Birds have a reputation for being unintelligent. We use the term “bird-brained” to mean someone is not particularly bright. In older slang, a bird was a girl with various qualities, but generally cleverness was not one of them. And it’s easy to look at the our little feathered friends chucking seed onto the ground from the feeder, or pecking endlessly for worms and think they aren’t really that bright.
But when you start to look at birds more closely, you realise that despite their reputation they are quite clever things. Over the years I have noticed seagulls doing their own version of River Dance, tapping away on the ground. Apparently they are imitating the vibrations of the raindrops, so that they can persuade worms to come up to the surface. Earlier on in the year when I was in Israel I saw a hooded crow with a stale, dry piece of bread. It was obviously hard to swallow, so he took it to a puddle, got it wet and then ate it.
When I was on holiday this summer we went to Exmouth for the afternoon. It was low tide and the mussel beds were exposed. So all long the front there were seagulls deliberately dropping mussels onto the pavement again and again until they were cracked and ready to eat. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me at that point, but it was an amazing sight. Earlier up on the cliffs I had walked almost directly underneath a hovering kestrel keeping completely still despite the strong winds, watching and concentrating hard on the ground below.
This is not to say that all birds are clever. When we look at our chickens, there are some that are definitely brighter than others. We have one chicken who is definitely at the bottom of the pecking order, but seems completely unaware of the fact. In her case, total ignorance is bliss.
It just goes to show that when you study things carefully, you can’t tar them all with the same brush. That’s true of birds. And teenagers out on the streets. And residents of a particular neighbourhood. Generalisations are easy, but they are at the same time lazy, and show up our own real lack of observation.
Couldn’t find a really clear image of a bird to go with this post, but here’s a fuzzy, long-range shot of one of my favourite birds, the little egret.