Thinking about the forests and landscapes that most of us are familiar with, this question presents an interesting thought exercise. It is a hypothetical question that allows us to consider how birds contribute to our experience of the surrounding environment and the role they play in ecosystems.
On the island of Guam, this question is no longer hypothetical. Due to the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) after World War II, the absence of birds is the reality in most of the island’s forests.
So what is a forest like without birds?
The first thing one notices is the eerie silence that proliferates throughout the jungle. A breeze rustles leaves in the trees, toads chirp, an occasional monitor lizard scurries away, but the twittering song of birds is rare. The second immediate observation is the great abundance of spiders and webs woven between branches. Noticeable, in that it is difficult to navigate through the trees without accepting a mask of cobwebs to one’s face. While the image created is rather spooky (coupled with the presence of the taotaomo’na, local ancestral spirits who reside within the land), the jungle ecosystem is complex and still retains much of its beauty.