Common Birds, Uncommon Appreciation

Recently I’ve become a big fan of Lyanda Lynn Haupt and her books Crow Planet and Rare Encounters With Ordinary Birds. These remarkable texts are written by a Seattle-dwelling naturalist who view birds as more than simple animals but complex creatures that can teach us a lot about wildlife, human nature, and how to appreciate the ordinary beauty that surrounds us.

If you’ve spent any time with me, it would become readily apparent that I am an unabashed nature-lover who excitedly sneaks around bushes with hopes of viewing a squirrel, identifies the Rufus-sided Towhee’s soft twittering, and trudges through landscapes of all kinds with hopes of discovering a beautiful specimen and preserving it with my camera. Growing up on the Sound in a rural area, I was exposed to sea birds, woodland sparrows, and wetland-dwelling dinosaurs.

Living in Seattle for the past five years, I’ve grown to appreciate the common birds we see around our city. Many equate pigeons to “flying rats,” crows to loud intruders, seagulls to nothing but large nuisances, ducks as common, and Canada Geese as poop-generating honkers.

I disagree with those characterisations.

Unlike the jumpy nervous system of a rodent, the blind obedience of a dog, or disinterested life of a cat, birds exhibit a much different behaviour. Have you ever spent any time slowly approaching a duck, a seagull, or even a pigeon? These are not simple creatures unworthy of our respect, but intelligent and reasoning beings that we should be thankful of.

Crows have matched the advanced tool-usage of our primate relatives. Magpies join the ranks of creatures that can recognise themselves in mirrors: less than ten outside of our immediate family tree can match this feat. The Seagull is a master scavenger and easily manipulates us for our food. Pigeons not only survive in the harsh urban environment that is so foreign to their natural habitat, but they flourish in it.

And how do we reward these creatures? The great and mighty humans feed seagulls Alka-Seltzer so their stomachs explode. We “humanely” gas geese when there are too many of them for our liking. Crows are killed, poisoned, and we set traps that punish their natural curiosity. Pigeons are mocked, kicked, and laughed at. Even the mighty Bald Eagle was hunted to near-extinction by the very country that held it in such high respect that they made it their national animal.

But that’s okay.

That mud-splattered pigeon adeptly using its powerful flight muscles to weave between Metro Buses forgives you. The pure-white Seagull majestically soaring the trade winds doesn’t hold this against you. Even the unassuming Northern Shoveler— which many assume is nothing but a malformed Mallard–understands. Supremely intelligent, the Corvids are nothing if not magnanimous.

The next time you go outside, take a few minutes to look around  and appreciate the beauty that birds bring to our world.  You don’t have to like them, but they are no less worthy of our respect.

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