Douglas Russell, a senior curator at London’s Pure Historical past Museum, was analyzing a set of nests gathered on the island of Guam when he made an unsettling discovery.

“The nests had been picked up greater than 100 years in the past, and I used to be curating them with the purpose of including them to the museum’s predominant assortment. They turned out to be some of the tragic, saddest accumulations of objects I’ve ever needed to cope with,” Russell instructed the Observer final week.

In virtually each case, the nests belonged to birds that had as soon as thrived on the western Pacific island however which had been now extinct. “A dozen species, many distinctive to Guam, had been worn out since these nests had been collected. All that was left was this grim reminder of wildlife that after flourished on the island.”

As to the reason for this devastation, conservationists blame brown tree snakes, which had been delivered to the island on US transport – in all probability as stowaways on navy ships – on the finish of the second world warfare. These knowledgeable climbers spend their time on excessive branches, the place they eat birds and their eggs. They slowly swept by Guam’s forests in the course of the latter half of the final century.

Big numbers of indigenous mammals, lizards and birds, together with the Guam rail and the Guam flycatcher, had been worn out in its wake. Inside a number of many years, Boiga irregularis had silenced the island’s forests.

Brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) had been launched to the island of Guam on the finish of the second world warfare and wreaked havoc on indigenous populations of birds, mammals and lizards. {Photograph}: Biosphoto/Alamy

It’s an unsettling story that will probably be highlighted at Birds: Sensible and Weird, which opens on 24 Could on the Pure Historical past Museum. The exhibition will reveal how birds advanced from a bunch of meat-eating dinosaurs known as theropods and ultimately unfold throughout the planet to decide on all its continents.

As we speak there are greater than 11,000 species of birds on Earth and the exhibition will reveal the various unusual methods they’ve discovered to outlive. Some bathe in formic acid to kill off parasites. Others, such because the vampire finch, suck blood for meals.

The present may also concentrate on the affect that people are having on birds and their habitats, and the story of the brown tree snake will present a key show that may embody a picture of one of many Guam flycatcher’s nests that Russell has studied, a logo of a species misplaced to the world due to human interference.

“Nests have just one function,” stated Russell, whose e-book, Interesting Chicken Nests and Eggs, will probably be revealed in September. “They exist to assist to nurture future generations of life, and there’s something significantly tragic about a nest which can by no means see a reside chicken inside it.”

Many efforts are being made to revive the fortunes of Guam’s misplaced birds, together with a global undertaking backed by the Zoological Society of London and a number of other US universities. It goals to return Guam kingfishers to the wild this yr utilizing birds bred from members of the species that had been rescued simply earlier than the kingfishers succumbed to the predations of the brown tree snake. These captive-bred birds will probably be launched on one other Pacific island, Palmyra Atoll, which is freed from predators.

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Nevertheless, the lack of these birds has had different worrying impacts on their habitat, as revealed in a paper in Nature Communications. Scientists at Iowa State College and different analysis centres discovered that the removing of birds that after thrived on native fruits on Guam “resulted within the full lack of seed dispersal there”. The consequence has been a discount within the progress of native bushes and a giant decline within the well being of ecosystems throughout the island, an commentary that underlines the important thing function of birds in sustaining the well being of habitats throughout the planet.

“Whenever you take out a complete group of organisms – for instance, its birdlife – from an ecosystem, you don’t simply lose these organisms. The entire ecosystem itself suffers, as we’re discovering out on Guam,” added Russell.

That is significantly worrying provided that brown tree snakes’ houses have been noticed in recent times on Saipan, an island north of Guam, added Russell. “There’s now a threat, a completely devastating one, that brown tree snakes may turn into established there. And that, after all, would have a horrible affect on the birdlife and habitats of the island.

“Birds are incredible creatures however they’re now very susceptible to the consequences of human behaviour. Folks ought to come from the exhibition with a way that we should study from our failures, and most significantly, defend and cherish what we’ve received left.”


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