Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Wild buddies playing games

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-31

I’m wondering how many readers have animal buddies that aren’t pets, but wild, yet seem to enjoy the company of you or your family.

I think such relationships, all parties on equal footing, are much better for all concerned than that between a human and a pet… although it wouldn’t surprise me if sometimes the animal thinks it is the human that has been tamed.

I’ve written before about the local magpie patriarch ("Trav") at my daughter’s place (here, here, here and here), and the wild-animal/child relationship continues to deepen.

It’s not so much that "Trav" isn’t scared and comes for food, indeed sometimes he ignores the titbits preferring to go after grubs and bugs, while still taking a few minutes out of foraging to come and sit by us if we are outside, or walk into the house a bit for a quick warble and fly off again.

What appears most unusual (I’ve had lots of magpie buddies since I was a kid, and none have behaved like "Trav") is the way the magpie plays chasey with my grandson… with hops and the occasional flight of a couple of metres to keep just out of reach, going around and around the yard, not flying away (until bored after about 5 minutes) despite the 2.5 year-old emitting squeals loud enough to scare away even seagulls (if they were foolish enough to visit while the magpie was about… forget play… pulling tail feathers from seagulls seems to be "Trav’s" favorite hobby).

Being chased by something much bigger (even though less agile) than you is something that would usually be quite stressful, especially when the one doing the chasing is making loud scary noises, so I’m puzzled by "Trav’s" behaviour, seeming to enjoy doing something quite unnatural, and something that must demand some insight into what young humans seem to enjoy.

Is "Trav" treating my grandson the same way people throw sticks or balls for dogs who enjoy bringing them back?  I don’t know.

The other odd thing is that he seems to be trying to teach me to warble.

With my human throat, there is no way I can produce a proper melody, but occasionally I’d make an attempt, and lately "Trav" has taken to coming up close, making a very simple short warble in my direction, which I try and copy, then he’ll give the same simple warble, I’ll mangle it back… and so on.

He has obviously figured out that we humans can’t talk properly, and adjusted his "teaching warbles" accordingly.  Am I being taught the magpie equivalent of "Polly want a cracker, who’s a pretty boy then"?  Am I thought too stupid, only fit to be drilled as far as the bird equivalent of "Goo goo, gah gah"?  Again, I have no idea – but if a bird wants to try and teach me to speak, how can I refuse such a generous offer?

My grandson is very privileged to have such a relationship with a wild animal, and I know the boy will be heartbroken when that magpie disappears from his life, unless one of this year’s batch of chicks is particularly friendly.  (Unfortunately, the friendly one from last year got killed by a car a few months back.)

But whatever happens in the future, the boy will have developed a proper respect for animals, from a relationship that the animal can sever at will if offended, and disappear when there is something more important to do.  It’s something I don’t think can be learnt from having a pet.

If more kids had such relationships with wild buddies, then perhaps the typical human disregard for the natural world would be softened, and perhaps we’d have never been faced with a dangerously shifting climate.

Whatever is going on in that feathered brain (and I’d really like to know), I’m sure it’s not instinctive, not purely cognitive, but involves some form of affection for us – some sort of care that makes it accompany us down the street through the territory of other magpies during swooping season, going from power pole to power pole, keeping to our pace.

As I noted before, I’ve had other wild buddies, not just birds, but possums (only females though) who seem to be able to figure out that my then-young daughter and I were safe enough to grab food from our hands.

However none of my wild buddies have ever appeared so keen to foster the relationship by departing so far from natural activities, seemed so able to model what was going on in the human brain and heart.

I’m privileged and humbled by this.

Have any of you have similar good fortune you want to share?


2 Responses to “Wild buddies playing games”

  1. I tried grabbing the RSS Feed for your website but it is not properly showing up in Google Chrome. Does anyone have any ideas?

  2. […] Personally, I think kids can learn as much, if not more, from a wild buddy than a pet. […]

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