Yes, I know I am slightly prejudiced in favor of our feathered friends, having given them front-line protection for more than a quarter century.
And throughout my life I have witnessed countless examples of common birds doing uncommon things. A recent question asking which of our local native birds is the most intelligent brought up a host of fond memories.
Chickadees are not known as being overly smart. But they can survive the harshest winters and still raise a brood or two when spring finally arrives. They have long-ago learned to store food.
Usually this is in the form of sunflower seeds hidden in many different places, most often under the bark of pines. Their main foes are other chickadees stealing their hidden treasures. But they also steal seeds hidden by others, so all is fair to them.
What about eagles? Have you ever dreamed of petting a wild bald eagle?
Well, there is a boat dock in southeastern Alaska that anglers often use. And a female eagle has learned to land on a certain piling near where most of the angling activity takes place. She will “scream” whenever an angler catches a fish.
Many of the local fishermen will actually donate their first fish to that bird by placing it on the dock’s surface near her. She will jump down, grab it, and fly off to have her own little picnic.
Or, if it is too heavy to carry off, she simply eats her fill just a few feet from her human angling buddies.
But the fun part happens while she is sitting on the piling. As the anglers pass by they will often pet her, stroking from her head down her back. And she seems to love the attention, just as long as someone feeds her for her trouble.
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Oh, and when the fish aren’t biting she will go it alone and catch her own in the bay right in front of that dock. She’s probably just showing off when she does that, teaching us humans how to get the job done right and on time.
But feeding wild birds can also be harmful. There are some brown pelicans hanging around Siletz, Oregon that have learned to swim up to humans and act hungry. And many of the humans fall for their ruse, giving them all sorts of human food.
But this is not a good situation. Pelicans can digest fish, but they have a really difficult time dealing with a hot dog or uneaten portion of a bologna sandwich. And more than a few have ended up at the vet’s office recovering from an avian upset stomach.
Now back to the question at hand. What is the smartest bird in our area? My vote goes to the common crow without reservation. What other bird species leaves a lookout for danger while the rest of the flock feeds contentedly in a nearby open farm field?
And what other bird species will mob and actually kill the lookout bird if danger approaches the flock without a timely warning?
Crows are so intelligent that it is actually impossible for humans, including knowledgeable researchers, to quantify. One example still causes me to shake my head in disbelief.
Researchers put a narrow plastic tube about four inches high and containing a small food container with a hooped handle in a crow’s cage. They also gave the bird a straight piece of malleable (bendable) wire. Then they sat back and waited.
That crow didn’t hesitate. It looked over the tube, then grabbed the wire and immediately stuck the end inside and fed it in until the end touched the food. But it couldn’t do more than move that food around a bit.
So it withdrew the wire completely, made a quick “U” bend at the end, and fed the wire back into the cylinder. A few strokes and the food was pulled out and eaten. The total elapsed time for this experiment? Less than two minutes from start to lunch.
There are hundreds of examples of similar apparently-intelligent behavior by crows.
Some are simply unbelievable — until the videos are viewed and the truth is observed. And that is why my vote goes to the always uncommon crow.
If you have a different “smartest local bird” in mind, please send me an email. And if you want to have some fun, go to YouTube and enter “crow behavior.”
I was reading the latest edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac the other day when I came upon its version of the Solunar Tables. For those readers who may not be familiar with the tables, a quick explanation is that old-timers thought there was a connection about the sun’s location, the various phases of the moon and how both relate to the times of maximum and minimum activity for both fish and wildlife.
Believe it or not there are still many anglers and hunters, most of them older, who still use these tables. However, fishing or hunting is not more productive during the three days of the full moon than at other times during the month.
I have known several anglers who would not even go on the water during the indicated “low” activity periods on the chart. That, in my opinion, was silly.
For those who may still give some credit to the Solunar Tables, science has dealt itself into the debate with some solid research. There have been projects conducted in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Maryland, to name just a few.
One included data collected from over 250,000 different locations. All of them determined there was no significant connection of any kind between lunar phases and increased movement of either fish or wildlife.
What these studies did prove is just what the best anglers and hunters already knew. Fish are far more affected by weather systems, achieving feeding peaks when barometers are falling as a storm front approaches. But they will feed at any time, only a little less so during periods of high pressure.
As for deer, their movements are near maximum during the period from 1.5 hours before sunrise until one hour after the sun comes up, and a half hour before sunset until two hours after the sun has set.
But those movement norms go out the window all year long whenever a storm front is approaching. And of course everything about daily deer movements gets tossed in the air during the rut or whenever unbred does come back into season.
The bottom line is that the old-time outdoorsmen who relied on Solunar Tables to time their hunting and fishing activities were actually hurting their chances of success. They would have been better off reading tea leaves or wishing upon their favorite star.
Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Writer. Contact him at [email protected]