Okay, now take this quick quiz:
Q: What emotional response best describes your initial reaction?
A. Overwhelming sense of peace: they are so graceful
B. GIVE TO ME I WANT TO SNUGGLE
C. Ew, they have mites
D. NO NO NO NO NO NO
Birds are animals which evoke a wide range of strong emotional human responses that is unique to that particular class. Many other classes of animals that are not as cute and fuzzy as mammals or as captivating as fish create a more clearcut, bipartisan response: Like, you either LOVE frogs or you want to gouge your own eyes out when you see them. You either want snakes draped over your body or you think your life is over when you see a snake on TV.
|But seriously, how can anyone hate frogs?! They are so cute!|
But birds do something different. There are Bird Lovers, Bird Appreciators, Bird Watchers, Bird Haters, and people whose classification cannot be neatly summated but we'll just leave it at: "As long as that bird stays in the sky 10,000 feet away from me, I won't get mites."
As an aside, what is it with people who are obsessed with Mites when it comes to birds? Like, what exactly do you think is going to happen if a bird with mites comes close to you? Bubonic plague? Do you know what kind of mites YOU have (yes, we humans have them!!!). Maybe that's why most birds are inherently afraid of humans, because they've all been raised to believe We Have Mites. Anyway, I digress.
|OH MY GOD DID IT JUST MITE ON ME?|
I've always thought birds are really, really cool animals. I've always wanted to get to know one personally. I wouldn't say I'm a hardcore bird lover, you know the ones with the scarred hands from handling all kinds of precious gifts of nature in the ways of sharp and powerful beaks (mad respect to you folks). The Hardcore guys have seemingly zero fear of getting shredded, and birds all seem to love them.
I think I could've been a Hardcore Bird Lover though. I think I had the right wiring for such a thing when I was a kid. I mostly blame Santa for this failure. Every year, I put on my Christmas list, "A bird". Like for a pet. Every year, I was let down. Not only did I not get a pet bird, I didn't even get an acknowledgment of my burgeoning ornithological interests. "You should stay way from birds," Santa seemed to say. "They have mites."
|Some birds ARE a little scary.|
Luckily, in my adult life I wound up with four amazing parrots at home, and one of my first training jobs was with Clark's nutcrackers. I've worked at a couple of facilities with birds (mostly parrots or penguins) and have really gotten to know this amazing group of animals. My entire life I wondered why so many people had so many strong opinions about our avian friends. After over ten years of working directly with these animals, sharing my home with them, going to parrot clubs and talking to fellow zookeepers, I think I now know what makes these animals so unique.
They are, without a shred of doubt, the most emotional creatures on the face of the planet.
|I would, if you promise not to bite.|
Sorry if you're rolling your eyes going, "Oh there Cat goes again, with her whole 'animals have emotions' agenda."
Well, the joke is on you naysayer. You clearly have never worked with a penguin looking for love. Or a parrot who has chosen one person seemingly at random to be their arch nemesis for time eternal. Birds are the hallmark animal class for Emotional Outbursts. And it drives us humans nuts in all ways good and bad.
Here is a short list of what birds do in their emotional outbursty moments:
1) Constantly vocalize their emotional states at volumes clearly registered in the Andromeda
|I DO NOT WANT TO EAT THOSE BANANA SHAPED PELLETS|
2) Fall deeply and madly in love with anyone or thing forever and ever in 0.29 seconds
|Yeah well, birds make it work for them.|
3) Develop a deeply-rooted hatred combined with vicious aggression that lasts forever and
ever in 0.001 seconds
|And I will.|
4) Change moods without any notification detectable by even the Most Amazing
|Get on it.|
While birds are very intelligent and complex, their very over-simplified collective personality can basically be described as Albert Goldman from the Birdcage (or, if that reference zoomed over your head*, think of the most emotive, dramatic person ever ever ever times a million). Whatever emotional response overcomes them in the moment BECOMES them.
As a recent example, one of the penguins I have the pleasure of knowing at work has really mastered his Bird Mood Swings. His name is Mooshu, and he is ready to be the Poster Child for why people Love/Appreciate/Fear/Despite birds (also, he does NOT have mites). Mooshu is generally a pretty level-headed guy, until he sees That Warm Body (can be in any shape: human or penguin) that is the Love of His Life (LHL). He waddles over to his chosen LHL and flutters and makes his little African penguin donkey sounds and shakes his head and is just SO happy you're FINALLY here to see him, even if it's the first time in his life he's ever seen you.
|I can't help it. HE IS A BIRD.|
But recently, Mooshu has found himself in a quagmire of Bird Emotion. He has found a LHL in a penguin named Cranberry. Let me summarize their relationship using a platform we all understand: Facebook relationship statuses.
Mooshu is Married Forever and Ever to Cranberry
Cranberry is It's Complicated.
