Seven Names for the Bellbird
Conservation Geography in Honduras
Natural History - Ornithology
6.125 x 9.25, 250 pp.
35 b&w photos., 4 maps.
Pub Date: 06/17/2003
  cloth
Price:        $35.00 s

978-1-58544-249-2

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Seven Names for the Bellbird

Conservation Geography in Honduras

By Mark Bonta

Offering intimate and unforgettable descriptions of the birds and people that inhabit Honduran landscapes, Seven Names for the Bellbird showcases the deep-rooted local traditions of bird appreciation and holds them up as a model for sound management of the environment. Through his appreciative recounting of local lore, author Mark Bonta makes the interaction between culture and avifauna in Latin America a key to better understanding the practice of biodiversity protection. He makes a significant contribution to the scarce anthropological and geographical literature on human-environment relationships in Central America and also provides wonderful stories of native birds and their human observers.

After a decade in the field in Honduras, Mark Bonta came to realize that, contrary to outsiders’ general beliefs, the society he observed was predisposed “to like birds, to observe birds, to weave them into folklore, and to protect them on private property.” Bonta argues that if North Americans and Europeans paid real attention to local knowledge and practice—instead of condemning them out-of-hand and imposing new beliefs and techniques—they would learn that rural cultures offer alternative ways of accommodating habitats and wildlife.

Bonta uses the concept of “conservation geography”—the study of human beings and their landscapes, with natural resource conservation in the forefront—to advance his argument. He describes many cases where local individuals and their traditional knowledge of birds contribute to a de facto variety of bird conservation that precedes or parallels “official” bird protection efforts.

This book is not offered as “proof” that all birds have happy futures in the Neotropics. Bonta recognizes the ravages of both human pressures and natural disasters on the birds and forests. But he shows that in many instances, birds are safe and even thrive in the presence of local people, who “celebrate them just as often as they persecute them.”

Mark Bonta is an assistant professor of geography at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. In the early 1990s, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, and he has returned many times since, living and working in the province of Olancho. He continues to participate in a wide variety of local environmental projects in Olancho, including protection of the Sierra de Agalta National Park and monitoring of the endemic tree cycad Dioon mejlae. This book was inspired by the sublimity and pathos of his adopted country.

What Readers Are Saying:

Seven Names for the Bellbird puts us at a table in the patio where Dr. Bonta, coffee in hand, listens to doña Clara, his mother-in-law, talk about her love for birds. From there we walk with him through Olancho, Honduras, as he goes from valley to montaña, from cattle rancher, to coffee farmer, to daily worker, and we hear everywhere the songs of birds echoing in the voices of people. Geographer-ethnographer, Dr. Bonta offers a fresh (and refreshing) account of the intimate interaction among the Honduran landscape, birds, and local inhabitants. Based on his several years of living in the country, first a Peace Corp volunteer, and then later as a researcher and husband and father, he argues that conversation of endangered species must begin with a view of how the lives of birds and humans intertwine, a view that removes the judgmental lens of “trashed landscape” from our eyes, and consequently a view that values the house sparrow as much as the threatened Honduran humming bird. Seven Names for the Bellbird creates in us a new understanding of how birds and people can, and do in fact, enrich other’s lives.”--Miles Richardson, Louisiana State University

Seven Names for the Bellbird puts us at a table in the patio where Dr. Bonta, coffee in hand, listens to doña Clara, his mother-in-law, talk about her love for birds. From there we walk with him through Olancho, Honduras, as he goes from valley to montaña, from cattle rancher, to coffee farmer, to daily worker, and we hear everywhere the songs of birds echoing in the voices of people. Geographer-ethnographer, Dr. Bonta offers a fresh (and refreshing) account of the intimate interaction among the Honduran landscape, birds, and local inhabitants. Based on his several years of living in the country, first a Peace Corp volunteer, and then later as a researcher and husband and father, he argues that conversation of endangered species must begin with a view of how the lives of birds and humans intertwine, a view that removes the judgmental lens of “trashed landscape” from our eyes, and consequently a view that values the house sparrow as much as the threatened Honduran humming bird. Seven Names for the Bellbird creates in us a new understanding of how birds and people can, and do in fact, enrich other’s lives.” --Miles Richardson, Louisiana State University

“Bonta’s Seven names for the Bellbird is the product of difficult and meticulous research, and a deep love for the birds and people of Central America. It is beautifully written, and deserves to be on the naturalist’s bookshelf alongside the classic works of Aldo Leopold, Peter Matthiessen, and John McPhee. It is also a rigorous work of scholarship, and should be read by all conservation professionals who have an interest in Latin America. Future policy initiatives in Latin America–or all of the global south–need to take its wise and provocative conclusions into careful consideration.” --Gregory Knapp, University of Texas at Austin

“This is a provocative and touching book of the greatest interest for anyone concerned about the future of tropical bird life.” --Winging It

“This book does not resort to scientific and technical terms and therefore is easily understood; it is for a general audience interested in avifauna, conservation, and the idea of ‘cultural landscape.” --brit.org/sida

“What a thoughtful book Mark Bonta has given us, painting a sensitively rendered portrait of a rural corner of Honduras, a place that has become his second home, and an avifauna that has captivated him.” --Birding

“I praise this book.” --Birding

“There is a grace and quiet beauty in all that Bonta sees, and he successfully makes the reader feel this.” --Birding

“For those who are interested in the past, present, and future of little-known places such as eastern Honduras, Bonta’s book will be appreciated.” --Birding

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