Thursday, June 5, 2014

Why Birds? Why NOT Birds?

I am sure none of my old classmates would be surprised to see me working with animals today. I was the kid who volunteered to hold snakes and parrots during presentations even in elementary school.

Norbert the Bald Eagle gliding into the theater (photo: Carmen Volante)

Still, I get asked “Why birds?” often enough, and frankly struggle to come up with a short reply. Three general things do come to mind when I think about why I love birds and enjoy working with them, and I can conveniently use some of the birds gearing up for the World Bird Sanctuary’s Birds of Prey show at Boston’s Stone Zoo as examples!

The first reason I always give for my fascination with these winged creatures is simply the pure variety of birds in the world. It's thought that there are just under ten thousand living species of birds today. That's a number only surpassed by fish, insects, and spiders in the animal world.

Scarlett the Red-shouldered Hawk showing off her beautiful coloring (photo: Carmen Volante)

From Red-shouldered Hawks having slimmer, longer legs to better catch snakes and amphibians to Harris's Hawks hunting in groups to catch the elusive desert hare, bird adaptability has allowed them to occupy every environment and niche.

You may be thinking you see the same sparrows, robins, or finches in your backyard all the time, but take a walk to a nearby park or field and the occupants can change dramatically, no matter what time of year it is! This doesn't just apply to what the bird is eating either. Color, song, flight pattern, what a nest is made of – and keep your eyes and ears open and you may find those sparrows in your backyard are actually three different species.

Rio flying across stage (photo: Flannery O'Brien)

Of course, bright colors and flight are usually what people think of when picturing birds. Whether it's one of our raptors gliding over the seats or Rio the Red & Green Macaw flashing her colorful wings across stage, the beauty of birds easily grabs attention. Feathers have been a part of fashion for centuries, and I doubt I need to go into how our admiration of flying has played a role in human history.

I also can't help but throw the word cute in here. Has anyone else noticed owls taking over the fashion world lately? Even if someone is nervous around our larger birds, most cannot seem to resist an owl's fluffy appearance and huge eyes.

My final point is brains! I dare say that birds are greatly underrated when it comes to their intelligence. When flying in free-flight shows we rely on the birds to recognize their flying pattern well enough to not be looking to every perch or platform before finding the trainer, but also to wait for said trainer to call them to the spot before taking off.

Nemo the African Grey parrot responding to a cue word (photo: Flannery O'Brien)

It’s mostly common knowledge that parrots are smart enough to mimic human speech, but did you know there are crows in Japan that drop nuts in the road at red lights and wait for cars to crack them open when it turns green? Some wild Corvids (the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, jays, etc.) use twigs just like chimpanzees do to find insects! I am fascinated by how resourceful and quick birds can be. I could go on and on with particular species and examples.

Being a part of the summer live bird show is my way of hopefully rubbing some of my love for birds off on others, and maybe even inspiring a future wildlife rehabilitator or biologist. I don't expect everyone to run home and watch an avian documentary, but next time you hear a birdsong you don't recognize or glimpse a hawk flying overhead take a moment to enjoy the feathered part of our world.

Submitted by Carmen Volante, World Bird Sanctuary Boston Zoo Show Trainer

No comments: