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"Bird Brain!"

Posted on 15th November, 2022

An expression commonly used as a sneering insult. Incorrectly however, because, despite knowing the answers to everything, we ‘highly intelligent’ humans are only just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to what animals instinctively know and can do.


This is a time of year when ornithologists are most reminded of this. What prompted me to reflect on it was the sighting locally of a Ring Ouzel this last week in October. No, it isn’t an imaginary creature from Winnie the Pooh it’s a bird also called the Mountain Blackbird

because it looks pretty much like our garden visitor and is very closely related to it, it being one of the six thrush species native to the UK. It was seen within a few hundred metres of the other five species: blackbird, song thrush and mistle thrush, plus redwing and fieldfare. The latter two species are only here in the winter (they breed across Scandinavia) and the ring ouzel is only here in the summer, spending its winter months in North Africa’s Atlas Mountains.


The puzzle is not so much why birds migrate around the globe twice a year: they do it because their summer location provides a better chance of having young that will survive and pass on their genes i.e. they reproduce where there is enough food available and enough daylight for them to catch it and feed it to their offspring. But how do they know when, where and how to get there? Length of day tells them when. How are the positions of the sun and stars in the sky and the earth’s magnetic field? Simple. Or perhaps not quite so simple, as birds are now thought to use quantum particles, which the Robin, for example, does with its right eye (not, note, with its left). I’ll stop here because much of this science is beyond most of the human population’s understanding – certainly mine!


But for the next few months you will certainly see the impact of this when you’re walking around the local farmland and orchards, and even in your garden if you are lucky. The fieldfares and redwings have all managed to fly here from northern Europe – usually at night, using senses that we don’t possess or even understand!


Just enjoy them while you can, but bear in mind that, although we share the same planet, we live in different worlds.






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