Thursday, August 13, 2009

Birds are like people, too

I learn a lot from watching birds. When I was a child, I was taught to recognize the call and the flash of wing from my "Field Guide to Western Birds". The exercise taught me a new way of looking. As a result a trip through a field, forest path, or city street is rich with activity that many others miss.

I have vivid memories of bird dramas through the years. Like the morning a pack of summer birds caught an owl far from her roosting spot. They harrassed her down the street from tree to tree as if she were a hoodlum caught in the act. It was if the whole bird community conspired to squawk their disdain. First in line to harrass the poor owl were the crows, cautiously followed by the magpies. Next were the blue jays, robins, and far in the rear, the sparrows jeered.

Not too close, though. A sparrow has to be careful.

Now, closer to home, I have a chance to get to know my bird neighbours in their daily habits. The crows and the magpies, as annoying as they can be during the day with their raucus calls, are quiet while on the hunt. I've decided the endless calls in the morning are their hungry young. I suspect the crow and magpie parents do their chief hunting in the morning, quietly, snatching the young of their weaker neighbours, to feed their own.

Hunger is a hard taskmaster.

Chickadees, those tiny balls of fluff at the bottom of the food chain, never fail to inspire me. Their cheerful call can be heard through the dead of winter. They are survivors, they are flexible communicators, and they are optimists. Urban legend taught me that chickadees congregate in the winter night in the hollow of a tree for warmth, allowing their body temperature to drop near freezing, then erupting in a mass shiver. I've found out since that this may not be true. One article insists that chickadees are loners. These tiny bundles rather each find their own cranny to wedge themselves in for the night. From a bird feeder they will take away seeds to hide in their own hidden cache. For all their resourcefulness, a hard winter will take casualties. It makes me pause on a hard winter day as I gaze out my double glazed window.

I've also learned another hard fact about small birds...and bees, for that matter. The smaller you are, the higher your metabolic rate. Chickadees, hummingbirds, and bees must be on a constant search for food to keep their little engines running. As a consequence also, all three are highly territorial.

Hunger is a hard taskmaster.

So what does this all have to do with people? Well, people aren't all alike, either. Their habits and choices cannot be explained away in a short, brute list of motivations. My observations as a child that distinguished, say, mother from woman, matured as I got older, and is fine tuned even further as I watch people in place. What pushes people; what pushes me to react one way or another is not always simple. Understanding these nuances can keep me from making brute assumptions, and perhaps I can choose new ways to respond to new situations.