Editor’s Note
July 2013
A Flying Shame
An adult European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) soars over Lesbos, Greece.
Photo: Rebecca Nason, Frank Lane Picture Library/Corbis

The European bee-eater is nature at her gaudy best. It’s a tiny bird, with a scimitar beak and feathers the colors of a crazy quilt: saffron throat, turquoise breast, chestnut crown. I first really spent time watching bee-eaters while on a boat on the Zambezi River. The birds had dug nests into the sandy banks along the river. They were darting around, chasing dragonflies to feed their chicks, iridescent in the sunlight.

Most bee-eaters run a gantlet to get to Africa, having flown—as they do every year—from southern Europe, across the Mediterranean, over the Sahara, and finally to southern Africa. Many don’t survive the trip. The stress of migration claims some, raptors get others. But there is another predator: man.

“Last Song,” this month’s story reported by Jonathan Franzen and photographed by David Guttenfelder, is about human carelessness and a lack of regard for these beautiful creatures. Each year, from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, hundreds of millions of migratory birds such as the bee-eater are killed by hunters. They use guns, nets made of ultrafine nylon, and sap-coated traps. Killing these birds has nothing to do with feeding a population. It is callous and indiscriminate slaughter. The orioles, warblers, and shrikes Franzen writes about—like the mockingbird in Harper Lee’s novel—“don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.”

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