Or – “What does it do for us?” Two questions I get asked very often, sometimes at the same time put together in one compound sentence. It is an anthropocentric question that I personally find very difficult to answer for a number of reasons. I’ve been asked this question countless times and yet I still get stumped each time I’m asked. My immediate reaction is to freeze and internalize another question: “Why shouldn’t you care about this bird?” But I know I can’t answer the question this way out loud, that would be rude and it wouldn’t serve any purpose. There are so many ways I can answer this question depending on who I’m speaking with, what outcome I hope to get out of my response, and frankly, how much time I have on my hands. Do I want to try to educate the person – always my first instinct – or do I give a stock answer to quickly move past the question – often my real reaction? Since I was actually asked this question about the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow on my drive down to the Everglades this weekend I thought it might be interesting to explore this philosophical question in the first blog post of the 2017 sparrow field season.
I want to start by saying that I really appreciate being asked this question this weekend. Seriously, I want to thank the woman I met while I was stopped to buy my Sunpass transponder before jumping on the FL Turnpike to head south. After striking up a conversation she asked me what I did and that led to talking about the sparrow. And of course the question followed: “Why should I care about this bird?” I think I was caught especially off guard since it is the very beginning of our field season. I paused for a moment contemplating possible responses, and eventually answered with something like: “The sparrow is a good indicator species for the prairies being restored in the Everglades.” A true answer, but not a very thoughtful answer – I wanted to be on my way because I had a long drive ahead of me. Later, I found myself thinking about this question for a long time on my drive south. “Why should we care about this bird?”
Here we go…
First, I am going to skip what I believe may be the best response and save that for later. There are other ways I could have responded, some that would have taken some time. Let’s start with the kind of answer that people often expect to hear: “The sparrow eats mosquitoes so it is beneficial to us.” But this isn’t true. So how else does the sparrow help us: “What does it do for us?” I hate answering this part of the question. I actually won’t answer this part of the question. This questi