The patience of a bird watcher - Kate Crowley Photo by Mike Link
By Kate Crowley
Patience is a vanishing virtue in our world. At least among humans. It seems that the need for speed and immediacy becomes more strident every year, among all age groups. How many of us feel frustration when we have to wait in line at the grocery store while the check-out person calls for assistance, or we’re put on hold by the insurance company when we call about our policy, or we get stuck in traffic anywhere? Technology has conditioned us to expect results – now. I am as guilty as the next person, but I also know there are drawbacks, like high blood pressure, rude behavior and sometimes accidents that result from our impatience.
A recent report in Audubon magazine explains that research has shown members of the Corvid family, especially crows and ravens may be more patient than we humans – at least when it comes to food. Studies done in Germany tested the ability of these birds to delay gratification when presented with different food items. While there was variability among the birds, just as there are among us humans in who could wait longer, the overall results showed that the birds had remarkable self-control. The data showed that females had a bit more patience than the males. Corvids are known to be among the most intelligent of birds and will stash food. They live in a world of competition and times of scarcity are not uncommon, so those birds who learn to prepare for hard times would over generations develop a degree of self-control.
These birds also show habits of altruism when it comes to relatives. Blue jays are especially well known for their extended family behavior, with older siblings hanging around to help the parents feed the next generation of young.
I have often written about my admiration and appreciation of Corvids. Ravens are my favorites, but I still find blue jays and crows fascinating. For whatever reason, our feeders have been extremely popular with the jays this winter. Whenever we go out the door in the morning we set off an explosion of ‘jay, jay, jay’ calls as the birds anticipate the distribution of sunflower seeds. They are the broadcast alert system for the entire neighborhood, not just those of their kind. As we move into Spring the big flock will dwindle and disperse and pairs will set up territories for the nesting season.
We have at least three crows that regularly visit the front yard, but of all the songbirds (yes, they are considered songbirds), they are the most wary. All we need to do is walk in front of the window and they take off. Their ability to see motion and shapes is finely tuned. They have found our leftover’s ‘smorgasbord’ on the deck railing too enticing to ignore and will swoop in when we’re not looking and retrieve whatever is laid out. I have also discovered that having a horse and feeding her grain is a bonus for the crows. They are regularly out in her area scrounging seeds and grain that have been processed in her digestive system. Turns out horse droppings are not only compost in the making for our garden, but an extra food source for the birds.
As March passes the midway point, we continue to hope for some new feathered friends to show up, but with a couple feet of snow still on the ground and a forecast that includes temperatures below freezing for much of this week, the possibility of seeing any spring migrants is remote. It would be a bad decision for any of them to venture too far north, too soon. So, as the winter lingers, and our eyes long for some sign of greenery, I can only think to wish you the patience of a crow.