This morning on the National Public Radio show Living on Earth, I heard an interview (listen here) with Lisa Couturier, author of The Hopes of Snakes: And Other Tales from the Urban Landscape. (Listen to Jan 25 interview with Diane Rehm here). A work of nature essays dedicated to urban wildlife, the book challenges us to see animals as having hopes and feelings--not human hopes--but desires for food, shelter, and other needs that we can relate to.
I've felt this for a long time. Part of the joy of birding is to get into the world of the bird...to try and understand and appreciate each bird's desires and motivations--to try and figure out why the bird does what it does and to appreciate its view of the world. This morning at the bird feeder, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker landed next to a Mourning Dove and opened its mouth and lunged at the dove until the dove flew away. Then the woodpecker got up higher onto the platform feeder to eat cracked corn and other seeds. As I watched this I had to wonder, what was up with that? What would make the woodpecker threaten the dove? Surely it could have shared the platform with the dove? But it didn't. Fascinating to speculate about the motivations of a woodpecker...and worth spending some time looking watching to try and understand.
The answer to the question raised by this post. Of course they have feelings. They can be mysterious and hard to understand. But birds have complicated emotional lives...with hopes, fears, and desires. If you can tap into that, you can start to experience if only distantly, the world as lived by birds. Ancient traditions structured by their physiology and learned customs of behavior. You don't have to fly to a distant planet to encounter strange exotic beings...they are right here among us. Just step outdoors and see what your bird neighbors are doing. It will make your life richer.
Christmas Bird Counting in Queens
1 hour ago