It probably comes as little surprise to many of you, but I’ve always liked the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. In it, the avian population around Bodega Bay begin acting a little oddly. Pretty soon, they all flock to put the hurt on the human population for no apparent reason.*
Well – a new paper coming out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences puts an interesting twist on bird behavior. In an experiment carried out on the campus of the University of Florida, local mockingbirds were capable of recognizing individual human beings on day-to-day basis, make a “threat assessment” of them and carry out flushing and harassing activities on individuals. Pretty amazing.
Better yet, in the experiment, different people walked near a mockingbird nest. Some would touch the nest (very threatening behavior). After repeating these actions for a couple of days, the parent mockingbirds would preemptively flush and attempt to drive away the “aggressive” persons, while more or less ignoring the literally thousands of student passers-by. The flushing was not dependent on the clothes worn or on the direction of the approach. The mockingbirds learned who the offenders were after – get this – two approaches.
So, as you’re hanging out in your back yard, think about this. You may not be able to tell one finch or cardinal from another, but watch out. They know who you are and where you live. So be nice!
*Today, you’d argue they’d banded together to fight off natural habitat destruction, but in the 1960s, it was okay not to have a reason. They just did. And it was freaky.