Birds of a Feather

I love it in the fall when the birds start to flock.  There’s an intricate set of over/underpasses near my home, and they always seem to play there, swooping and diving; great waves of bird. I imagine them all getting together and having these roaming discussions about whether it’s time to head out or not, practicing their formations, battling for hierarchical position. As I was heading home tonight at dusk there were thousands of them all in perched in rows on the power lines, and then this little group of about 11 off at the end like they’d been shunned or something — geeky birds with their pocket protectors and no social skills who weren’t allowed to sit with everybody else.

When I was a young girl in Catholic school we were taught that human beings were God’s chosen creatures, and that this was proven by the fact that we had language, social networks, and superior intelligence — demonstrated through our use of tools. Apparently this overlooked evidence such as apes and orangutans using long pieces of grass to get ants out of anthills or sticks to get bananas out of cages, and their elaborate familial societies. Elephants will stand over their compatriots as they die; geese will fly down and stand guard over a dying member of their flock, and swans mate for life; birds seem to sense when it’s time to go and have evolved an elaborate system for ensuring their success.

(About a year ago 30 deer stood in a line along the edge of our yard and waited while the lead deer looked repeatedly in both directions to wait for traffic to clear. [“gonna look both ways when I cross the street. . . .left. . . .right. . . .] She gave some sort of signal, and most of them crossed, one at a time, in an orderly fashion. A few at the back seemed to have realized that just because the traffic was clear when the line started didn’t mean it was clear still, and hung back. We watched as the last few deer to cross realized that they weren’t being followed, turned around to look at the stragglers, and then came back across the street as if to encourage them to follow. We narrated the conversation: “Come on, George, it’s fine.” “Nope, I’m not goin’, saw little Sammy get taken out by that dump truck just a week ago and it just doesn’t look safe to me.” “But Maud gave the all clear.” “Yeah, but that was over a minute ago, and who knows what’s comin’ over that hill.”  After a few more seconds, the 4 of them turned around and went back from whence they came.)

Who’s to say who’s smarter? A Michigan winter looms just around the corner, and I don’t even have my bags packed.


2 Responses to “Birds of a Feather”

  1. September 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I love visiting your site, I have bookmarked it

  2. September 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Great blog so much interesting information here

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