Regular readers will know that I’ve been attending—and presenting—at various meetings of different ethnobiological and related associations over the past two decades, starting with Australasian Ornithological Conferences as far back as 2001 and (fairly) regularly at a variety of Australian and international meetings since then.

COVID-19, work and a patch of ill health has prevented me travelling out of Australia since my last trip to the beautiful south-west of the US in late 2019 and to Singapore and Penang in Malaysia in early 2020, with me skating back home weeks before the world shut down for the next couple of years.

I’ve stared down the occasional bout of cabin fever and the disappointment of a missed trip to New Mexico in October last year but have nonetheless been well keen to get out of the country and explore new parts of the world again.

So, I’m looking forward to checking in a few plane and train tickets with my name on them and heading back to the US, where the main object will be attending at this year’s Society of Ethnobiology meeting in St Louis at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

I’ll be presenting as part of a small group in a session entitled The Ethnobiology of Birds and the session outline and my paper abstract is below.

I’ll be reporting on lots of other aspects of the conference and my trip so keep an eye out for future posts here..

You can read more about the Conference here and the great work the Society of Ethnobiology does at their home page here.

The Ethnobiology of Birds

Session Organizer(s)/Chair(s): Stephanie C. Kane, PhD – Indiana University

Description.

On the edges of noisy cities and in the deep quiet of forests, avian worlds are part of human worlds.

This session brings together those who have researched, thought and written about birds and their relations to humans in ecologies, biomes, stories, flyways, backyards, languages, laws and policies, and spiritual arts.

The aim is to enroll birds as allies in a broad-scope and collective ethnobiological project to understand how to respond creatively and justly to key planetary transformations.

Presentations

Garrkan: An Avian “Troublemaker For Fire”
By Bob Gosford and Mark Bonta

In 2017 colleagues and I documented preliminary research and findings on intentional fire-spreading behaviour by several Australian raptors.

That publication, though primarily based on direct observations by non-Aboriginal land managers, briefly noted the centrality of Aboriginal knowledge of this behaviour to our research and identified that knowledge base as a future research priority.

Following up on that work, we have concentrated on two primary research tasks. Firstly, reviewing interviews conducted between 2009 and 2017 with knowledge holders and land managers and second, further interviews with Aboriginal landowners, knowledge holders and land managers to 2023.

In this presentation we will examine the important roles that Garrkan­­—the Brown Falcon, Falco berigora—is accorded as a landscape-scale land manager through the manipulation of wildfire, as a cultural actor in traditional ceremonies and in cultural practices and beliefs, and as a “troublemaker for fire.” We will summarise prospects for future collaborative research.

The Aztec Fascination with Birds: Deciphering 16th-Century Sources in Nahuatl
By Eugene Hunn, University of Washington

Documenting how local communities recognize and name the distinctive elements of their biodiverse environment provides a solid foundation for understanding how we humans engage the wider society of sentient beings, the core of the ethnographic enterprise.

Among the earliest systematic ethnographies is Sahagún’s encyclopedic documentation of Aztec life, accessible in the original Náhuatl, with a parallel English translation (Florentine Codex).

The largest Codex volume is devoted to ”Earthly Things,” including a chapter describing “all the birds” (tōtō-tl).

To translate the birds named, described, and illustrated in the Codex, I offer my best educated guesses as to the correspondence of each Náhuatl bird name to one or more Linnean taxa based on each bird’s morphology, vocalizations, habitat, and seasonal movements, as described by the Aztec scribes.

My confidence in my “educated guesses” varies, but I offer reasoned justifications for 131 of 135 categories named in the Codex.

The Choreography of Biodiverse Belonging: Flamingos, Spoonbills, and Godwits Foraging in Lisbon’s Mudflats
By Stephanie C. Kane, Indiana University Bloomington

This paper presents my open-ended experiment using ethnographic methods to ask biological questions about the socio-spatial dynamics of bird foraging activities in urban edge habitat.

Most days for six-weeks before and after low tide in fall 2023, I assumed my post on top of an outlet pipe to record observations in an estuarial node of the East Atlantic flyway.

The resulting landscape drawings and text, Android phone photos and video harmlessly capture small flocks moving linearly along the water’s edge and as clustered companions spreading out across the mudflats, their bills rarely lifting up from the bubbling sediment: a thick description of biodiversity.

Data analysis will characterize the gestures, body shapes, and foraging styles of flamingos, spoonbills, and godwits as they enact the 21st century trophic ecology of waders.

The findings will highlight multi-species urban liveliness in a revitalized and densely populated post-industrial coast and pose questions about the nature of site fidelity and belonging.