Sunday, April 11, 2010

For The Birds

Day before yesterday, winter returned with a vengeance. And for about 48 hours the wind reeked and roared. Snow whipped about the windows and deck like heavy surf in an ocean storm. I heard trees snapping in the woods. Hub never ties down the barbecue cover and it is gone. With the madness of the storm I have no idea which neighbor to call to see if they sighted it – the one to the north, south, east or west.

Anyway after a delightfully mild spring, we are now well snowed in.

And so this morning when Hub looked out the window, he saw a frenzied mass of tiny birds battling over the bird feeder. Hub could readily see that there were too many for one feeder, so he scattered some extra seed on the ground.

Now you’ll have to forgive me cause I’m not a bird watcher in any serious sense of the word, so I don’t know what kind of birds they were, all I can tell you is that they were all tiny birds of the same genus and species.

But while watching them rally about the feeder and the scattered seed on the ground, I suddenly realized I wasn’t just seeing birds. Hub noticed it too. We were seeing little personalities. We were seeing in the mix birds of various constitutions –nasty birds, frantic birds, timid birds, and placid birds.

There were greedy birds that had eaten their fill. But despite that, they stood firm at the feeding station, flapping their wings, and threatening with their beaks, in a bid to make all the rest think they were elected as CEO’s of all feeding activity.

There were birds that darted around the food with such reluctance and fear. And there were other non-aggressive birds, but nevertheless sturdy enough in constitution to not be put off by some bully approaching them threateningly.

I noticed there were even birds dashing about in fright, and fluttering away in quite a panic. Yet to the rest of the flock they were invisible.

None cared they were even there cause with such skittishness, it was quite evident, even to me, that if they were to scavenge anything, it would only be the less tasty debris (or empty hulls) because they obviously felt undeserving of the large buttery sun flower seeds in the mix.

Those choice morsels they left for the authoritarian birds of the hierarchy. But still, despite their humility and mannerly patience, this same bunch ate with such a constancy of terror that they could barely manage to get any food down. The drama of it all put me in mind of another occasion many years ago.

It’s not often, but I occasionally tell people about the ‘happy chickens’ Hub’s mom had years ago. Chickens that ran to her, with long proud necks, bright eyes, making soft clucking conversation to her as they perched happily on the edge of the grain pail she carried out to the chicken yard. People blink at my story with the same blankness that you might see in the face of a ‘stupid’ chicken. But those chickens convinced me that chickens have more intelligence than they are ever given credit for.

But because my story usually is treated as a ‘gaffe’, a story lacking any true sensibility, I no longer tell it. And furthermore, I remind myself every time I think of hens housed in small tight cages, without soft nests, and with lights on night and day so they will lay without ceasing, that it is all of no matter. I am the stupid one to feel so foolishly sad.

And so then, because of others reactions, I begin to think I am such a fool. Chickens are nothing more than chickens. So what if they are mistreated. Their brains are too scant for them to know the difference. And if I worry about such stupidity, I am about as stupid as a ‘stupid chicken’.

But no, I am not stupid and they are not only chickens. Admittedly in recent years I almost had myself convinced they were only chickens and that the day I saw ‘happy chickens’ my imagination was simply working overtime. But no, I had to reconsider after watching that bird-feeding episode in the front yard today.

Those wee creatures, with their wee small brains, are not just warm-blooded guts-and-gizzards with feathers. They have feelings, hopes, manners, or lack thereof, and they are able to demonstrate appreciation and happiness.

I hope some day Animal Rights Groups will understand that if you can’t treat seals and whales like that for the sake of dinner that you also can’t treat chickens the way they are treated for the sake of breakfast.


Pauline said...

The birds that come to my feeders act much the same way, Roberta. There is a pecking order in every group of herd animals, I think.

I grew up on a small chicken farm. I live next door to a small farm now where chickens are raised. I've heard chickens called stupid and have always jumped to their defense. Chickens are not stupid, but some of us are...

Joy Des Jardins said...

I'm not a bird watcher in the official sense either Roberta...but I do sometimes sit and watch them from my computer room window; and I love to listen to them chirping back and forth between themselves. You gave me some real 'food for thought' regarding the pecking order they establish in their world...something I really wasn't aware of...or even thought of. Thanks for the interesting info...nice post. ~Joy xo

Roberta S said...

Hi Pauline. Thanks for commenting. Yes, in truth, it is a pecking order, which most consider instinctive or mindless impulses.
But I disagree. I think, after watching those birds that they have an intelligence and sensitivity beyond that which is mindless instinct.

Roberta S said...

Hi Joy, glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for visiting.

Alan G said...

Although a city dweller, I have always been quite partial to chickens and were it permissible, I would probably have a backyard full of the various breeds. But as to their mass demise for the benefit of mankind’s appetite, I have to honestly say, I never dwelt on that subject at any length.

Until that is….I recently watched a newly released HBO movie titled “Temple Grandin”. In short it is a biographical movie of an autistic woman who has become one of our top scientists with regard to the humane handling of livestock. With regard to cattle, she believed for example that upon their arrival at the slaughter house until the moment of their demise the experience should be as pleasant as possible for the cattle.

And as you point out, it is not unreasonable to assume that such logic and treatment should apply to the other critters who are unknowingly destined for our dinner tables.

By the way, if you get the opportunity you might want to watch the subject movie. I think you would enjoy it – that’s assuming of course you haven’t already seen it! :)

Roberta S said...

Hi Alan, just this last week on the news there is word of cities allowing city dwellers to have up to four domestic hens housed in their back yards. How radical is that?

I'm not sure if I saw the same movie you saw, but some time ago I did see a documentary on the same woman you speak of and her efforts to have ways of handling cattle that were less frightening and dramatizing.

Despite what I have said I am a carnivore. But nevertheless I think that while animals are alive, they should be happy, healthy, and well fed. I have room for chickens, often think how much I would enjoy having some, but now with the softer heart I seem to have, I'm quite certain they would never come to the dinner table. For this reason Hub is not in favor of me having any.

Anne said...

Roberta, I would probably doing you a disservice citing "like minds", but this very subject has been on my mind now for 2 or 3 weeks, ever since i saw a show about those awful chicken places, you know? Plus, we've had a large number of gulls and other birds out back each morning lately. Normally, i wouldn't link to something I blogged, but you might appreciate this passage by Margaret Atwood, if you aren't familiar with it.

Actually, all this has more than been on my mind. Complicit, is what I feel, and I think all of this is about to impact my behavior.

Enjoy a lovely tomorrow.

Roberta S said...

Hi Anne. I am so glad you came to visit and took the time to comment. At the same time, I beg forgiveness for taking so long to respond.

With the mind set you have expressed you indeed are not complicit -- unless by helplessly standing by, which I am doing as well because I know of no way to rouse the social consciousness about chickens to the proportion it is aroused about environmental concerns. Perhaps if I speak to Al Gore???

Still I am not so disheartened when I realize that there might be a few more of us that really do see and understand the plight of chickens. And who can see that chickens in their quiet, reserved way, do not in any way deserve the ill-treatment that so many receive.