The IUCN Red List catalogues over 157,100 species, among which over 44,000 species face the threat of extinction. This includes 41 per cent of amphibians, 37 per cent of sharks and rays, 36 per cent of reef-building corals, 34 per cent of conifers, 26 per cent of mammals, and 12 per cent of birds.
Jenny Kendler is an interdisciplinary artist and environmental activist who brings avian issues to the public through her public and private installations that often resemble avian imagery and lean into bird-like motifs. As a self-proclaimed forager, she integrates natural materials such as shells, whale bones and of course, birds in her work bringing attention to the the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Life on Land.
For Kendler, her environmental activism and artistry come hand in hand. "They have to be twinned for me for a project to be successful. It’s walking that very narrow line where neither part subsumes the other, so that it doesn’t become a didactic thing only in the service of activism, nor an art project that’s just talking to the choir," said Kendler in an Artnet interview.
One of the key motifs in Kendler's work is birds. In her installation titled Close to You, Kendler utilized 3D scans of birds that died on impact with Chicago windows. The birds appear to be in mid-flight as if they are frozen in time during migration. These birds are then arranged to resemble avian constellations like Apus, Aquila and Tucana.
"We long to be close to the natural world, but as birds come close to us—they often lose their lives," Kendler described her work on her website. This installation is inspired by all the birds that die during migration because of window strikes. Glass windows are very dangerous for birds because they reflect the sky or ground. It does not help that most metropolises are full of glass-covered skyscrapers either, with the birds blindly hitting these windows causing almost 1 billion birds to die.
Another installation that is inspired by birds is Birds Watching. The first one was created in 2018 for Storm King Art Center's Indicators: Artists on Climate Change which was later reinstalled on the 606 Bloomingdale Trail. In 2019, this was followed by another installation for The Eden Project in Cornwall. The latest installation was in 2023 for Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre in London.
Standing at 40-foot long, Birds Watching is made out of various bird's eyes to form a flock. Each eye resembles an endangered or threatened avian species. The installation serves as an eye-opener about the possibility of losing these species because of climate change.
"Have we allowed birds and other nonhumans—with their unique and wondrous lifeways—to become the sacrifice zones of extractive capitalism?" Kendler asks on her website.
According to the State of the World's Birds, bird populations are declining all around the world. This decline can be notoriously attributed to climate change. The warming temperatures affect the birds' habitat and the migration patterns.
However, not all hope is lost. Audubon scientists pointed out that by stabilizing carbon emissions, nearly 150 species will no longer be vulnerable to extinction from climate change.
It is not yet too late to care for and protect birds, in the words of Kendler, "The only alternative for me is what Joanna Macy calls active hope. You cannot be passive and expect that someone else is going to do the work. That is not morally acceptable. The challenge is to find how we can each leverage our unique gifts and privilege to be able to do this work of repair of the world."
The American Bird Conservancy also pointed out three actionable steps to combat climate change's effect on birds. The first one entails building bird resiliency by strengthening bird populations. This can be done by keeping cats indoors and stopping birds from hitting windows. Another way was by reducing the carbon footprint through various ways like choosing local foods and mitigating plastic waste. Lastly, restoring the birds' habitat can be done by planting trees.
Kendler's artistry reminds the audience of humanity's interference with avian habitats. By bringing to light the problems birds face through her installations, humans can reflect on their role in the big picture.