Who are the Ancestor Birds?

Skull of the extinct North Island Giant Moa.

Skull of the extinct North Island Giant Moa.

The Ancestor Birds are birds who have gone extinct in this world, living on in spirit form. In my spirit work, they are the tribe that I serve, so you’ll hear them discussed a lot on this blog. Every single extinct bird that has ever lived on this earth has a spirit, and their species as a whole each have more collective parental or tribal spirits too. To get an idea of just how many species of birds are a part of this tribe, you can check out Wikipedia–they have a list of recently extinct birds, as well as prehistoric birds, and those birds we know only from the fossil record. These lists, are, of course, limited by human knowledge, but you can see that the numbers are impressive.

Why do I call them Ancestor Birds? Simply because they have expressed a preference for that term over others that I could think of. They did not want to be referred to as “extinct birds” or variations on that theme. I capitalize both words as a sign of respect and reverence.

The Ancestor Birds express a strong sense of being both alive and here-and-now, not dead, past, gone, or non-existent, despite their corporeal forms being extinct from our physical earth. They are very insistent on being communicated with in present terms, and given offerings that are beneficial to their current spirit state. They want to be strengthened in the spirit, through having their names spoken, through receiving physical foods as close to what they would have eaten while alive as possible, through having altars, shrines, and spirit houses built for them. They like eggs too, as a symbol of life and a vessel of life-giving energy–perhaps not at all what you might expect from a tribe that is by definition dead. Their chief concern is living on in their current spiritual state, as vibrantly as they can, since the physical forms of their species are no longer being born.

Many Ancestor Birds, tragically, have become such due directly to the actions of human beings, and some quite recently. The Po’ouli was declared extinct in 2004, the Spotted Liverpool Pigeon in 2008, and the Alaotra Grebe in 2010, as just a few examples. In 2014, 13 species were declared extinct as soon as they were discovered

The biggest culprits in the extinction of bird species are habitat destruction via human development, and the introduction of invasive species such as cats, snakes, and rats. Island dwelling birds are particularly vulnerable, since they’re highly-niche in their ecological roles, and lack defenses against non-native predators.

A pair of Passenger Pigeons, male left and female right, perching on an oak tree.

Passenger Pigeons, male left and female right. Painted in 1907. This species went extinct with the death of Martha, the last captive Passenger Pigeon, in 1914.

You might be familiar with some of the more famous recently extinct birds, such as the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Stephen’s Island Wren, Great Auk, Heath Hen, Labrador Duck, Eskimo Curlew, and of course, that icon of extinction itself, the Dodo.

However, there are plenty of birds who lived their lives and went extinct without human interference. One of the more famous early Ancestor Birds that human beings know of is Archaeopteryx, who was something of a link between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds. For a long time it was the only known fossil specimen of a dinosaur with feathers, so it was very prominent in evolutionary theories.

Earlier animals developed different components of what we now consider a modern bird, like feathers, air sacks, hollow bones, and nesting behaviors. So sometimes, when I’m talking about honoring a particular Ancestor Bird, I might be talking about a species that had leathery wings, ate other dinosaurs, and stood the size of a house, or I could be talking about a feathered jewel of a songbird that hovered in mid-air as it delicately sipped nectar from a flower.

There were quite a few dinosaur-to-bird crossover members of the bird family that

Quetzalcoatlus northropi, an early bird-like dinosaur thought to have had a 10-12 meter wingspan.

might not be easily classified as one or the other. I’m not personally too picky about drawing that fine line. Scientists have a lot more to discover about extinct species, evolution, and the fossil record. My business is not in taxonomy, but in devotion to the spirits who show up as part of my tribe. I’d rather make offerings to every dinosaur that ever lived than start leaving out Ancestor Birds because I, as a human, am going to try to be the gatekeeper of a non-human tribe. It’s simply not my place. And, Ancestor Bird or not, a spirit politely knocking on my door is going to receive hospitality from me. Ghosti principle: when you’re an Indo-European polytheist, it’s what you do.

Ghosti principle is what you do. When you’re not, you know, singing about a microwave.

It’s somewhat surprising to talk about such a diverse group of spirits with a unified voice. These are many different families of spirits, whose animal forms became extinct over a long range of history for very different reasons. It might seem odd that they want such similar things. I honestly don’t have a good explanation for why they banded together and asked me to do things for them. My best understanding so far is that by talking about them, offering to them, and creating spirit-linked art for them, I am helping them to go on existing and connecting with this world. I’m also helping them to grow their influence so that more people can help them. Essentially, as discarnate spirits, they now have more in common than they might have as living birds. I don’t believe that they’d entirely cease to exist without this sort of human recognition–after all, they existed just fine before we came along! But if they were forgotten in this world, if no one connected to them anymore at all, I think that would have a negative impact. I won’t pretend to understand all the mechanics of it! Although, as my understanding grows, I’ll be sure to share it.

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