Tuesday, 15 June 2010

So different...!

A lot has been said and written about birds, by people who know infinitely more about them than I do, and I won't even attempt to write anything scientific here; just a personal observation and the thoughts that came along with it - actually, years ago, before I discovered blogging as the literary form most suited to me.

(This is not the first bit I am writing about those - mostly - small modern-day winged dinosaurs; if you are interested, you can read here about larks and here about buzzards.)

Whether we like it or not, we do have a lot in common not only with birds, but with a large amount of other species roaming the planet alongside us; our basic needs for food, water, shelter and wanting to procreate are pretty much the same, as is a lot of the territorial behaviour that can be seen.

There are fundamental differences, though, and I think one very noticeable one is the apparent inability of birds to predict the trajectory of an approaching human.

What I mean is this:
When you walk along a path, maybe lined with hedgerows or fences, and a bird - blackbird, sparrow, finch, doesn't matter which one - is sat on the fence or on the ground, and it spots you coming, what does it do?
Usually, it will just fly further up along the fence or hop along the path a few yards, until you almost catch up with it, then repeat the same maneuver, possibly (especially if it is a blackbird) shouting some very rude swearwords in birdish at you, and so on, until you reach the end of the path or take a turn anyway.

Why, I used to wonder, don't they just stay put on the fence and let you pass, when - for another human - it is so obvious that you are simply going to keep moving in that same direction and are unlikely to suddenly jump on the fence?
Dogs and, to an extent, even cats are quite capable of predicting where a human is headed under normal circumstances, in particular if it is "their" human, whose patterns they have closely observed and sometimes know a lot better than we realize.
But birds lack this; they can not conclude from our initial direction of movement to the most probable trajectory.

Which strikes me as partly logical - they do not have mirror neurons, do they? - and partly odd: when it comes to their own flying, they show an amazing knack for (mostly) failure-free three dimensional judging of distances and speed, rarely knocking against obstacles or bumping into other birds while airborne, this being especially true for those species whose food mainly consists of flying insects such as the incredibly agile swifts; they surely can work out insect trajectories, even though these are, I suppose, a lot more erratic and less linear in their direction of movement than those of humans who are by nature bound to stay on the ground while walking, and typically prone to follow a more or less straight line to get as effortless as possible from A to B.

Some people, by the way, are like that.
I meet them almost every morning when I get off the train on my way to work.
The stairs which are the only way to leave the platform and eventually the station are always at the same place; they do not change over night. It should be obvious to any human who applies even the most rudimentary of logic thinking that those people who get off the train are going to head for those stairs. And yet, there are those who invariably will stand at exactly the wrong side of the door, blocking the way for everybody, sometimes even reacting in an exasperated manner at the impoliteness of the passengers who, wanting to get to the stairs and having no other choice, brush past them.

Maybe we aren't so different after all.


  1. This was so great! Our recent bluebird mystified us by flying over to the screen or the house wall, but we think that maybe the babies were about to fly and he was shook up about the farm animals being just below the nest, but still why fly over to the house??

  2. Yes, seems odd, doesn't it? Was it very windy? Maybe closer to the house it is less windy, which could be helpful for the little ones when they are still learning to fly.

  3. There is a rabbit at my place that every morning it sits in the driveway and when we live the garage the rabbit follows the drive a little ways then stops and looks back. It takes the rabbit a while to go in another direction. This is our morning laugh when we hit the road for work.

  4. I can imagine! Good job you always see the rabbit, so it is not really in danger of being run over.

  5. Presumably I haven't read this post before but it has a certain familiarity (and not from your recent post that led me here). The annoying people who seem incapable of judging the obvious in such cases are everywhere though. Perhaps it is down to people just not thinking.

    1. I know that this "not thinking" is responsible for many accidents, as well as distractions from mobile phones and so on. It is rare that people behave like this out of spite.