When Mum’s cat died we were dreadfully sad. He was eighteen years old and was much loved. Then the most amazing thing began to happen. The birds came back to her garden in their droves! Weavers, Finches, Sparrows, Sunbirds, Rock Pigeons and ordinary Pigeons. Even a baby albino Pigeon!
For Christmas, B and I gave Mum three large sacks of grain to feed her birds. When Mum let her dog out in the morning, she used to fill a cup with seed and scatter it on the bird table. The birds knew that the bird table was THE place to be. The little birds didn’t stand a chance when the ginormous Rock Pigeons were around. They settled their large, cumbersome bodies on the table taking up all the space and enthusiastically devoured the bird seed. All of it. Mum wasn’t having that! She bought a bird feeder which the Rock Pigeons are too big for. So while the smaller birds cluster around the bird feeder eating to their hearts content, the Rock Pigeons and pigeons devour all the seed that drops onto the ground.
Everyone is content. Even the little Albino pigeon!
I walked over to Mum’s house as I was being picked up there for gym. I made myself some coffee and took it upstairs to sit and chat. There was a sudden flurry of wings and sitting on the balustrade fence outside her room were four Drongos. Drongos are common in South Africa.They have glossy black feathers and red eyes. These birds usually get meals the honest way, such as capturing insects in mid-air using their incredible aerial skills. But at other times, like on cold mornings when few insects are flitting around, the Drongos turn to a life of crime.
When times are hard, this crafty bird can make false alarms to make other animals drop their kill and run from the scene. They then swoop in to pick up the remains! Researchers classify the Drongo as ‘a kleptoparasite’ – an animal that steals food from another creature that has caught it. But the Drongos sitting on the Mum’s balustrade, weren’t set on nabbing someone else’s food. No, these four mites looked expectantly at Mum. That morning, I discovered another way that they get food for themselves.
“Oh, they’ve come,” said Mum. She got out of bed and picked up a Tupperware box at the side of her bookshelf and carried it to the window. She opened it to a pile of cheese.
“Cheese,” I exclaimed, “birds don’t eat cheese, do they?”
“Drongos love it,” was the answer.
Mum would throw a bit of cheese into the air and the birds would collect it with a swooping dive. It was the most magical thing to watch. One of the Drongos had been tagged with a silver bracelet round it’s ankle. An “anklet”!
“I love this one. I call him ‘Oubaas‘.”
I smiled. That was Dad’s name on the farm.
“Watch,” Mum said. “C’mon, Oubaas, come get your cheese.” She held out the cheese cupped in her palm. He looked at Mum. He looked at the cheese. Then he swooped and landed on Mum’s wrist. Very delicately he bent and took a bit of cheese. Maintaining eyes contact with Mum he swallowed it, took another piece and then he was off into a nearby tree where he proceeded to put it on a branch and eat it in a more leisurely fashion.
I stood, totally entranced watching my Mum and her birds. Two mornings later, I went over to find Mum laughing. “You know how I always sleep with my window open. This morning I opened my eyes to see Oubaas inside my room, hopping along the end of my bed. Tik-tik-tik went his little feet and then he would let out his little rousing cry. He was waking me to come and feed him, the little blighter!” Mum said, fresh laughter assailing her.
I get so cross when people say that animals don’t think. They do. It is just that they think in a different way to man. They think in a way man cannot understand. Have you ever watched geese flying in a perfect V. They know who is going to lead, who the next two are going to be and so on. I think that animals often communicate telepathically. This flying in a V is a prime example!
I am sure that many have read The Elephant Whisperer. A couple of years ago when the author, Lawrence Anthony died, somehow his herd of elephants knew. They were hundreds of kilometres away yet they made their way to his homestead and just “hung out” there for a couple of days. Then they left. My heart tugs at that.
Whether it’s Mum’s Drongos, geese flying in a V, elephants mourning a lost friend…animals think. I think that they “think” in a finer way than man.
Lawrence Anthony wrote: “Our inability to think beyond our own species, or to be able to co-habit with other life forms in what is patently a massive collaborative quest for survival, is surely a malady that pervades the human soul.”