Review: ‘The Messenger’ ponders vanishing songbirds


A documentary on how the songbird population has halved within the last five decades, “The Messenger” investigates various human factors and environmental changes to find some possible explanations.

Songbirds migrate mostly after dark to evade larger predatory birds, and the bright lights in big cities discombobulate them. Skyscraping glass towers prove such a problem at night, while their reflective floor-to-ceiling windows cause head-on collisions during the day.

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Domestic cats also pose a huge threat, and are responsible for the extinction of more than 32 bird species. Meanwhile, the French regard the ortolan bunting as a delicacy, with local authorities ignoring violations of a Europe-wide hunting ban.

The extensive use of pesticides means that some birds go hungry with fewer insects to feed on. Deforestation continues to destroy some of their natural habitats, while industrial noises drown out their mating calls. Global warming disorients many species, sometimes leading to fatal migratory miscalculations.

Filmmaker Su Rynard painstakingly surveys the ornithological research around the world, providing a comprehensive primer. Although most interviewees featured here aren’t agenda-pushing activists, some of their findings unequivocally caution on the necessity of averting the birds’ extinction because they are an integral part of the ecological system.

The conservationists offer some proven solutions, such as window treatments and regulating after-hours light use in office buildings. The slow-motion close-ups alone should convince you these magnificent creatures are well worth the effort.


“The Messenger.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles.