Birds Help Bind Us to Our Roots, and to One Another

Our winter issue illustrates how, in today’s topsy-turvy world, we would all benefit from stronger connections.

As 2020 draws to a close, life remains upended—and with it, many of the traditions this time of year typically brings. Some comforting rituals can carry on (go ahead, bake the ultimate holiday cookies!), while others, like far-flung travel and large family gatherings, are painfully still on pause.

Given our current reality, it seems fitting the cover story for Audubon’s Winter issue features birds we describe as the “ultimate homebodies.” After fledging, young Florida Scrub-Jays stick around the nest, where the birds live as close-knit families (and presumably also struggle with homeschooling). When they do strike out, they don’t stray far. ­Development has divided the state’s once-contiguous scrub, so the jays now dwell in isolated populations.

As Carrie Arnold describes in her feature, just as family life defines the birds’ here and now, inheritance will shape the species’ future. Increasingly inbred, scrub-jays need genetic diversity to survive. Molded by their own family history, a father-daughter pair of scientists teamed up to move birds across fragmented habitat in an effort to connect and save them.

Elsewhere in this issue, we explore how people are striving to honor and protect their own inheritance—and ensure a future that is intertwined with that of wildlife. As Lourdes Medrano reports from southern Arizona, descendants of the Hia-Ced O’odham are among the Indigenous protesters joining with activists to fight the U.S.–Mexico border wall, whose construction is devastating land that has been sacred to people and essential to animals for millennia.

It is through the revitalization of Indigenous language that both children in Chiapas and artist Luke Swinson have been strengthening links with their roots. Swinson brings this effort into his art, which, like his Anishinaabe First Nation ancestors, he uses to tell stories. “And the story that I’m telling right now,” he says, “is that of a young, lost, Indigenous person who’s trying to find their way back to their culture.”

Whether ancient or newly discovered, traditions can bring us back to what matters and illustrate how to carry history forward. And, especially at this time of year, we would all benefit from a greater sense of connection across this scattered landscape.

This piece originally ran in the Winter 2020 issue as “Rooted in Action.”​ To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.