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The Cost of Business

Deborah Kennedy

As we watch birds take flight, their dark wings beating against the sky, we often feel a part of ourselves ascend. As free as a bird is a well-worn metaphor suggesting this inner feeling. Unfortunately, today the freedom, health and lives of birds are increasingly limited  by many human activities and the majority of ordinary business activities. Their freedom and lives are curtailed by collisions with power lines, windmills, vehicles, and plate-glass windows. Their freedom to nest is lost as construction and extraction industries level forests, meadows, wetlands and other avian habitats. Their food sources, are destroyed or contaminated by the use of pesticides and herbicides. Cumulatively, these human activities that we all engage in or indirectly support are leading to devastating declines in bird populations across the globe.  Recent studies predict that if current trends continue, one quarter of all bird species will be extinct or near extinction by the end of this century.

In this art work, The Cost of Business, dress shirts hang by their cuffs in a gesture referencing  the flight of birds.  Bird silhouettes appear on each shirt.  Four shirts have been dipped in ash and show silhouettes of birds at risk of extinction. The cotton of  dress shirts is  grown using approximately four pounds of pesticides and herbicides to produce each pound of commercial cotton, exacting a terrible toll on the environment and bird populations. The bottles represent a stream of water--the  new technological stream of water that is widely used by most people and many in work environments today. It also references the widespread damage plastics are inflicting on bird populations. The cost of doing business is being paid in feathers.

Some of the primary causes of bird losses:

  • Loss of habitats, such as, forests, grasslands, and wetlands due to logging, mining, building development, cattle grazing and commercial farming.
  • Poisoning due to use of herbicides, pesticides, and other toxics used in manufacturing.
  • Mercury poisoning due to coal-fired power plants, incinerators and domestic products containing mercury.
  • Losses of 100 million or  more birds annually are attributed to collisions with plate glass windows. Power lines and windmills also kill large numbers of birds.
  • Plastic materials create deadly entanglements and are also eaten and mistakenly fed to young birds, especially by marine birds.

The good news:

  • Recently, an ivory-billed woodpecker, a species long thought to be extinct, was sighted in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas giving some hope that other species still survive in remote areas.
  • Many declines in bird populations have slowed when efforts to reduce levels of  mercury, DDT or other toxics in the environment have been successful.

  Help a bird today and we will help ourselves too!

  • Participate in clean-up days for beaches and other water ways.
  • Create a healthy yard for birds and other wildlife: bell or keep cats indoors, use native plants for landscaping, plant bushes with edible berries and nectar-bearing flowers, create porous surfaces to help protect our water, and offer well-maintained water features.
  • Work to preserve wetlands, forests, grasslands and other important bird habitats.
  • Help prevent plastic pollutionBreduce your use of and recycle all bags, styrofoam, and other plastics. Dispose of cigarette butts and all other plastic materials in secured garbage.
  • Reduce use of mercury and mercury-laden products. Dispose of all mercury-laden objects as hazardous waste, including thermometers, florescent bulbs and all technological materials like cell phones and computers. Reducing energy use can help reduce mercury pollution too.

For further information and to support bird friendly organizations:
The Audubon Society
National Resources Defense Council
World Wildlife Fund
To see more work by Deborah Kennedy, visit

For time untold, people have watched birds take flight and the human mind has ascended with them. Birds have represented human aspirations, and reaching intellectual or spiritual heights. Unfortunately, today largely unseen and unheralded bird=s feathered bodies are falling. They are falling in forests, over the sea and on rocky coasts. 

When the shirts are backlit, the seams and folds echo the sight of light through a wing spread against the sky. (a convention used for identification by birders and bird hunters)

Human activities are leading to devastating declines in many bird populations. New studies predict  that if current trends continue one quarter of all bird species will be extinct or near extinction by the end of this century.

We humans seem largely unconcerned about these losses. Should we, especially here in the West where we live largely indoors, perhaps rarely noting the flicker of wings at the edge of our vision care about the precipitous decline in bird populations? Even if we are no longer awed by the wonder of birds, climbing against the arc of the sky with such elegance and grace, perhaps we will miss them when they are gone. If do not for their grace, then perhaps because they pollinate many plants, and eat immeasurable quantities of insects,  reduce rodent populations, and by scavenging, they clear unhealthy decomposing flesh.

Write story about sharp shinned hawks, squirrel bird decline

Their freedom to eat is limited as agri-business destroys insect populations with pesticides and contaminates the food supply with herbicides and toxic by-products

Bird rap

Birds, long a powerful poetic and metaphoric symbol, aspirations, transcending earthly concerns, desire to be free,

My love for crow on top of pine with sliver moon,
sudden sweep of raptor claws outstretched heavily flying away hapless rodent
pelicans ungainly grace as they skim across the ocean waves, seeming to dare
joke with sonBlook there's a hawk, oh no, a turkey vulture, learn to respect, india decline, increase in rats and wild dogs, disease spread no carcass clean up
avocets and white egret dive bombing
sudden moments of epiphany feel blessed at brief moment seeing a kite

1/3 of all 654 species native to US in statistically significant decline

Due to: habitat lossBintense economic use of landBmining, grazing, shift to industrial farming, wind farms
  Plate glass deaths-estimated 100 mill to 1 bill., more as more building go up in flyways
Pesticides in insects


reduce population growth, fewer kids later in life

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