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Can I still tick it?

November 9, 2007

So the famous Green-breasted Mango from Wisconsin has been “saved”, details here. Humnet, the hummingbird listserve, is humming with speculation as to what’s going to happen to the bird, the news now looks like it was taken by a Wisconsin rehabber and will eventually end up at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. I’m not particularly a big fan of healthy, wild-caught birds in zoos. It makes me sad actually. It makes the US Legislature sad too, as evidenced by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which specifically says you can’t capture wild, healthy birds. Injured birds? Yeah sure, help them get better. Crippled birds? Absolutely keep them, they’re great educational tools. But the Wisconsin Mango is neither of these things. It was a bird that got its directions screwed up and ended up in Wisconsin when in needed to be in Oaxaca. Not an easy mistake to make.

I think the dreaded “Bambi Syndrome” is at work here. Hummingbirds are charismatic species and we certainly want to help them, but the world population of Green-breasted Mangos is in no way affected by the fate of this individual. And it’s the populations of birds that we need to worry about most when it comes to bird conservation. Ultimately I think the well-intentioned actions of the rehabber should be punished, as it’s not the sort of thing that should be encouraged. Healthy, wild birds should stay in the wild, it’s not for us to decide what is best for an individual bird with no apparent problems save its location.

When I volunteered at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences I often worked as a docent in the Living Conservatory, sort of a glasshouse that displayed free-flying specimens of Central American butterflies. There was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird also in the enclosure who had been injured late one summer, had been rehabbed and now lived in what essentially was a greenhouse. I remember working late in the fall when the bird practically went crazy flying back and forth against the window every single day. I assumed it was taking cues from the lessening sunlight to get out of Dodge and it desperately wanted to migrate. The bird eventually died, having only been in captivity for less than a year. The point? Hummingbirds make lousy pets. The Green-breasted Mango is going to die anyway, it likely won’t make a good cage bird if that truly is what they intend to use it for. If the end result is inevitable, it’s better to give it its shot out in the Wisconsin winter then stuck in a cage.

One Comment
  1. Anonymous permalink
    November 10, 2007 1:18 am

    I agree with you 100%. I went and saw the mango while it was still in the wild where it belongs. I now feel kind of dirty having seen it. I almost wish I hadn’t. I have no connection to what happened to it, but I still feel a bit guilty for some reason. Whatever rehabber did this should have their permit/license suspended until they have been sufficiently educated in the difference between healthy, wild bird and sick or injured bird. I also wonder about the ethics of a zoo accepting a bird captured under these circumstances.

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