Observe The Bird

We are social creatures, from family member to mating pair, community, and onwards. Isolationists are few and afar. It’s easy to lose objectivity watching humans, so I instinctively look to birds for insight into the behavior of people. Birds are glorious social creatures, far bolder than the timid deer or wolf. Birds are defiant within their societies and declare their superiority openly. Birds excel at many of the social arrangements that we, the unfeathered, are only now understanding. I know we’ve learned a lot from birds as our own culture developed. Who could have missed the connections? Watch birds participate in their groups. Soon you may think, “Wow, birds are a lot like people.” I disagree. People are a lot like birds. Birds were on the planet first and they have timeless, ancient traditions of social behavior.

Spread some seed; observe the bird. Two or three seed pluckers will spy the cache, usually the fearless chickadee. They’ve been watching all along, gossiping, singing praises and chiding. From their perspective, I look dull normal, so they swoop in from nowhere. They hop about, sample the fare and call a few friends. They travel in small reconnaissance teams, but their shrill yapping brings out other birds in flocks, gangs and tribes. Odds of avoiding predators are better in a flock, even if the group must share. There’s some jostling and a few greedy ones are run off. There’s a flutter and then they circle and regroup, but the melee of small birds is generally self policing, familial, communicative. Until a jay shows up.

Whoosh—and everybody scatters! Now the jay struts and surveys his booty. There’s more than he needs, but he stakes his claim and calls aloud. Another jay wings in and the two take their pick of the spoils. Any small birds are quickly run off with a few hops. And then the crows come.

The small seeds are ignored by crows, who seize upon the large nuts and bully the jays. The crows capitalize on the area and begin to seek the source of this new bonus buffet. Soon, they identify me as the sower of seeds and will spy for a spare grain. Now if I drop some seeds, the crows swoop in from the tall fir trees to claim the good stuff. The crows are inquisitive and opportunistic. They travel in a small gang of two or three, never quite a ‘murder’ unless something big turns up or they are winging to a sunset meeting. They sit at the top of the feral bird domain. Intimidating, but a few sparrows and finches can’t help returning. When the crows have had their fill, life at the seed market returns to normal, bustling. So for fun, I let the free range chickens out. Calamity.

Gran always said she didn’t want to die in the chicken shed. They go for the eyes first, apparently. Chickens fascinate me because they are my connection with Tyrannosaurus Rex. They move like dinosaurs, talk like dinosaurs, and dissect things like dinosaurs. Fortunately for the wee people of the meadow, chickens have a selective diet. However they will take advantage of an opportunity. The crows, jays, sparrows, finches, squirrels, cats and small children scatter. The chickens are oblivious, they lay waste to the seeds. The male rooster struts and fluffs. If anything get too close to a hen, she clucks and her boyfriend rushes over to kick butt. He won’t back down, either. Not until he’s clearly won the fight, or victory is lost.

And the little birds, the stealthy chickadees, continue to return, ever watching, in total teamwork: dive, land, steal, and go. They are the little jet airplanes.

What I’ve learned in observation—throwing out seed attracts a variety of social groups, and particular standout individuals within the group. Personalities are polite, some cooperative, and some are just jerks. Individuals within each flock share similar characteristics with individuals of other species. No one bird group has the patent on intimidation, or timid behavior. Individual birds have their own character attributes and flaws. Treat yourself to a snack of seeds and share some with feathered friends. With a little observation, the idea may dawn for you, as it did for me—we humans are profoundly bird-like.

 

To see and hear the squawk fest, click here youtube.com/watch?v=r642vxs5qXQ

Observe The Bird © 2011 Gaboo. Read more of Gaboo’s observations, click his tag.

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