How The Hen House Turns: Grateful Birds

How the Hen House Turns
Grateful Birds

In this season of giving, we were treated to a story that left us puzzled and awestuck, not sure how to interpret the giving of gifts that is more than simple gratitude.

Here is the link that we received from  Madison, Wis.:

The link itself describes what is a bit hard to believe and yet hard to deny. After the young girl put out food for the crows everyday for some time, they began to bring her gifts of trinkets. She collected them and has laid them out for us to examine. All are manufactured treasures, bits of metal and plastic that once served some kind of purpose. Many are round, but not all. Most are colorful or shiny.

The collection reminds me of the bowerbirds that attract mates by building elaborate displays of bright objects and vegetation in front of a structure of straw, the bower. They are very fussy about how they arrange their treasures, sometimes eyeing the display and selecting objects to be moved to a better position.

So it is with the beads and circlets and bits of plastic that the crows brought to the 8-year-old girl who faithfully gave them something to eat every day. We don’t know what she fed them, nor do we know exactly where the birds left their presents or when. But what is most puzzling is why the crows picked the shiny non-vegetative, obviously human-produced bits as an appropriate gift for the girl.

The crows may value the trinkets in the same way that the bowerbirds value the items they choose to decorate their bowers. They may simply be attracted to shine and color, or anything unusual in the midst of natural vegetation and geology.

But one is left to wonder if they understand us a bit better than we think they could. Perhaps they’ve seen us wear shiny bits, or put pretty things in our hair. Or perhaps they are aware of the way we live, dependent on manufactured objects, things that appear as if by magic, neither natural rock nor vegetation.

There are many good books that describe studies done to try and understand the mind of birds, especially the corvids. I enjoyed The Mind of the Raven. Friends have recommended H is For Hawk. Just be sure to click on the link above. We’ve given some birds credit for their mental astuteness, but perhaps we haven’t yet understood the extent of their capacity for empathy and emotions like gratefulness.

 Happy Holidays to all.