“You’re as bad as Ani!” I look round, guiltily from my fascinated observation of the birds. My son sighs. “I know where she gets it from now.”
I’m not allowed bird feeders in my garden. Ani objects to avian invasion of her airspace, and the neighbours would object to her objections. It doesn’t stop the sparrows nesting in the honeysuckle, though, or the morning visitors to my tiny lawn. I never use pesticides either… the birds do a far better job and the sacrifice of a few blooms to greenfly is a small price to pay for their presence.
To be fair, though, my son has a point. My attention has, for quite some time, been fixed on the antics of the birds flocking to the feeders outside his window, and as I have the camera he has just given me in my hands, the result was only to be expected.
It isn’t long since we set the second feeder up in his garden and the faint, dusty silhouettes of birds on his windowpanes attest to how many have flown into them over the past couple of weeks as they squabble over fat balls and their position in the hierarchy.
It is quite odd to watch and see how that works. The larger birds are the wariest, watching all the time to see who is looking, defensive of their space and fearful, it seems, of challenge. Some, like the starlings, descend in flocks, bickering between themselves companionably, but confidently. Perhaps they feel the safety of numbers and feel less threatened moving as one. The smallest birds, like the bluetits, seem to enjoy the company of others but are equally happy and confident on their own, not even worried by the proximity of humans. They seem to have worked out who fills the feeders and have learned trust. Then there are the solitary birds like the robins who come in as they please, have no fear and simply do their own thing… and with cheek too.
I watched the younglings follow the parents to the feeders again, mouths open, literally walking all over each other to get to their goal. And the bedraggled parents working overtime to feed their fluffy brood. The similarities to our own society weren’t hard to spot. From the bigwigs to the herd, through the families to what my co-director calls the mavericks… we are all there echoed at the bird table.
It was an unexpected revelation really, to see another species entirely behaving in a way that so beautifully mirrors our own society, and all the more so because all it took to see it was sustained attention for a couple of hours. My son had observed it too. Yet I have always loved watching the birds and never really seen it before and that surprised me more than anything.
It made me wonder on the drive home just how much we miss by not giving our full and sustained attention to things. It also made me think in terms of microcosm and macrocosm… if the birds, ‘below’ us in terms of size and on our idea of the evolutionary scale… what is there ‘higher’ up that scale that could observe us as we scurry around, jostling for position, herding together for safety from both predators and perhaps from the creativity of free-thinking or feeding our flock? The seeds thrown on our feeder from that Source may be just the nourishment the soul needs in order to grow….