With Wes Craven's passing, California birds lose a staunch advocate for birds

We recall the famous filmmaker as a man deeply committed to birds and the environment.

“I’ve been fascinated by birds my whole life,” Wes Craven told Audubon Magazine back in 2008. In a reminiscence that belied his reputation as a master of the macabre, he added: “To most kids, flight is just such a fantastic magical thing to watch. My mother and I used to sit out in the backyard in Cleveland and watch the purple martins and, in the evening, nighthawks come diving out of the sky with a screech and swoop by with an audible sound of wind through wings.”

When Craven passed away yesterday, the world not only lost a visionary filmmaker, but also a fierce advocate for birds and the environment. Craven joined the Audubon California Board of Directors in 2010, and helped guide the organization through a half-decade of victories on behalf of birds.

“Wes was a caring and committed friend and colleague, and someone I will miss dearly,” said Kristi Patterson, who chairs the Audubon California Board. “Wes was an incredible evangelist for birds and for Audubon. He always asked interesting questions that allowed us to look at issues through a different lens, and that was one of the great gifts he brought to us.”

Craven always had a particular love of the California Condor and took special interest in Audubon California’s initiatives to protect that endangered species, which included efforts to prevent the use of lead ammunition for hunting. These efforts culminated in the 2013 legislation that will require the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting in California.

“These huge, magnificent birds are kind of like a bellwether,” Craven said in that 2008 interview. “If we can’t allow these things to exist, it’s just a tragedy.”

Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack has been working closely with Craven since she came to the organization in 2012. She recalled him as “stunningly humble” and possessing a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor. And Craven was always one of the smartest people in the room.

“Wes always had a keen sense of curiosity, which led him to be a voracious reader and deep thinker,” McCormack said. “I’ll never forget a reception he hosted at his home where he spoke passionately about extinction rates of birds and other animals, and our responsibility to help save them. After the reception, he took guests into his study and handed out vintage swag from his early movies, as if it were nothing to give away. People were stunned at his generosity.”

McCormack said she’ll never forget Craven’s sheer love of birds. The two of them shared an appreciation for the Cedar Waxwing.

“He was always emailing me photos of birds from his backyard, hoping I’d settle an ID question he was having with his wife, Iya,” McCormack said. “Wes really got a lot of joy from birds.”

Connecting children to nature was also a priority for Craven’s, and he was a dedicated supporter of the Audubon Center at Debs Park in northeast Los Angeles. He worried that the tens of thousands of miles of concrete in Los Angeles distanced kids from the joys of nature.

“It’s difficult to get kids – particularly urban kids – interested in the natural world, because there’s so much concrete around them, so many distractions, such as television,” Craven said in 2010. “But it’s tremendously important to help kids make that connection to nature, and the folks at Audubon California are serious about doing it.”

Craven’s wife, Iya Labunka, also a movie producer and bird enthusiast, recently joined the Audubon California Board, as well.

Former Executive Director Dan Taylor fondly recalled Craven’s sense of humor, for example how at meetings Wes would take whatever issue was being discussed and work it into a potential movie idea.

“We were once talking about lead ammunition and the danger it presented for the California Condor and eagles, and he turned to me said, ‘I could imagine creating some kind of monster out of lead poison and using it as a plot for my next film.’” Taylor recalled. “I experienced Wes as a warm and dedicated conservationist and birder who possessed keen insights in the issues facing wildlife. He had a sense of humor about life and his art and a sense of humility that, given his well-earned celebrity, was so remarkable.”

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