Monday, December 5, 2011

Bird brain?

Bird brain is a phrase often used pejoratively to describe some behavior or being that is considered to be not very bright. Actually, birds are no more 'stupid' or unintelligent than any other species when engaging in the activities of life.

This was brought dramatically to my attention yesterday afternoon when I was escorting Nessie Rae (the rabbit we share a house with) outside for the second of her daily outdoor visits. Rabbits, being crepuscular, generally are very active in the early morning and late of the tasks associated with working for Nessie is accompanying her outside during these two times.

She patrols and inspects most all of the area around her house and munches on tasty or interesting vegetation, chins plants and everything else, and sometimes wants to play chase with her escort. Right now she has a big digging project going on in the northeast corner of the backyard so that is where she usually heads as soon as she is out the door.

Yesterday I was standing around watching her work (one of the perks of being retired, getting to watch others work without working myself) when a female and male Cardinal flew into the tree/shrub right above my head and just froze there. Usually Cardinals have a pretty large 'startle' area and don't get too close...but these two were not more than 5 or 6 above me. I looked around and saw a small hawk land on a fence about 10 feet from us. Obviously these two birds had spotted the hawk and were making themselves as invisible as possible by sitting inside the shrub/tree and being perfectly still and quiet.
Where everyone was located.
 When the hawk was present I was located up behind the shrub/tree pictured. When I realized the hawk was grocery shopping I shooed her/him away (I know she/he has to eat too, but please...not in my backyard). The Cardinals stayed perfectly still and quiet for at least 15 minutes, and as I looked around and listened...there were no birds visible or bird sounds to be heard. These folks (Cardinals and the other at risk birds) know what to do to minimize their chances of being harmed by hawks and other predators that they co-evolved with. One of the interesting things about this drama was they obviously believed I posed less of a threat than the hawk and were quite willing to stay fairly close to me even though they normally wouldn't.

No, these feathered folks aren't dumb and a little observation and attention would confirm that for those that care to inform themselves.

Now, this experience led me to think about something that was hammered home rather strongly in a recent novel by Jonathan Franzen titled: Freedom. My thanks to my friend D.E.M who writes the excellent Animal Rights blog for steering me to this book. One of the bits of information in the book is the fact that birds, especially North American birds have not co-evolved with cats as a serious predator. Oh, a bobcat and/or a mountain lion might occasionally kill and eat a small bird but songbirds, Cardinals and the like are not serious food species for cats indigenous to this part of the world (and maybe nowhere, I don't know)....hence....our small birds simply don't have an evolutionary background which has allowed them to develop adaptations that effectively work to thwart being stalked and killed by cats.

The estimated number of birds killed each year by 'domestic' (dependent) cats is staggering, in the millions if not hundreds of millions, and this number...horrific as it is doesn't include the number (estimated at more than a billion) of small mammals that are stalked and killed by cats. Astonishing. Human animals bring cat animals to this continent for their own amusement and animals then wreak havoc on indigenous animals. Good grief, even when humans aren't trying they end up causing death and destruction. Maybe we ought to quit doing stuff. Really.

Keep your cat indoors and do not let them roam outside. Period. Not only will you save the lives of other animals you will likely prolong the life of your cat. Cats did not evolve here, the animals here have not evolved strategies to cope with cats....just like they haven't evolved to cope with automobiles, electricity, air pollution...etc...all the wonderful ways we have developed to disrupt and destroy nature and the living world.

The Cardinals I saw yesterday have evolved with hawks, they knew that sitting very still and quietly on a leafy and obscured branch was an effective strategy to avoid the hawk, even if they have to be near a human animal to do it. The Cardinals don't have a long history with cats like they do hawks. Give them a break, and the chipmunks and prairie dogs and...and...and all the other little ones who are victims of the alien domestic cats we human animals brought here. Please.

And, in addition to keeping your cat indoors, if you really want to help out a bunch of your fellow animals...go vegan.


Christina said...

I use the term dodo bird a lot because apparently the dodo was too friendly with people and became extinct because it would walk right up to people and get eaten by them. Hmmmm now if we had that situation in reverse??????

I love Nessie Rae. Tell her I said good job!

Anonymous said...

