How the Hen House Turns—The Human Factor: Calm Persuasion (Part Three)

How the Hen House Turns
Calm Persuasion: (Part Three)
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

It’s amazing what a low, quiet tone in a human voice will do to influence an animal’s reaction. The skunk that lived under the Hen House for a while didn’t even raise a threatening tail when I crooned, “Oh, hello, sweetie.”

I had run into him when coming out the back door and when I caught him stealing eggs. Of course, backing off also gave him the clear message that I wasn’t going to trap him there in the nest box.

During early mornings on the front porch, a soft noise gives the scrub jays the message that peanuts are served. However, there are limits. A kindly invitation to come under the porch roof to get a peanut, which I had carefully set beside me on the table, could not persuade the jays to trust me that far.

The jay was obviously annoyed! Why else would he throw down another peanut he had taken from the railing and fly off, only to come back, fluff (just a little) and watch as I said, “Okay you win” and place the misplaced peanut back on the railing.

Or consider the time when Poncho dog came in and saw backpacks ready to go in the hall. His excitement quickly dissipated when I said, “No, we’re not going this time. We’ll stay home.” Studies have counted some dogs’ vocabularies in the hundreds. Koko the gorilla uses sign language creatively.

Those are clear cases of interspecies communication—like the quiet exchanges when Gwendolyn chicken and Lucy goose pass me in the yard. Every “Hi, Lucy (or Gwen)” gets an answer, “Bak bak” or “Ack Ack”. Another comment elicits another answer. The exchange has gone on for at least eight exchanges.

However, these civilized conversations of recognition and well-being are unlike some “talks” I’ve had with Bobbi goose. I don’t really understand the loud honking that goes on whenever I kneel down to prune a bush or fix the hose. Do I suddenly turn into a threatening gooseoid? Tune in next week as we explore this fascinating topic.

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