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A Splendor Like No Other….That Is the Bird.

March 20, 2010 2 comments

Be it parrot, sparrow, eagle, or kingfisher there is nothing else in my life that I’ve come in contact with that fascinates me and grasps my attention more so that the avian species. I’ll admit, before I brought home my first parrot I was oblivious to birds, their uniqueness, their evolution, their intelligence, and their most extraordinary mode of transportation…..flight. I know, not all birds fly and not all flighted are birds but when you watch a bird fly, especially one that you know well, there is nothing I find more captivating and awe inspiring. I am forever snapping photos of my birds or the ones I work with in flight. I take small video clips and watch them frame by frame and never get tired of it. It is the most awesome thing I believe I’ve ever seen and I watch it daily.

There is something obviously fascinating about birds among the human population because birdwatching is a common activity across the globe. Since I’ve been involved with birds over the past seven years, I’ve seen so many people who were not interested in birds become fascinated in them. If someone wants to talk about birds, I hold nothing back on sharing the joy in what I’ve learned from these unique animals. I’ve been told listening to me talk about birds is infectious. Maybe it is. When I share a conversation with another who is interested, I want to convey how absolutely fascinating the birds are as well as hearing other views, interactions, and observations. Maybe they see my passion and it turns their eyes to the skies. I love to share the details of them that  amazes me. I’ve been told

Willoughby the Turkey Vulture - Avian ambassador at Nature's Nursery

numerous times from people that they’ve never thought a Turkey Vulture to be beautiful until they’ve heard my stories of Willoughby an avian ambassador at Nature’s Nursery. http://www.natures-nursery.org/ I have been nothing short of pleased when I hear people tell me they now pull over to the side of the road to watch a Red-tailed Hawk in pursuit of its next meal. My fascination in watching my own parrots fly, move, think, react, interact, etc. has opened my eyes to the species of birds outside of my aviary. I’ve found myself guessing what species of bird just flew overhead based on the shadow it casts on the ground in front of me. Yea, when you find your passion it is so obvious. I have nothing better to compare it to than being sucked into a vortex of information, images, knowledge, history, and dreams that you know will last you a lifetime.

The fascination in birds, their evolution, and symbolism can take us far back in history. Birds, their intelligence or lack of understanding it in great depth, their forms of locomotion, and their role in the evolution of the world is obviously an impressive one. Crows and ravens are commonly used as a symbol of death from their use in movies and in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Do you know what a flock of crows is called? A flock of crows is known as a “murder”. Now isn’t that fascinating and one I would love to look into how it came to be. Talk about intelligent, start reading about the intelligence levels and studies on crows and Corvids. Corvids and parrots have been said to be the smartest of the avian species. A study on three crows is often how I begin my lectures on avian intelligence an how not to underestimate it. If so, you will often find yourself quickly outwitted.

For the Japanese, the pigeon is the symbol of war. In ancient history and biblical pages birds are used as the deliverer of messages. Mercury was the messenger of the Greek Gods, thought to have been the inventor of the alphabet by watching the shapes of the wings of cranes in flight. Birds represent freedom and are often symbols of the soul in how after one passes their souls set free to fly. Owls are often seen as a symbol for wisdom. Have you ever trained

Sidney - Great Horned Owl

an owl? I thought I’d throw that in there to get a chuckle out of a few of you. Birds are seen as a sign of spring probably due to migration and it being the time of year to see chicks hatching and learning to fly. Tip your head back in early summer and watch the skies. You’ll be amazed at what you see. It’s a whole new avenue, a whole new world up there. It is a freeway of flight and communication in another language. In the early summer you’ll be amazed at the amount of adult birds you’ll see teaching their new fledglings to fly. You can almost hear the happiness and it is almost impossible to have it not bring a smile to your face. Tip your head back just before dusk and watch how the species of birds flying begins to change from the birds we find as common because we see them during the day to the species more unfamiliar such as the nightjars and owls.

War was predicted by the color of duck bones. If the bones were dark it was determined that the winter would be severe and decisions on the timing of war were then planned. Bones and anatomy of birds are vast such as the annual tradition of the breaking of the wishbone.

The natural acts of migration of avian species I find particularly fascinating. Have you ever watched Winged Migration? Wow, what an eye opening film and a peak into the details of so much of the unknown in the abundance of life that happens above us. What senses do they really have that predicts it is time to head south? What are they thinking, how do they plan, communicate, and forecast ventures?

Caching, or storing food is another area of avian intelligence in which I find fascinating. I once sat in the aviary, also my whole backyard, working on a project on my computer. My attention was turned towards a scuffle coming from the neighbor’s bush. There I sat in awe watching a Blue Jay caching its food. It was bring food up from its crop and obviously storing it at different hiding places near the base of the bush, and under the eavestrough. It would then go back and get one piece of food and search and store it in a different location. I sat and watched him do this for several minutes before flying off. I was amazed and even tempted to go over and move his treats. Just kidding. I did think that though.

The intelligence levels of birds, determined by manipulation of the environment, has lead to many studies. This is another area in which I find

Koko turning wheel to select preferred food items - Photo courtesy of Lissa Buja

fascinating but I’m not sure there is an area of birds that I don’t find fascinating. Certain species of birds have been observed intentionally manipulating their environment to out wit and trick onlooking scavenging species of birds. I read this study a few years ago and it escapes me but if you request it, I will go in search of it through my piles of papers I keep close at hand at all times. Species of birds were observed caching or storing their food in particular areas knowing the scavenging onlooking avian species were watching. This same species of birds were later observed taking the previously hidden food and moving it to other locations when the scavengers were not looking. Certain species of birds were also observed caching or storing different perishable food items in different locations and then later observed coming back and searching for and eating the more easily perishable items first and in order of freshness. Ha, and we have to rely on expiration dates to remember.

A leather rope woven in and out of cage bars by an Umbrella Cockatoo - Courtesy of Kelly Reed

Everyone has heard the term “bird brain” and its connotation in relation to being simple minded. Hmmm, I wonder how this came about and often find myself wondering if it was based on behaviors observed of birds being held in captivity. If that is the case and seeing how I am fascinated with providing enriched environments for captive animals to prevent abnormal repetitive behaviors, then I’m thinking this could easily be behavior resulting from poorly arranged environments created by “human brains”.

There are many videos on YouTube showing the intelligence of birds. Do a search and you’ll be amazed at what you find. Below are just a few of my own. Enjoy and remember, keep your eyes to the skies. You’ll be flabbergasted at the fascinating behaviors you will see but be careful. It can become addicting. Peterson’s Field Guide is 1 of the 10 best selling books of all time.

Observational Learning

Tool Use?

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