Thursday, March 23, 2017

Birds, wild animals and food and reflections on Cities (Planet Earth II)

I have been reflecting on the tendency of nature to get used to getting their food from humans. Specifically, I am thinking about the birds that sit on our balcony railing each morning, waiting for us to enter the kitchen. They ‘sense’ when we get up in the morning (don’t ask me how); I’m not sure when they arrive. I do know that they sit out there and wait, occasionally cocking their heads to see if we have entered the kitchen. They make their presence known—and that they are waiting for their daily sunflower seed handouts. I have fed them throughout the winter months, but now that spring is here, most of the birds have disappeared. I assume that they understand that they can now find food on their own. But there is one pigeon who still shows up each morning—the lone bird waiting for his ration of seeds. I am still feeding him, while wondering at the same time how long he will continue to come to us for food. Because some animals and birds get used to the handouts and perhaps no longer feel the need to find their own food. I don’t know how old this bird is, but perhaps he is older and simply tired of trying to find food on his own each day. If that is the case, I will continue to give him food. Because I know that one day he may not come back, and it could be because he has become sick or has died. I hope it will be because he has decided to not depend on us for food anymore, at least not until next winter. I do know that it would be so easy to train him, to tame him. Perhaps one day I will try to do that—when I have the time to do so and the time to follow up. I have a friend at work, an older man from Eritrea, who has done just that, with many pigeons. He told me recently that he wants to write a book about how to train pigeons, because he wants his children to carry on his work after he is gone.

One of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II episodes, Cities, dealt with the topic of how wild animals and birds have adjusted to city life, because food is plentiful and they don’t have to spend hours scrounging for a meal. There are the hyenas in Ethiopia, who enter the city of Harar each night to receive meat from the butcher shops and city dwellers who are not afraid of them. Those were amazing scenes, but also scary ones to witness. There are the leopards in Mumbai, India who hunt the pigs and small animals on the city outskirts and in the parks by night, where humans walk. There are the monkeys in Singapore that steal fruit and vegetables from the city produce markets. There are the peregrine falcons in New York City who feed on the numerous city pigeons. And so on. Many of these animals and birds are not afraid of humans or the masses of humans in cities, and that is a good thing from the standpoint of their getting more than enough food to eat. It is a bad thing for us if some of the carnivores decide to add humans to their menu. In any case, it is interesting to observe the wild animal and bird world (from the safety of our living room couches) and to marvel at how well they adapt to the growth/expansion of cities and to the loss of their natural habitats. That is not always a good thing. I would prefer that wild creatures remain in the wild, for their sakes and for ours, but mostly theirs.

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