Friday, 3 December 2010

How Idiotic Are Birds?

The university is shut today because of the snow, and quite right, too. We have so many overseas students from the Far East these days, it's only fair to give them a chance to discover what it feels like to lose all sensation below the wrist after an hour or two's snowballing and making snowmen. Indeed, "Earth has not anything to show more fair" than a half-dozen young women from South Asia, who have never seen snow before, shrieking and gambolling in it like eight-year-olds. It warms a man's heart, especially watched from the comfort of an office window.

So, as I'm actually at home, I've just been out into the garden to clear the snow off the bird table and put some food out. Our robin was looking at me very reproachfully at breakfast, as if to say, "Get your act together, matey, we're hungry out here, too!" Yes, yes, I know, birds do not really have cutesy speech bubbles over their heads. But something is clearly going on inside whatever is the avian equivalent of a "mind".

My feeling is that "our" birds probably have no way of deducing that I put the food out in the garden for them. But they're clearly aware that something unusual has happened, and the word spreads fast. There is probably a spectrum of reactions to this unexpected bounty.

I imagine the smarter, watchful birds -- the robins, say -- think something like, "That idiot has just put his food out in the open in the garden! Quick!! Grab some before he comes back!". However, the very smartest birds -- the magpies, say -- probably suspect a trap, and hang back to see what happens to the robins before wading in. But the majority just barrel through the garden hoping to bump into something to eat, shriek to a halt like cartoon characters, and gobble up what they can before the resident robin tells them to clear off.

My favourites, I have to say, are the hyperactive flock of long-tailed tits, so cute, and so reminiscent of young South Asian women bundled up in fashionable snow-wear.


Dave Leeke said...

That reminds me, I must put some bird food out tomorrow. Evidently robins have been hit particularly badly recently by our spates of bad weather.

In our (tiny) garden, the big fat pigeons sit and watch the smaller songbirds attack the hanging food and then hop down to take advantage of all the fallen food*.

The pigeons have always reminded me of CofE vicars.

I guess there's some sort of metaphor there . . .

*worryingly for everyone else, so do rats generally.

Mike C. said...

Rats are the unintended beneficiaries of most bird feeding activities, unfortunately. Rats and squirrels. Once in a while a sparrow hawk is a beneficiary, too, sweeping through to take out an incautious feeder.

Our garden is tiny, too, but it backs on to a steep, wooded corner of a municipal cemetery, so it's like our garden encompasses a small wood, in which everything from deer down to mice finds a home. See: