Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brainy Birds: From Parrots To Chickens

Sweet ... or should I say tweet? A little bird told me it was once assumed only the trachea (windpipe) and syrinx (at the base of the trachea) that allowed parrots to produce speech. We now know some species of parrots also use the tongue to manipulate air and sound to imitate what they hear, disproving the notion that humans are the only species to use the tongue in this way.

Like many species, including humans, parrots also learn to associate words with actions. When offered food, some make the connection between the activity and words such as "thank you". The ability to link words and actions requires a leap of intelligence.

According to a news story, one parrot was clever enough to help save a child's life. When a little girl was choking, the parrot screeched, "Mama baby! Mama baby!”, alerting the babysitter in another room who rushed in and performed the Heimlich maneuver. The parrot had been taught that "mama and baby" related to the child. When it saw the child behave strangely, it was smart enough to utter the associated words. It also appeared to understand that danger was present.

Observers say using words and talking with tongues “humanizes” parrots. However, they are quick to add parrots are not conversing about what is said. Rather, they are mimicking. But humans, too, are mimics. Not only do people love copying one another, they sometimes branch out into copying bird calls.

We creatures communicate through all sorts of signals. Although often hidden so that only the discerning and/or similar species can comprehend, these signals show a great presence of thought. Obviously, a deaf person speaking through hand gestures is not less intelligent than any other human being. Perhaps a horse communicating with a swish of its tail or a chicken clucking is each having meaningful dialogue simply not understood by all.

A documentary The Natural History of the Chicken shows how a chicken can be much more than a packaged meal in the meat section of a grocery store. Although these grounded birds are not equipped to talk like parrots, they have an intelligent, nurturing and heroic side for those willing to see it.

Maybe we humans are a little “too chicken” to discover just how brainy birds and other creatures really are. The final breaking of barriers could likely be between man and animals. When we grasp animals are not unaware, one-dimensional characters but separate, intuitive creations deserving of respect, we truly will put the "e" in human and become more humane.

Copyright by Penelope Puddlisms

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about chickens, Penelope, but I know animals are certainly neither unaware nor one-dimensional. When I fell recently, my husband couldn't hear me calling to him, but he did see the dog come into his home office and refuse to leave until he followed her. She led him to me because she knew I was upset and in pain. At the time, we had only had the dog a month!


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