For the Birds Radio Program: The Land of Giant Blood-Sucking Mosquitoes

Original Air Date: Feb. 4, 1999

Laura tells a parable about all the things that kill birds, and how it might not be a good idea to ignore them.

Duration: 4′01″


Once upon a time there was a land of giant mosquitoes. Each mosquito could suck out a quarter-cup of blood from a warm-blooded animal. People thought it was quite lucky that giant mosquitoes preferred the blood of birds to that of humans.

Actually, there were many different species of giant mosquitoes. One was named the fat cat mosquito. Another was the picture window mosquito. There was the lawn spray mosquito, the antenna tower mosquito, the highway mosquito, the mowing machine mosquito, the wetland draining mosquito, the coastal development mosquito, the northern forest fragmentation mosquito, and the tropical deforestation mosquito. There were also several giant mosquitoes people hadn’t studied or named yet. Each female mosquito needed a quarter cup of blood to nourish her eggs and reproduce. The bite of a single one was enough to kill many little birds, but bigger birds could feed one or two mosquitoes and survive, though a third bite could be lethal if their bone marrow hadn’t yet replaced the lost blood. Some Bald Eagles and Great Blue Herons could feed four or five mosquitoes before succumbing.

With such rapacious mosquitoes zipping about and reproducing, it wasn’t long before whole species of birds were dying out. People felt worried and sad about losing so many birds, though they were still grateful that the mosquitoes didn’t bite humans. For the most part, people figured it was probably best to leave well enough alone, but when bird watchers got angry about their year lists getting shorter, they finally took the mosquitoes to court, accusing them of endangering and even eliminating whole species of birds.

The mosquitoes were represented by some of the finest lawyers in the land. The fat cat’s lawyer pointed out that each of his clients only harmed a few individual birds, and that biting birds was the fat cat mosquito’s nature. This species simply couldn’t help itself. Fat cat mosquitoes were rather attractive, with mysteriously lovely eyes and winsome ways, and the jury found them not guilty.

The lawn spray mosquitoes’ lawyer, who doubled as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, said unless his clients could continue their activities, the most basic individual freedoms that all Americans value, as well as tidy patches of lawn, would be at risk. She pointed out that really, no direct correlation has ever been proven between second-hand lawn-chemical run-off and the decline of any species, and besides, birdwatchers had a vested interest in birds that biased their testimony. The jury couldn’t find a hole in these arguments, felt bewildered by all the facts and figures bandied about, and reluctantly found the lawn spray mosquito not guilty.

Thus it went. Each one of the mosquitoes could be shown to have sucked the life out of many individual birds, but since it was the whole bunch of them that had destroyed bird populations, no one individual mosquito species could be blamed, and each was found not guilty. One by one, the birds in the land of giant mosquitoes vanished. A few species, most notably crows and gulls, learned how to avoid mosquitoes and actually profited for a time eating the blood-drained carcasses of the mosquitoes’ victims. But eventually the last of these feathered bodies disappeared. The mosquitoes were disappointed to lose their favorite menu item, but the hungry crows and gulls quickly suggested sampling a new kind of blood. When the lawyers appeared for the next meeting, the giant mosquitoes set to work.