So Cranberry doesn't really return the same intense passion to Mooshu (just enough to keep him coming back home), and Mooshu just desperately needs to love Someone. So he goes into typical Boy Penguin mode, and builds her this extravagant nest, the likes of which have never been seen by anyone on staff. And he defends his beautiful domicile against all other Enemies, such as other penguins and humans. Even when it's time to eat, he'll run over to trainers and eat his fill in between attempts to Stave Off The Simian Beasts Who Have Approached Cranberry's Castle From The West.
|This is Missy, another penguin whose emotional states cannot be charted.|
All this sounds like completely normal avian breeding behavior, right? Well, wait. The problem is, Mooshu does not fully commit to the destruction of Mankind. It is not as simple as, "I must guard my wife and home as any male penguin ought." Mooshu still cannot control his need to identify LHLs. He sees a trainer who strikes his fancy, and all thoughts of Cranberry poof into thin air. He will begin his crusade against you, only to at the last second change his demeanor completely and show you How Much He's Missed You and Should We Move In Together?
He oscillates between lovers, transcending the lines of taxa. Each second is one anew, depending on which LHL Mooshu is currently eyeing. And we are all, penguin and human, at the mercy of these emotional outbursts. There appears to be zero rational thought occurring in this bird's head in this context, just simply allowing his dramatic feelings to drive all of his decisions. We've got the scars to prove it!
|How some people see bird bites.|
There are more level-headed birds, I'll admit. I'm not saying they are ALL like this, but most of them are (let's face it). When you find that rare bird who just loves everyone equally (and I don't just mean tolerate them due to diligent training) and is pretty much relaxed in all settings**, take advantage of that. Even someone who is terrified of birds can snuggle and love a chill yogi bird like that. Sometimes, those birds can convert the naysayers into Appreciators or even Lovers.
But has anyone ever stopped to think about what it'd be like if humans acted like birds do? Not just the extreme emotional wrecks of birds....just normal, typical bird behavior. Here, let me paint a few pictures for you, using me and my husband Russ as an example.
If Humans Acted Like Birds....
Scene 1: Waking Up In the Morning
Me: grumble grumble grumble. Hey Russ, good morning.
Humans as Birds
Me: WOW! WOW!!!!!!!!! HELLO! HELLO EVERYONE!!! HEY, RUSS, WAKE UP! WAKE UP! I SURVIVED THE NIGHT! Ohhhhh my god oh my god oh my god do you know what this MEANS? I can eat BREAKFAST AGAIN and I'M GONNA HAVE MY FAVORITE CAKE DONUT WITH THE CHOCOLATE ICING!!! This is the BEST DAY OF MY LIFEEEEEE!!!
Russ: I AM SO EXCITED TOO I COULD JUST THROW UP
Me: YES! You stay RIGHT HERE! I'm going to GO OUTSIDE!! And I'm going to TELL ALL THE NEIGHBORS that we BOTH are ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Scene 2: Home Invasion
|Right back at ya, Ned!|
Me: Hey look, there's our neighbor Fred.
Russ: Oh, I'll go say hi to him.
Humans as Birds
|GET OFF MY LAWN|
Me: There. Is. Another. Person. On. Our. Lawn.
Russ: LET ME DON MY MOST INTIMIDATING CLOTHING, FOR I SHALL EMERGE QUICKLY AND FIERCELY FROM THIS ABODE TO DISPATCH THIS HEATHEN WITH SHARP RAPS TO THE HEAD.
Scene 3: Falling in Love
|THESE ACTUALLY EXIST?!|
Russ: I got you these flowers. And I want you to know that I think I'm in love with you.
Me: OMG! Thank you! And I love you too! Wow! I am so happy!
Humans as Birds
|Yeah I'll stick to the donut bouquet|
Russ: Behold! I appear before you now, fair princess, standing in all my glory! Allow me to dance! I shall dance the dance of our primitive ancestors, an ancient rite that transcends words and culture, to show you that I am a worthy Mate. I am the Mate of MATES! let me bestow upon YOU, fair lady, treasures from abroad! Rare gems from Africa, luxury cars from Italy, and the finest clothing in the latest fashion from Paris!!!!!! All for YOU dear woman, should you choose me as your eternal mate.
Me: Whatever. I don't care. Wait, never mind. I AM SO EXCITED I COULD JUST THROW UP.
Birds are so very in touch with whatever it is they need NOW and how they feel NOW that I think we could all take a page out of their book. Maybe it's healthy to, at least for some of us, be more in touch with our emotions. Some of us may identify more closely with birds and decide hey, maybe I should learn to manage those outbursts a little better. So what, do us Bird Lovers (from the Normal to Hardcore) find these massive mood swings charming? Well, yes. We do. But it makes sense why others would find it terrifying. In truth, it makes completely sense why some people LOVE birds. Or LIKE them....from a distance. Or are terrified of them.
But the fact remains that the Bird Drama works for those animals. It's mostly comical, sometimes terrifying (try laughing when a sun conure flies at your face and tries to remove it in small, bloody strips with her small but impressively powerful beak), and always fascinating. Those of us who see the intelligence and wonder of the Avian class will put up with a little theatrics and some painful bites in order to earn the trust of one of the coolest kinds of animals out there. Or maybe we'll just appreciate them from a good pair of binoculars.
* In which case you need to stop reading this blog and go watch this movie immediately, as it is mandatory viewing for all humans
** I haven't forgotten that most of these animals are prey animals....birds are snack packets for many other animals and as such, they are allowed to be a little skittish or on edge