Being Educated By Wildlife And Birds

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Living in a remote area we experience routine interaction with wildlife which we have found can be educational. We observe deer, bear, mountain lions, bobcat, elk, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, ermine and other mountain species. We have lived closely with wildlife for 16 years and fortunately have not had an unfavorable encounter to date. We do not initiate contact but being outdoors so much,  encounters are inevitable. Some encounters have been closer than we would have personally liked, such as the time I ended up within 8 feet from a mountain lion who wasn’t looking for social interaction with a human. Or the time a mountain lion walked a few feet behind Carol who was latching a gate. Contained within each encounter I have found that wild animals are generally more respectful and courteous than their human counterparts in most instances. Being literally nose to nose with a 450 pound bear can be daunting with a thin pane of glass separating us. However once the bear’s curiosity was satisfied he/she simply wandered off. The encounter was so sudden and unexpected it surprised both of us. We even had one mother bear raise and train her two tiny cubs at our house just like her mother had trained her here when she was a little cub. Our education coming from the wild animals is becoming extensive. We are respectful  and very cautious of them but not fearful. Sometimes however a slow retreat is judicious if we are able.   

There is much to learn from the animals but the birds especially are worthy to watch and learn from. Take for instance the blackcap mountain chickadee which we have in abundance. I put out a bird feeder filled with sunflower seeds for them. They politely come in one or two at a time and help themselves to a single seed and fly away making room for others. They wait patiently for each other to retrieve a seed and don’t attempt to hog the feeder or bully other birds. They are respectful and don’t bicker or fight with each other and appear from my observation to get along together very well. The other birds all seem to get along with them as well. The nuthatches and juncos  are much like the chickadees and interact well. The stellar jays wait under the feeder for the smaller birds to flip some seeds out for them. The hairy woodpecker will come in and have a few seeds then respectfully leaves and seems willing to share with the other birds. Different species of birds are able to share the same space respectfully.  

 Then there are the rosy finches that travel in a flock. They travel in a group and bully their way to the feeder by large numbers forcing all the other birds away from it. The other birds are overwhelmed by their numbers. Then they all try to perch on the feeder at the same time amidst  fluttering wings and charge the other birds that stand in their way therefore denying other birds access to the seed. They peck and flap their wings at each other as they fight for a spot on the feeder. I have noticed when the rosy finches attack the feeder that the chickadees and other species of birds fly off to a safe distance and patiently wait. The rosy finches pepper the deck with their excrement and seed fragments therefore leaving a mess behind and generally no food is left.

The rosy finch’s conduct reminds me of people in many ways. It seems that every community regardless of size has its rosy finch flock who surround themselves with those of like kind who bully, intimidate and use their large numbers or aggressive strength to push others around. They are demanding, disrespectful and leave messes for others to clean up. They seem to enjoy causing trouble by making others uncomfortable around them. Bullies and trouble makers seem to do everything in a flock and cause strife and discomfort where ever they go. Our community is no different than most I suppose and we have our small flock who demand attention by bullying others and trying to force their will on the more civilized segment of society. It seems there are several similarities between the bird kingdom and humans.  

The larger animals we live close with seem mostly curious of us humans. I often wonder what they are thinking or how we may be viewed in their eyes.  We must seem strange to them on how we are able to ambulate on only two legs when they use four. Clearly they have a sense we probably have evolved away from in that they sense whether we intend them harm or not. If we humans had a more refined sense toward other humans perhaps we would not abuse each other as we do and get along with each other better. In that respect we have found by observing our dogs when they interact with other people that we can consistently rely on their instincts. They have not been wrong thus far so while we may lack that instinctive sense we still utilize it by trusting our four legged friends whether they be domesticated or wild. We have noticed too that when people visit us that our domestic/wild animal friends don’t seem to be afraid of some and wary of others. We know their instincts are unerring so we profit from their ability to choose whom to befriend or not. We have learned something from each species we live closely with and have profited from that knowledge. Taking time to closely observe wild animals and birds can be beneficial if we pay attention to their traits.  I don’t believe we humans have much worth teaching the wild animals but they constantly teach us. We truly benefit from their nearness to us by observing their traits. .

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their sharing their area with wildlife go to: