Thursday, September 18, 2008

Things to Do When Waiting to Write- Handy Tip No. 2: Study the Psychology of Garden Creatures


As a service to other writers, I’d like to continue with a blog feature I started some months ago that assists writers in finding productive ways to use those spare moments when not writing.

Outside of my window where I write I have a bird feeder and a bird bath. To make practical use of my time, I have begun a psychological study of the birds that frequent them. You can learn a lot about a bird by watching how it takes a bath.

The most aggressive bathers are red winged starlings. They are seasonal visitors and come en masse. They jump in the water and in a frantic way wet themselves completely to such an extent I often wonder if they’ll manage to get their sodden bodies back into the air. They don’t care about anything except for the joy of the water. They have a raucous disregard for all around them. They talk and wet each other in turns. It is a wonderful thing to watch.

Opposite to this are birds such as the diminutive blue wax bills that will only enter the water when there is barely any left, just enough to cover their tiny feet. They will play, but only in a prescribed way when all dangers are gone.

The most cautious of all are the doves. They hardly ever land on the bird bath at all, instead looking at it longingly from a safe branch. When they do come to the bath, one squawk by another bird has them dashing off in fear. If they find the bird bath empty, they will perch on the edge nervously looking in every direction for fears that don’t exist and in their braver moments dunk their beaks in only for a quick drink, nothing more. Their aching need for the water is palatable but their fear outweighs it. It is a sad thing to watch.

Then there are birds such as the crested barbet. There seems to be consensus that they are the bosses. They’re not aggressive, but the minute they land on the edge of the bird bath all other birds clear out.

Some birds only come for food. I put out dry bits of brown bread for the birds if they can get it before Buster, the African Sausage Dog. If I handed a slice of bread to Buster, he would drop it on the ground and look at me like ‘What do you think you’re doing- that’s not food’. But if I put bread out for the birds and Buster sees that the birds like it, he will carry as much as he can to the end of the garden, dig a hole and bury it. He doesn’t want it, but those birds are not going to get it either. Buster is psychologically deep and, I fear, flawed.

It’s quite astounding what one can learn from these garden creatures, so different but then ….so like us.

4 comments:

groovyoldlady said...

Our hummingbirds have left for the warmer reaches of Central or South America, but when they are here, they provide me with endless moments of delightful distraction, um, I mean study and contemplation. Yes, of course I do.

Their personalities are so varied that you can pretty much tell them apart - even though they all look exactly alike. OK, so I pretend!

We also have a pair of goldfinches (Wendy and Charles) who come to hang out on our dning room window for no apparent reason.

Lauri said...

It really is lovely how they become a part of your life. Sometimes I get gray hornbills which are a bit like grey toucans. They have such a lovely call and they always come in twos.What a treat! They appear to like brown bread.

I also get many birds hitting the window or coming straight in the house as the combination of water and food makes them go a bit crazy sometimes. If you look carefully at the top left of the photo you will see the feet of my 'owl'. An American man who was here last year told me if i put a paper owl on the window they will stop hitting the window. It doesn't seem to make any difference. Anyway it could be my owl looks like my snake from yesterday's post that my son asked 'What kind of bird is that??'

Selma said...

This is such a wonderful post. I do believe that to have a garden full of birds is a blessing. We had cockatoos and magpies today and tiny little wrens. It was quite magical!

Lauri said...

Cockatoos? That's nice.
This winter the situation with the grey lorries got out of hand. It was as if every grey lorrie in Botswana moved to my garden. It was get a bit hitchcock-y. But they've all gone off somewhere- at one time.