, it has provided insight into how sensitive birds are and how much about the threats in the environment we can avoid by paying close attention to them. Birds also have the incredible ability to detect low-frequency infrasounds which makes it possible for them to intercept and escape from tsunamis and storms. 

In 2014, scientists in the US had evidence of birds evacuating and escaping from a series of tornadoes that resulted in 35 human casualties and destroyed infrastructure worth US $ 1 billion. Scientists tracking Golden-winged Warblers observed that the birds fled by flying 1,500km away at least 24 hours before the disaster hit. 

This led them to deduce that the birds heard the storm system from more than 400 kilometres away. This means we can harness this incredible potential by paying close attention to birds in the environment.

Birds can warn us about disease outbreaks

The Piapiac Ptilostomus afer

Birds have been used extensively in disease surveillance projects to detect and prevent disease outbreaks in the environment. This surveillance in wild birds is conducted to facilitate early detection and awareness of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. Avian influenza is a viral disease that has the potential to kill domestic poultry. 

It is still a serious global disease with the potential to endanger wildlife, agriculture, and human health. By studying these wild birds we can ensure an early detection system for the agricultural sector and create a pathway for enhanced biological security in poultry facilities. As a reward, we get to; save tons of money that may have been used for viral disease eradication, and ensure food availability and overall human well-being.

It is so amazing to see how well these feathery creatures connect us to the environment. Birds provide an excellent window for us to look through and see the beauty in nature. The early morning chirpings and whistles of these birds are to remind us that we are alive in a world that needs our attention. 

A report published by BirdLife in 2021 found that aside from the enjoyment we derive from stepping into nature, seeing or hearing birds has an overall positive impact on mental well-being. This means that for the environment and us humans, interactions with birds will always be a win-win. 

Bird watching in Ghana

An example of Ghana Wildlife Society’s monthly bird walk poster

Bird watching in Ghana is fast becoming a stimulating outdoor activity for a number of people. So many people have begun to plug into bird watching as a safe means to enjoy the ambience of nature and also to stay mentally and physically fit. 

For this reason, the Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS) birding group organizes monthly bird walks so that people can frequently connect with nature in some of Accra’s birding hotspots. These monthly bird walks are usually held on the first Saturday (sometimes the second) of every month.

These walks offer an excellent avenue to learn more about birds and the incredible services they offer us and our environment. So please, whenever you visit Ghana, please join us so we can bird it to stay fit.