Thursday, January 17, 2013

Teenagers and all that

Persistent, repetitive, demanding:  the teen magpies, almost the size of their parents, appeared about a month ago, with their high pitched nagging squawks.  I take my (figurative) hat off to the parents who seemed unruffled by their incessant needs, their nerve-fraying persistence.
As time has passed I have seen that although the teens can pick up food, and they do, they have a little difficulty in getting it from the front of their beaks back to their throat. Seeing this has made me feel kinder towards them.
The parents feed themselves, as well.  But when they turn to the child, and beak a mouthful deep within, there is an impression of bliss:  perhaps, for a young bird, feeling a hard, food providing beak deep within yours is what parental comfort is all about.
Perceiving behaviours and empathising is part of being human.
If  I note behaviours and reactions or happenings in you, and deny to you the associated emotions that I might feel in that circumstance, that would label me as  a psychopath.
If I react in the same way to other creatures, it is ridiculed as anthropomorphism. 

Currawongs, with their staring yellow eyes, are present here all the time:  not seasonal, as at home.  They are a fierce looking bird: big. black, beaky. This is a nasty trick that nature has played on them, because they are a little timid, and well down in the assertiveness rankings. They have a range of calls, tunes and whistles: all with a pleasing richness of timbre.  Unfortunately they seem to congregate in mobs and talk a lot, and have loud voices, so that one can simultaneously think, "That is really beautiful", and "I wish they would stop."

One day when they - about 15 of them - and 6 or so magpies were guzzling the mince I scatter around, a loud currawong "clang! clang!" from on high, sent them all instantly into flight and hiding. I had had no idea that they had sentinels, and I was impressed that it was across species..(maybe wrong word there).  But, the magpies split as fast as the currawongs:  they knew the message.

Kookaburras cause me frustration. I feed them gravy beef, as the mince that all others gobble is, I understand, bad for them. Throwing them a slice, they may cock their heads, stare at it reflectively, and watch benignly while someone else steals it.  And then suddenly stir themselves to action and swoop on some mince that I want them to avoid.  Are they stupid or philosophic?  I only feed them now when they perch on the back railings and I am tossing  from about 20 cm. They like to shake and beat a strip to make sure that it is dead, before heading back to the clothesline to either swallow it or feed it to their fluffy babies. Oh, those babies ae adorable.

I used to try to protect the small birds, but I have no need.  They are swift and agile, and generally all the birds  interact with behaviour that I can only interpret as a kind of respect and tolerance.

Not that there are no disputes, or no hierarchy.  Assertiveness is always displayed with harsh noise, and a rearing and stretching of wings in order to appear larger.  Evidently it is inbuilt in all species, including us, to be intimidated or impressed soley by size.

Although I can see it working in bird disputes, I'm not sure that this innate instinct is helpful towards creating the kind of society I would prefer. 


The Elephant's Child said...

I understand that the young magpies beaks are also not sufficiently hard to break Australian summer baked ground to extract bugs/worms/beetles. Sometimes they seem to keep begging until they are at least as large as their parents. Young galahs are also vocal and persistent. I once saw an adult reach over and rap a young one on the top of its head. Blessed quiet ensued.
We rarely see kookaburras now, though I still hear them from time to time. I didn't know that mince was bad for them but, if it is, of course they want it.

Molly said...

I don't understand why more people are not flocking here! I love your writing and your observations! I too, love to spy on birds. Used to wish I knew as instinctively as they how to deal with my children. Used to watch mother robins, thin and gaunt, being followed around by their enormous, so-fat-they waddled chicks, beaks constantly open for the next worm, and sympathize! I'm off now to add you to my blogroll so I don't miss any more.
Laughed out loud at your story of misplacing your glasses!