It's on TV

I was watching a show called Time Team yesterday - it's an archeology show, digging holes all over Britain in pursuit of the truth about the past. Not controversial until you cross a bird lover!

The problem (for any friend of Maggie's gang) started when they demonstrated how, in Elizabethan times, they used falcons in hunting other birds. The falcon trainer 'explained' to us all how you can love a bird as much as you like, but the bird can never love you back - it's just a creature of instinct and doesn't understand any higher feelings. Meanwhile the falcon was standing there with a hood over its eyes. I wondered how much love the trainer would have developed if she had been kept a prisoner and blindfolded, but I didn't have to rely on mere speculation to know that she was talking nonsense. Something that happened earlier that very day was the latest in a long list of demonstrations our bird friends have given us that birds do understand higher feelings and act on them.

It was only a trivial incident in itself, but what was I to make of it? Those who have read my earlier posts will know that our local grey-backed butcherbird family doesn't have any territory inside our yard, and I have to go to the fence and call to Larry and Harry in their home in the inaccessible bushland nearby. One or both of them might come forward, then I put some food on the fence, they stay and chat for a while, then take the food and fly away. All fits the standard story of the dumb animal that lives only for what it can get, doesn't it?

But not yesterday. Now our birds, after they have eaten a big meal, will wipe their beaks clean on a branch - they "clean their teeth", as it were. So yesterday, when Larry came and sat on his branch and looked at me, he wiped his beak. Then he sat, and sat, and sat, and didn't come for his cheese. After maybe five minutes of me talking to him and him looking at me and not eating, he made another big, exaggerated wipe of his beak. He was telling me he was already full. Then he flew away and called his usual Hello back to me from the deep bush.

I think Larry came over to see me just to say hello, and he wiped his beak so obviously to tell me he wasn't hungry. That isn't demoralising enough for some people, so let's ask what other theories might explain this small incident?

The problem is, one of those 'creatures of pure instinct' that wasn't hungry wouldn't have any reason to come out of its home at all, seeing that it didn't want any food. So what other explanation could there be? Maybe it didn't care about me at all, but just popped over out of pure habit? But Larry doesn't come over every day; sometimes he calls an apology, sometimes he is elsewhere and not to be found, so he doesn't have a daily habit to keep. Or maybe he did it just to keep me admiring him and to bring me back tomorrow with more food when he might really be hungry? But doesn't that in itself assume that if he has no emotions of his own, he understands my emotions and knows how to manipulate them? If he has no feelings of his own, then he must be a positive genius at understanding mine. I don't know which is the more unbelievable theory; why can't he be just an ordinary bird who has a human friend?

In the newspaper the other day I read about some other TV shows. Apparently the second most popular show on Australian TV last week was the Australian edition of So You Think You Can Dance. And the most popular show - wait for it - wasn't the cricket or any other sport, and it wasn't one of the many crime dramas, it was RSPCA Animal Rescue. So maybe those of us who delight to see our companions on this planet being helped to be happy and healthy aren't such a tiny minority after all?


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