Photograph by JOEL SARTORE
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Red lories (Eos bornea) at the Indianapolis Zoo. (Photographed for National Geographic’s Photo Ark project)

Photograph by JOEL SARTORE

This Is Why Birds Are Key to Conservation

Why National Geographic is launching the Year of the Bird

This story appears in the January 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.
‘If you take care of the birds, you take care of most of the big problems in the world.’

That’s what Thomas Lovejoy says, and he should know. The famed biologist and conservationist, a National Geographic–funded scientist, helped introduce the term “biological diversity” to the world. And he long predicted that by early in the 21st century, the Earth would start losing a dramatic number of species—a prediction, unfortunately, that is turning out to be spot-on.

We were taken with Lovejoy’s quote about birds and decided to use it as a launchpad for what we’re calling the Year of the Bird. In this 12-month multiplatform exploration—with our partners from the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology—we’ll examine how our changing environment is leading to dramatic losses among bird species around the globe. And just as important, we’ll document what we can do about it.

At National Geographic we’ve been looking at the planet’s health from a bird’s-eye view for a long time. This magazine has featured birds on its cover more often than it has featured other popular creatures—at least 30 times, compared with 13 times for apes. And the National Geographic Society has awarded hundreds of grants for ornithology research and projects.

In 2018—the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects more than 1,025 species—we’ll take our coverage of topics affecting birds to a new level. In this issue we launch a year of storytelling with “Why Birds Matter,” an essay by best-selling author Jonathan Franzen. It’s paired with remarkable avian portraits created by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.

Why is National Geographic focusing so much attention on birds? That’s just another way of asking, as Franzen does, Why do birds matter? Among his eloquent answers: “They are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding.”

Thank you for reading National Geographic and joining with us in the Year of the Bird.

The program Planet of the Birds airs January 19 on Nat Geo WILD.

Throughout 2018, look for National Geographic’s Year of the Bird offerings: digital content, books, Traveler magazine stories, travel adventures built around birds—and community and social media experiences.