Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bird BS- #1 Birds Don't Read

Literature has really done a disservice to natural history and to birds in particular. They have an obvious appeal to the storyteller, as the magical qualities of bird’s everyday lives add credibility to fables and folk tales. Unfortunately the anthropomorphizing gets in the way of the truth as most cases of bird mythology don’t jive with bird biology.

Take for instance doves…members of the pigeon family. They have long been associated with the notion of peace. Their likeness in fact symbolizes it. In contrast to their olive-branch imagery, there is little that suggests that doves are more peaceful than any other. Unless of course, you count defecating on statues of military heroes as a defiant peaceful protest.

Peacocks likewise aren’t proud. Males are however no doubt horny when on full display. And then there are eagles. From the Aztecs and Romanovs to America’s founding fathers, we count bravery as their revered trait. But is it?

Eagles, most especially the Bald Eagle is anything but brave. They tend to be rather easily spooked and are not particularly combative or aggressive, unlike many other birds. For me, the bravest of birds are the kingbirds. These robin-sized songbirds have never met anything in their territory that doesn’t deserve to be driven off. You’ve seen them. They are the wee birds putting the chase on hawks and crows. Kingbirds would certainly be an undeniable symbol of bravery- though I can understand why following the American Revolution a “king” bird would not gain support among anti-monarchist. Sometimes, I suspect it is easier to just come up with a good story.

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