By David Hawke – I sometimes wonder what makes us so special, or at least what makes us think we are so special. Wildlife and the environment are often placed, figuratively, as 'over there', and we are 'over here', all by ourselves. Us against them, they provide for us, we dominate them -- not a whole lot of harmony going on.
Perhaps it's because we consider ourselves superior creatures, capable of in-depth thought and complex communication. Yet each of these characteristics can be found within other members of the animal kingdom... so maybe we aren't so special?
As we have an intricate social system (originally based on biology, now based on court orders against the politically incorrect), our tolerance of 'outsiders' is usually low, at best. When someone 'different' comes along, someone looking, acting, talking, dressing, or doing something odd as compared to our personal customs, we become stiff and guarded.
This brings to mind a few observations I've made with wildlife, times when animals have had to deal with strangers in their midst. The first incident occurred in our backyard when a new squirrel showed up at the feeder.
Usually there are five black squirrels pilfering sunflower seeds from our birdfeeders. These five chase each other up one side of the tree and down the other, going around the tree trunk with such speed that it's hard to tell where one squirrel ends and the other begins. Lots of interaction.
And then, arriving from dear knows where, a sixth squirrel arrived on the scene. This one didn't look like the others, who were all sleek with shiny black fur -- this one was a mix of gray and cinnamon. Otherwise a regular acting squirrel, but he did look decidedly different. And the other squirrels wouldn't have a thing to do with him.
This new one didn't come to feed while the others cavorted on the feeder pole; he just sat nearby, in the fork of a young elm tree, waiting his turn. Occasionally he'd be the first at the feeder, and boy-howdy did that play havoc with the other squirrels' daily agenda!
The gang of five would just sit and watch him, wouldn't come to the feeder, wouldn't play with him, wouldn't chase him -- just sat quietly and glared. It reminded me of a new kid in the schoolyard.
On another occasion, our valley hosted a flock of about 50 starlings. They flew in formation, low over the open pastures, descending as a single unit to pick the meadows clean of insects. But within this flock of black birds, there was a starling that was different -- it was pure white. While not an albino (no pink eye), it was missing all pigmentation in its feathers, causing it to do the proverbial 'standing out in a crowd'.
Whenever the flock flew by, I noticed that this bird always stayed right in the middle of the group, always. On the ground there was no show of aggression, no shunning or isolating -- it was just one of the flock, a little strange to look at, but just one of the group. It reminded me of a support group.
And then there was the time a flock of horned larks had a tag-along with them. These larks arrive early in the spring, sometimes in February, to start their territories and nesting. On their northward flights, these harbingers of spring travel in small flocks of a dozen or so.
Accompanying this flock of larks was a single snow bunting. Snow buntings are usually found in large, swirling flocks of their own kind, often numbering in the high hundreds. But here was just one.
Was it lost? Perhaps. Was it lonely? Don't know, maybe. But it was sticking tight to the larks, for when they flew, the bunting flew; and when the larks landed, the bunting landed. While trying to be one of the flock, it still stood out, as it was different in flight pattern, feeding behaviour, and colouration.
The larks appeared to be tolerating the newcomer, but I got the feeling that they were hoping this funny white bird would go away if ignored long enough. It reminded me of what I've seen at the few social functions -- maybe, if we ignore him, he'll just go away.
So, are we so special? Do we have some great talent or insight that sets us apart from all the other life forms? Actually, I don't think so. I think we're all just a bunch of animals.