Sycamore Grove Farm, Madison County
There has been some research on whether birds remember people – specifically their faces and their voices. Two studies published in Science Daily attribute this skill as “key to the bird’s ability to survive.” Members of the crow family were the birds most often attributed with this ability. Another study published in Science Illustrated found this behavior was not limited to birds with high cognitive abilities. Even pigeons, which the study described as “not exactly the most ‘highly cognitive’ birds,” were able to differentiate between individual humans.
I have observed this ability among a number of species during my morning bird walks. It all began several months ago when I started bringing a small amount of birdseed to scatter at one of my “bird watching” stops. This area abuts a sycamore grove on one side, a barbed wire fence on a second side and an open hayfield on the third side. The flat surface of the fence posts offers a smooth surface for seed. I also scatter a small amount on the ground.
I usually wear the same hat and coat – and I confess that I talk to the birds as I walk down the slope from our house to this watching area. There is a large damaged cedar tree that had its top broken off in a storm this winter which I pass to get to my stop. Every morning this tree is filled with cardinals, titmice, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays – and sparrows on the ground. Over the last month or so some of the birds from this tree have flown toward me, turned around and returned to the tree. It was almost like they were letting me know they had been waiting for their morning “snack” and were excited to finally see me coming. This morning was exceptional! Over 15 different birds flew toward me, circled behind me and returned to the tree. It included a beautiful male hairy, several cardinals, a nuthatch, and a red-bellied woodpecker. It was also humbling to see how my small efforts each morning have now become a regular and valued part of their day.
I should make a brief mention of the crows who recognized my husband when we lived in Maryland. We often threw out bones for the crows in the morning. The crow family made fast work of them. Several times, however, my husband would then walk out to get the newspaper – and one or more of “our crows” flew over and tried to get his attention by calling and flying around. This was precipitated by the arrival of one or more vultures who were interested in the bones. Clearly these crows were requesting his assistance in getting rid of the competition. So my husband and I can add our experiences to the scientific observations that birds do indeed recognize people!
Birding tip of the day:
Starting tomorrow The Bird Cast will begin providing information on migratory behavior. This is an amazing tool to alert you when birds who left last fall will be migrating back into our area and beyond. You can personalize the reports generated all the way down to your county. Be sure to check it out.
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