Today Aves Argentinas turns 100 years old. Where does the organization come from? What was the vision of its founders? And, given the colourful variety of birds living in the country, how did the dull-looking Rufous Hornero become the national emblem of the country? We take a look back in time.
1916 THE FOUNDATION
28 July: With the Great War raging across continents, a group of 21 scientists and naturalists meet in the Montserrat neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. They discuss a future where people are aware of the importance of conserving biodiversity.
They imagine a world where people, thanks to information, education and research, come to fully understand that birds are indicators of the health of our environment and that by conserving birds’ habitats, we secure the planet for generations to come.
On that day Aves Argentinas
is founded: it will become a pioneer in bird conservation in the Americas.
1917 HERE COMES EL HORNERO (OVENBIRD)
One year after its foundation, Aves Argentinas
chooses the Hornero as the ambassador for their mission, with the first issue of their scientific journal El Hornero
. What started as a few articles defining the character and aims of the organisation is now considered a benchmark in the area of neotropical ornithology in Latin America. Why choose the hornero as the name of their magazine?
The Rufous Hornero Furnarius rufus
is not your regular brown bird. Its seemingly dull plumage hides a fascinating behaviour. This tiny bird builds mud nests that resemble old wood-fired ovens (the Spanish word horno
, means “oven”, giving rise to the English name Ovenbird).
This unique chambered construction is built in many stages, allowing the materials to dry and form a highly weather resistant home that will eventually survive storms and winds. Since their nests are so sturdy, horneros happily build them in the strangest of locations: rooftops, powerlines, street lamps or statues.
Inevitably, their omnipresent visibility has fuelled people’s imagination. Ovenbirds are the harbingers of good luck. Their unique sound announces upcoming times of prosperity. As a South American proverb goes “No thunder ever fell where horneros have nested”.
1917 MESSAGES FROM THE PAST
The first issue of El Hornero opens with an article that might well be written today. Attributed to the founder and former president Roberto Dabbene, the following commentary is published:
“Nobody can debate that the study of birds constitutes one of the most rich chapters in the history of the natural sciences. Once we know the name of the species, we must discover their behaviour, nesting habits, migrations, diet. Few animals provide, in this respect, so much charm to discover.
''The beauty of their forms and colourful exterior blends with their impressive instinct and intelligence. From their songs, expressions of love, to the artistic appearance of their nests, they are not only a study subject but also worthy of admiration.
''But the interest for birds does not end there. There’s also the practical aspect. It’s proven that birds provide indirect services to people. Many feed themselves off insects and small mammals that could wreak havoc in our crops.
“Ornithological societies build a bridge between science and education. Aves Argentinas
aims to gather support from all over the country and with the collaboration of members hopes to bring about, in time, a cause that is meaningful and useful for society.”
1922 THE MIRACLE YEAR
The year has been described as a mirabilis for many reasons: literary, political and technological. Perhaps most importantly, it was the year that public radio hit the global airwaves. Suddenly, it became possible to reach vast audiences with new ideas and information, and for people to take an active interest in the world beyond their provincial and national borders.
However, sharing ideas on new global perspectives can change the world only if people act on them. That’s exactly what happened at midday on 20 June, 1922, when a group of people from different countries met at the London home of the then UK Minister of Finance to found the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP).
This was the world’s first international conservation organisation, as renowned Swedish zoologist Professor Kai Curry-Lindahl described decades later. It’s where the BirdLife International Partnership has its roots. The group, united by their passion for birds, decided that co-ordinated international action was the answer to the various threats birds faced.
In words very similar to those BirdLife still uses 90 years later, their declaration of principles stated: “…by united action, we should be able to accomplish more than organisations working individually in combating dangers to birdlife.”
1928 FROM PROVERBIAL BIRD TO NATIONAL EMBLEM
In April national newspaper La Razón surveys primary schools, asking which could be the most representative bird of Argentina, to become the National Emblem. The hugely successful survey initially seems to show that the majestic Andean Condor Vultur gryphus
will be the winner. At the last minute, however, it is the dull-looking Rufous Hornero who becomes the National Emblem.
This is thanks in great part to the efforts of Aves Argentinas
: taking interest in the survey, the then president Roberto Dabbene writes to the newspaper, explaining the reason why as the Horneros’ name had been chosen for their scientific journal. More letters follow. The author Leopoldo Lugones writes a poem dedicated to this singular bird, declaring it to be the true symbol of the country.
In the end, the Rufous Hornero is chosen as the National Bird of Argentina.
1936 AVES ARGENTINAS JOINS BIRDLIFE (TO BE)
Former Audubon founder, Gilbert Pearson, finally invites Aves Argentinas
to join the ICBP, which years later would become BirdLife International. It takes them one year to become an official member of the BirdLife family, expanding its impact beyond Argentinian borders.
2016 LOOKING FORWARD
A century later, Aves Argentinas
has grown from two dozen founders to a nationwide project, with citizens and scientists alike coming together to save biodiversity. It is important to look back to see what we have achieved, to inspire us to continue tackling the threats with renewed energy.