Will Birds Sing or Will They Be Silent? Our Choice is Their Fate
Originally published by Animals 24-7 on May 18, 2019.
By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
In “How chicken became the rich world’s most popular meat,” The Economist reported on January 19, 2019 that “the total mass of farmed chickens exceeds that of all other birds on the planet combined.” This startling news comprises 1) The unimaginable number and size of chickens suffering for food worldwide and 2) The disappearance of wild birds from the world. As the prison population of chickens grows, the number of birds living free declines. The dwindling population of free birds includes the chicken’s tropical forest ancestor and wild relative, the jungle fowl, whose habitat is being destroyed acre by acre, in part to grow soybeans for industrialized chickens.
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson opens chapter 8, “And No Birds Sing,” with the observation that
Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song. This sudden silencing of the song of birds, this obliteration of the color and beauty and interest they lend to our world have come about swiftly, insidiously, and unnoticed by those whose communities are as yet unaffected.
Silent Spring documents the effects of industrial chemicals on the planet and the reckless and careless conduct of human beings of which this chemical catastrophe is a prime example. When it first appeared in 1962, the book was ridiculed and dismissed by corporate interests; but even after Silent Spring was hailed, grudgingly or gratefully, for its accuracy and justifiable urgency, nothing really changed. Half a century later, wild animals are being harmed and killed every day by pharmaceutical waste, plastics, poisons, and the aggregating crises of global heating.
Even so, more taxpayer dollars will probably be spent on trips to Mars and the moon than will ever be spent caring for the Earth and its creatures. Just last week, an MSNBC show host rhapsodized over a renovated Space program. Listening, I wondered – if he knew how his fellow earthling chickens are mired in misery and filth in metal sheds out of hell for his food – would he care?
Something I learned about chickens when I started knowing them decades ago is how vocally charged they are from morning to night. All day long I hear their voices outside ringing and singing. Since we built our predator-proof outdoor aviary in 2014, so that our roosters and hens could perch safely in the bushes and trees if they liked, I have felt the true sense of their vocal exuberance and how utterly their voices express their vitality. Their comical commotion each evening as they rustle around in the branches and leaves before settling down for the night evokes the tropical forest in which they evolved and the primal chords in the heart of each bird.
By contrast, if you open the door of a Tyson or Perdue chicken house after the newborns have been there a week or so, you will not hear a peep or a rustle. If you enter a facility where hens have been caged for eggs a few months, the sound of silence will strike you more forcibly than commotion. Of all the indicators of their suffering, the sound of thousands of chickens together, mute and unmoving, is the eeriest, most audible signal that something is wrong.
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson writes: “From all over the world come echoes of the peril that faces birds in our modern world.” I hope that her elegiac plea for attention and action for the birds included a thought for the chickens who, at that very time, were being taken from the land and put in concentration camps. There are now more chickens in those hopeless places than there are birds in the sky.
May is International Respect For Chickens Month. If you are not yet vegan, now is the time. Choosing to be vegan is a much bigger move for the betterment of “mankind” than flying to the moon or cultivating Mars.
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, she is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl (Lantern Books, 2019).