The Year of the Bird on the Zambezi River

| Tamlin Wightman

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  “If you take care of the birds, you take care of most of the big environmental problems in the world.”
Thomas E. Lovejoy, Tropical Conservation Biologist & National Geographic Fellow

This year marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed, protecting more than 1,025 species.

In honour of this milestone, nature lovers around the world – including National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – are coming together to celebrate the Year of the Bird.

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On our river, we see the natural born twitchers, those to whom every year is the Year of the Bird. But we also see those who have not taken to the art of bird-watching so quickly.

What stalls this love affair might be a simple matter of size. It is often the bigger, louder things in life that attract our attention. But when we look closer, through the lens of a camera or binoculars, say, we discover more about the incredible beauty, wonder and significance of the little things in life. And our attention shifts.

Slowly but surely, it’s not only the roar of a lion that makes our heads turn. The call of the African Fish Eagle gets us too – has us spinning to spot the majestic raptor in flight or on a perch overlooking its kingdom.

When we glimpse a hawk circling upwards in the great open sky, it becomes near impossible to take our eyes off it. That freedom, that power, that oneness with the elements… it’s not something we as humans know well.

Watching the skimmers and pratincoles enjoying our river, we forget about everything else happening in the world. All that exists are the birds and their joy. Watching them build nests in the trees or on stumps in low water, with our guides playing Attenborough, morning turns to noon and night in a flick of a feather.

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In his National Geographic cover story, “Why Birds Matter,” Jonathan Franzen describes this affection for birdkind when he writes,

“When someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh and shake my head, as if I’ve been asked to explain why I love my brothers.”

But there’s more to it than that. The birds of the world are linked to everything that keeps us living here on earth. Their joy is our joy. Their health, our health.

This year, we will be celebrating the Year of the Bird, together with National Geographic, through storytelling, photography, bird-watching, and continuing to protect our piece of the Zambezi – a region identified by Bird Life International as an important birding area. Why not join in?

For more on doing your part, read below…

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How To Get Involved

Help build a better world for birds by taking a simple but meaningful action each month. – whether through habitat conservation, citizen science or bird-watching.

  • Become a twitcher: Take up birding with us on a birdwatching safari with local guides.
  • Read our blog for more about the birds of the Zambezi.
  • Sign the pledge at birdyourworld.org to join the flock, and share your actions using #BirdYourWorld and #YearoftheBird.
  • Follow National Geographic for monthly ideas to celebrate and conserve birdlife.
  • Share your photos of the birds of the Zambezi with us on Instagram – as part of the National Geographic Photo Ark’s mission to use the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk. Add the hashtags #theroyalchunduexperiene #BirdYourWorld #YearoftheBird. Learn more here.

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