One of the things I learned from sitting around in the forest sucking on beef jerky and “racing” banana slugs (I’d pair them up, say “Go!”, and then watch them act like the under-motivated slabs of yellow, antenna-sporting goo they were), was that little birds protect other little birds from big birds.
Here, I learned, is how it works. Most birds are about the same size: jays, mockingbirds, starlings, blackbirds, rockin’ robins. And then you have littler ones–sparrows, finches bushtits (what was somebody thinking?), and the like. All of these sorts of birds are in the same … birdy class. They’re just … birds.
And then, in an uneasy cohabitation with those birds, are Big Birds: Hawks, ravens … various raptor-types. But mostly hawks, in the daytime. (And then at night the fat, amazingly deft predators that are owls.)
What I learned in my many days as Paul Bunions the Orphan Boy is that all the little and medium sized birds help each other defend against the bigger birds. How it works is this: a big bird–a red-tailed hawk, for instance–will start taking some sort of interest in, say, the nest, or nesting tree, of a smaller bird. And that (I found) will usually happen when the owner of that nest is off doing whatever it is birds do when they’re not at home protecting their nests.
So you’ll see a hawk kind of cruise by a tree–and hey, something catches his attention. So he’ll wheel back around, and start eyeballing his Point of Potential Interest. And if that hawk in any way signals that he really is interested in whatever’s he’s seen in that tree, and there’s any chance that that interest might ultimately prove detrimental to the life of a normal, smaller-type bird, then this whole amazing, interspecies, instantly-miles-covering Bird Alarm System totally kicks in.
Does everyone in the world already know this? Is this boring? I found it Beyond Fascinating–but I was basically a high-school dropout (well, sort of: more on that later, maybe, sadly enough for you) who barely knew a tree from a tetherball pole.
If everyone already does know about the whole Bird Alarm System, someone write me and tell me so. Either way, though, I guess, I’ll continue on tomorrow.
Because believe me, that alarm system doesn’t just work to tell birds when another bird is messing with their nest.