I love the word Crepuscular.
I love birds, chickens included. One time, a friend of mine saw a hawk swoop down and grab a squirrel. Humbling!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christina and DEM.

Christina...yup being too friendly with the wrong person(s) has done in lots of different beings. :-)

I'll pass on the message to the Ness.

DEM: Crepuscular is a great word. Yup, the little ones live in a dangerous world.

Michele said...

thanks for visiting my site and commenting! I have not updated my blog in many months due to some large life changes but I occasionally still browse around my old vegan community online :) Looking forward to reading more...

Anonymous said...

Dearest elder of rabbit food, Just clarifying the "respectful workplace" response to you on my blog: the faculty of ag is monitoring my blog and I've been reminded by my Dean about the "code" of the workplace (sickening) so I have to be collegial.....even to those funded by agribusiness, if I mention them in the singular.
You're good people, too, and ass kicking would be great, metaphrically speaking, btw :)

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Michele. And for visiting...I hope you can get back to blogging more in the future. :-)

veganelder said...

Thanks for the clarification DEM...that's sad about the de-facto censorship you're subject to. Isn't living in a free society wonderful? might want to check out a book titled "Covering" by Kenji Yoshino. I have just started it but am impressed as hell so far...of course it might disintegrate half way through but it is worth taking a look at.

I often consider just letting drool dribble down my chin when trying to talk to whack jobs who have to be placated because they might hurt me.

Back when I was doing therapy it was my job to tell people when they were being "out of touch with reality". I must admit it was a great job. :-)

Anonymous said...

I can expose agribusiness in all its evil but I can't criticize colleagues under this Code of Conduct (designed to protect corporate-backed researchers). I asked "how are people funded by Monsanto my colleagues???". The answer: "They are".

veganelder said...

Thanks for the follow-up DEM. The arrogance of power is balanced by its ignorance and inaneness. "They are" wonder we think we're the "crown of creation"...if we accurately perceived ourselves we would hide in shame.

Annie said...

So much to comment on...Since becoming a serious birdwatcher, I've realized, too, how intelligent birds are. Many examples, but my favorite is that a mockingbird has handily trained me to bring it a plate of cut up grapes each morning - but only during the winter months. Other times of the year he remains aloof.

One big reason we have not brought a cat into our small world is for our birds. We want them to have a safe (ish) place to thrive and multiply!

Bea Elliott said...

Thanks for the reminder - Absolutely NO outdoor cats!!! And NO un-neutered cats!!! I've got a neighbor that's quite out of touch... This old guy has a nice bird bath... And feeders... And places catfood underneath them! Jeeze!!! :(

Your schedule sounds like mine - The girls (hens) come out in the morning and late afternoon. I used to leave them out all day, often unattended... One tragic experience with a hawk cured that. Now I watch diligently and have a large red towel that I wave over my head if any of them looks like they are perusing a menu.

But the other birds... The songbirds - cardinals, mockingbirds and even jays are always welcome! The most touching thing about cardinals if one cares to observe is how they chirp and chatter to each other as one (usually the male) is keeping guard while his mate gets water or food. His dedication to her is beautiful and humbling.

The mocking birds? I love them because they are so inquisitive. One stays very close to where the hens live and he tries to mimic their clucks! Funny stuff!

But the most enchanting treat for me (and the hens) is when we beat the sunrise and begin our day when the dew is like diamonds in the grass... If we're quiet and lucky enough - our bunny friends will visit. Those are the most special mornings - A great opportunity to think of Nessie and the kind bird lovers elsewhere.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Annie. Watching birds is definitely addictive. That mockingbird sounds like he is a real marvel. Thanks for being willing to be 'trained' by her/him. :-)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. Cardinals are interesting beings. We're in an area of Norman that, for whatever reason, has an abundance of those...over the years we've seen a number of generations of Cardinals hatch, be babies and then be grown-ups. They are beautiful and fascinating....and they are fascinated by Nessie...she always has an audience when she goes out (in addition to whomever has guardian duties). :-)

vegangsterARNP said...

ahhhh i miss cardinals....

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting vegangsterARNP. Come on by, lots of cardinals hang out around here (for some reason)...I'm sorry you are able to be able to see any. They are beautiful.