Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maritime Manifestations

I came across a curious manifestation the other day.  I don’t know whether any scientific scholarship discussing said manifestation already exists, but if it does, I would like to take this moment to add to the existing scholarship by chronicling my experience.

The sand was cold but the water was calm; the sun was genial: the air as fragrant as new-mown hay. 

We were at Delray Beach sitting Indian style on a ragged pink quilt.  My girlfriend and I unpacked our BLTs and flavored drinks, chatting about fishy personifications and crime fighting grocers.

Within minutes of un-wrapping our sandwiches, seabirds alighted only a few feet from our quilt.  Trying to act disinterested in our food, or us for that matter, the birds pecked around at shells and other small objects in the sand.  But the more we ignored the nervous little foragers, the closer they shuffled.  And shuffle closer they did.

Soon we were surrounded; the seabirds prowled around us, like hungry hyenas, hastened strides hemming us in. 

Feeling a little anxious, I stood up to scare them away. As I leaned forward and flailed my arms a little, one aviated but the rest just took a few hops back, though did so indifferently, almost unphased.  

Two minutes later, the seagulls had slunk back while my girlfriend and I had been conversing.  Now a little annoyed, I jumped up again to scare them with my rubber arms but had to feign a predatory pounce before the impudent little white birds either took to the sky or bounced a few paces back. 

Similar strands of events went on every few minutes or so for the next 20 or 25 minutes, the seabirds shuffeling back little by little and me flailing my arms to and fro. 

But then, with two BLT sandwich halves to spare, the birds had given up.  Somehow, six or seven failed attempts to urge us into a feeding frenzy had convinced the birds that we didn't want to feed them. 

We didn't even finish one of the halves.  But the seabirds were gone. 

That was when all this "bird scaring" got me to thinking.

Was I actually scaring them, or were they thinking rationally, collecting observable evidence and concluding inductively?  Let me rephrase that.  Did the seabirds move because pangs of fear shook through their hollow bones, or did the birds move because they had concluded, after a thorough process of trial and error, that we would not relent? 

Or was their action a response to some distressing inward feeling?  Did I finally instill fear in the seabirds after "scaring" them away six or seven times?    

They never seemed scared.  The seagulls, as it were, moved in the interests of safety; they didn't give up right away.  Accordingly, was the discontinuance of their persistence actually an expression of foresight?  Did the seabirds expect that no food would be given no matter how insistent their urgings? 

This all amounts to these final questions: Do birds think rationally?  Can birds, like humans, make general conclusions by collecting observable evidence and then put those conclusions to use in particular situations, so as to not waste any more of their time pursuing something that they feel confident will amount to nothing? And, if not, why did the birds give up before the food was gone? 

Any takers? 

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