The meaning behind the phrase "bird brain" has undergone a transformation in the last decade. From Alex the African Grey Parrot learning colors, numbers and other skills to corvids solving problems requiring crafting of tools and multi-step solutions, I would count myself honored to be called "bird brain". Some as gone so far as to even enlist the help of humans (and their cars) as their own personal nutcrackers by dropping nuts in the crosswalk! All of these birds, including their ability to problem solve and use humans, can't be unique to parrots and ravens can they?
When visiting Boston, Massachusetts a few weeks ago in June I had an encounter with a bird that left me wondering about how birds see the world. My husband, brother and sister-in-law were staying in the Back Bay area of Boston near a beautiful and grand structure known asTrinity Church just across from the Boston Public Library. Copley Square covers the ground between the two buildings and provides a meeting space for tourists and Boston residents alike. From church services to a regular market on weekend mornings, this space is filled with traffic - human and non-human alike.
This particular morning, the four of us were having one last breakfast together on the square before saying our goodbyes and heading to our homes in New York and Ohio. It was a beautiful morning, sun shining and a light breeze on our skin. We parked ourselves on several benches in front of the church to enjoy our breakfast. Not long after we began to eat and discuss how much we enjoyed our long weekend together, a pair of sparrows landed squarely in front of us. One clearly a bit more mature than the other, faced us head on and looked right at us, making eye contact with each of us, one by one. Although our new friend didn't speak English (or any other language to be heard that morning on the Square), there was no mistaking the request. "Food, please."
We each dropped tiny pieces of our breakfast on the ground to see if we understood him correctly. He raced over to the food, plucked it up with his beak and then flew away. The other sparrow with him did the same. Moments later, they were back with a third companion. The request was no less clear this time around. Again, we acquiesced. At the third visit from our avian friend we were fresh out as we had filled our own stomachs with the remaining food. The sparrow looked at us and stayed a few moments longer with each of us, imploring us to find a morsel to give. Then, convinced we were no longer a source of nourishment, we watched as this bird flew to another group of humans and engaged in the same request. They understood and provided a morsel.
It was clear that this tiny bird had a nice racket going on here in Copley Square. While I felt I had been played by a "bird brain", I was happy to have had the experience. I'll never forget the clarity of the connection between me and the sparrow. I wonder if the same sparrow or his family will be there the next time we visit Copley Square and if the offspring will follow in the family business.