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As humans we seem to have a very interesting love hate relationship with the animal kingdom, and I often wonder what it is about certain species that has created long standing morays and what I can only describe as rampant discrimination. I myself am as guilty of such discrimination as anyone else. For example, I have mouse traps in my garage, at the same time as I’m buying a fifty pound bag of sunflower seeds and peanuts, which I carefully lay out for the chipmunks in my yard, so that they can store it up for the winter, sleep and snack well, and come back to play with me in the spring. Why is this? Why do we love chipmunks, but scream if a field mouse or rat goes by? How did the chipmunk endear itself to human society , to the detriment of the mouse, or the mole? Why is seeing a bunny rabbit in the yard a thing of excitement, yet seeing a muskrat would be abhorrent to most.
This same phenomena of discrimination continues even in the insect kingdom. We plant shrubs to attract butterflies, yet kill moths, flies, and even honey bees. We catch fireflies in our hand and treasure that experience, yet we trap and kill japanese beetles. Ninety percent of spiders cause most to be paralyzed with fear, yet a daddy long-legs crawling on the table can be picked up and gently relocated to a different spot.
The worst, however, is one which I myself did the other day. Yes it’s true, I, who grew up in the most integrated town imaginable, just outside Newark NJ, was guilty of discrimination, and I still don’t understand why. I had set up four bird feeders in my backyard, which I’ve stocked religiously with a wide array of different bird foods to attract and appeal to a host of feathered friends. We have gorgeous red cardinals, blue-jays that are so vividly blue that they are almost irridescent, gold finches, and these amazing red-winged black birds that I had never seen before, and needed help to identify. I could watch these birds for hours, putting out special treats that they’d like, and even trying yesterday to get one of the small finches to eat from my hand.
The more birds the merrier, I thought…but is that really how I feel? The other day, a crow found it’s way to my bird-feeder. I really didn’t think much of it at the time, as it came and went pretty quickly, other than to note that it was much larger than the others. I have no idea what he told his friends, but five minutes after it left, over 50 crows descended on my bird feeders en mass. It was unbelievable. I felt like Tippi Hedren have a really bad day!! I quickly ran out and chased them away, but as soon as I came back in the house, the flew back in. Finally I threw a rock into the woods making a huge “boom” and banged a 2×4 against the deck. They finally flew away for good. Phew….
The question I pose to you is why? Why do I treasure the blue, red, and grey birds, but chase the black ones away?? It makes no sense. Either I want to help the bird community or I don’t. How could I be discriminating arbitrarily against a bird based on color? What’s next? Do I start sorting birds based on religion, sexual preference, beak size? It seems positively ludicrous that the red-winged blackbird is a treasured addition to my menagerie, but the all black crow isn’t welcome. The only thing I can possibly fathom is that in some subconscious way, I view the crow as not being a win-win member of my community. I must believe that the other birds are offering something to me in exchange that the others are not. They are permanent members of my yard. I feed them, and they let me watch their day to day behaviors, and as such we both benefit from the relationship. The crows would have just come in, eaten all the food, and left – never to return. To me that must mean that I’m somehow self-justified in my behavior, although I too admit that it’s a stretch, and that discrimination in any form is something to be avoided at all costs.
I therefore send out an open invitation to crows everywhere to establish a new and improved rapport with me. Come live in my yard, and be a regular member of my community. Let’s talk, watch each other, and have some fun together…and then you’ll be welcome at my bird feeder. If you want to invite friends over, then do as I tell my kids, and just let me know. I’ll buy some special food just for you and your guests, and if it’s not too much trouble, when they leave, help me clean up the mess.
Together, we’ll form a rainbow coalition that will form stronger bonds with birds throughout the world.