Ethno-Ornithology of the Mushere of Nigeria: Children's Knowledge and Perceptions of Birds

  • Grace Alheri-Bulus Pam Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
  • David Zeitlyn Department of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford
  • Andrew Gosler Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, University of Oxford/Institute of Human sciences, Department of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford
Keywords: Ethno-ornithology, Mushere, Children, Ornithoapatheia, Biodiversity conservation


Mushere children’s ethno-ornithology was surveyed from October to November 2015 to find out their level of bird knowledge—as well as whether and how children valued and learned about birds—in order to determine the potential role such knowledge might play in Mushere biodiversity conservation. Methods included picture elicitation exercises, free-listing, and semi-structured interviews. Our results revealed a limited knowledge of birds in Mushere children, and that bird knowledge was gendered. Girls learned through observation, while boys learned through practical bird-related activities. Learning was mostly horizontal for boys but vertical and/or oblique for girls; the most reported learning mode was through oral tradition. Farmland and garden birds were the most common groups, with birds in the families Columbidae and Estrildidae having the highest salience and frequency of mention. We suggest that this reflects the importance of ecological salience, since both groups are relatively locally abundant. The children also had a limited knowledge of cultural beliefs and uses of the birds, but valued birds as important. We argue that how much children will know and learn about any biological domain will be determined by the cultural attitudes and perceptions of that domain, and the cultural importance attached to it. We conclude that the limited knowledge of birds in Mushere children reflects Mushere cultural indifference (ornithoapatheia) to birds. We suggest that a consistent and deliberate conservation education program that will work towards encouraging ornithophilia, the love of birds, and biophilia, the love of nature, in Mushere children could be beneficial.

Author Biographies

Grace Alheri-Bulus Pam, Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Grace Pam is a Conservation Biologist interested in applied Ethnobiology and Biodiversity conservation. She is presently a DPhil research student in the Zoology Department, University of Oxford.
David Zeitlyn, Department of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford
David Zeitlyn is a Professor of Social Anthrpology in the school of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography with interests in Anthropology of Religion, Life writing, and Anthropological studies of ICT and research methods.
Andrew Gosler, Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, University of Oxford/Institute of Human sciences, Department of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford
Dr Andrew Gosler is a University Research Lecturer in Ornithology and Conservation in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and director of the Ethno-Ornithology World Archive (EWA).


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How to Cite
Pam, G. A.-B., Zeitlyn, D., & Gosler, A. (2018). Ethno-Ornithology of the Mushere of Nigeria: Children’s Knowledge and Perceptions of Birds. Ethnobiology Letters, 9(2), 48-64.
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