UK native Terry Townshend moved to Beijing in 2010 and is the founder of Birding Beijing (www.birdingbeijing.com), a website that celebrates birds found in and around the capital.Townshend is a regular contributor to the Beijing Birdwatching Society lecture series and delivered the keynote lecture earlier this year at the National Zoological Museum in celebration of China’s National Bird Day. A passionate conservationist, Townshend spearheads efforts to save some of China’s most endangered birds, dedicating time to educating children and visitors about birds and learning about and caring for the environment. Students from Canadian International School (CISB) asked him their most pressing ornithological questions.
“I love the combination of a lot of birds and the spectacle of the migration that happens here. It’s phenomenal and much bigger than anything I’ve seen in Europe”
Vivian, 11, Canada
How does bird watching impact your life?
I try to go bird watching at least once a week, sometimes twice if I can. I do less fun stuff such as going to the cinema or meeting up with friends for a pizza. Most of my reading is about birds too, so you could say I’m obsessed [laughs].
Sophie, 12, Australia
What bird is treated most poorly in China?
A good example is the yellow-breasted bunting. In southern China, people love to eat it so many people try to catch them to sell for food. This bird used to be very common in parks in northern China, but they’re classified as endangered now because the population has gone down significantly.
Richard, 12, Hong Kong
If owls are nocturnal, why do they also appear during the daylight?
Owls are famous for being nocturnal but many are actually crepuscular, meaning they’re active at dawn and dusk. Also when they have young, they’re hungry all the time so the owls must catch food 24 hours a day during breeding season. It’s quite usual to see them during the daytime.
Jonathon, 11, Canada
What are the differences between birds in Beijing and in England?
There are probably 100 or so bird types in common between Britain and China, such as the magpie and great spotted woodpecker. However, the diversity of birds in China is much richer and the migration much bigger as well. Since the UK is an island, we just have sea to the north with few birds, whereas in Beijing we have this great land mass to the north with millions of birds.
Claudia, 12 Hong Kong
What’s your favorite bird?
The robin is special for me because it was one of the first birds I saw in my parent’s garden. They have a have a big orange breast, they hop around, and they’re known in Britain for being a gardener’s friend. If you’re digging in the garden, they’ll often come follow you because they’re looking for worms. They will even sit on your shoulder or head sometimes if they get really used to you.
Ken, 12, US
Do you keep birds yourself at home?
I am passionate about birds because of their freedom to fly wherever and whenever they like. To put one in a cage takes away the very thing that is great about birds, so I would never keep birds myself.
Eric, 11, Singapore
How does the environment affect birds?
In Beijing, most of the rivers and lakes are polluted and this is especially bad for water birds. If they cannot find food in polluted water, it means flying is harder for them. Air pollution is an issue as well because many migrating birds rely on being able to see landmarks or follow the coast. If they get lost or delay their migration until the air is clearer, it may effect when they arrive at breeding grounds and negatively impact their breeding. Miyun Reservoir for example, which provides most of Beijing’s drinking water, has very high-quality water and as a result there are many birds there. Elsewhere in Beijing, you’re unlikely to see as many birds because the water is often polluted. You can easily see the difference between a clean water source and a polluted water source in terms of the number of birds it attracts.
Dallin, 12, Australia
Do you reckon that Beijing is the best place for birds in the world?
Beijing is the best place I’ve experienced so far for bird watching, but I haven’t been to many places in South America and I suspect it’s better in terms of diversity. I love the combination of a lot of birds and the spectacle of the migration that happens here. It’s phenomenal and much bigger than anything I’ve seen in Europe.
Helena, 11, Czech Republic
Can threats to birds affect them mentally?
Threats to birds in Beijing are mostly man-made, such as trapping with nets. Unless the bird is retrieved quickly, it’s struggling to escape – the more it struggles, the more caught up it gets. When they’re in cages, you’ll often see their feathers have come out, which is another sign of stress. I don’t know whether there have been scientific studies to show the mental effects, but there’s clearly stress on the bird in those situations.
Bella, 12, Australia
How do man-made and natural threats to birds affect people’s lifestyles?
If threats to birds continue and reduce the populations, ultimately we won’t be able to see birds anymore. If there are no birds, other things will happen, for example, the insect population will increase dramatically, which is what happened in China when they experimented with pest control and killed the sparrows. Suddenly, more insects were eating the crops. If you take birds away from the environment, you have some very bad impacts on humans – not just on food supply but also on quality of life.
This article originally appeared on page 52-54 of the beijingkids June 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.