Wild birds show interest in their reflection

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/08/29/wild-birds-show-interest-in-th.html


When my cats do it they are obviously thinking “My goodness, what a handsome creature!”


For months, my dad had a bird camping out on his sideview mirror.


The Glass in the Field, by James Thurber

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Most birds are very territorial so my guess is we’re seeing self-cancelling threat displays.

What this video reminded me of most, however, is an old Hal Roach joke wherein Pat & Mike pop in to check out the new modern pub which is covered in mirrors. Well into their cups, Mike says to Pat, “there’s two fellas across the room and one is the spittin’ image of ya.” Mike turns a bleary eye that way and says: “Yes, and that other could be yer brother.”

“I tink I’ll just stand them a round,” says Pat as he gets up to stroll over.

“Never you mind,” says Mike, “I, I think he’s coming over!”


My parrot went through an evolving relationship with the mirror. First it was sort of a shock, the parrot would bite at it, then over time he/she fell in love and would sweet talk that fly honey for hours. When the parrot flirts, it sort of cocks its head to the side, narrows its eyes and jabbers in a low tone of voice.


It looked like most of the birds were curious, and just that one Trump supporter kept up a threat display.


We put solar reflective film on some of our front windows. Early the following spring, a small brown woodpecker decided that his lifelong rival had moved into our place. Starting at daybreak, he flew against and battered at our window glass off and on until sundown. I had to go out with a mop and wipe the bird snot (or whatever you want to call his excretions) off the glass. This went on for a month and a half.

What finally got rid of him was putting distractions behind each of the windows where he attacked. A foil balloon worked for one of them. A battery powered blinker worked for another. A solar bobbling “flower” from the dollar store helped. The only part we didn’t have to worry about was the bottom portion of each window. Our cats had that covered.


It was a while back I saw this but Jane Goodall was answering the question “Do chimps have emotions” and her answer was … well they aren’t human, so they aren’t feeling human emotions, but they are certainly feeling chimp emotions – and those are just as real.

Not sure where it stops – does a worm have worm emotions? – but I think birds do have emotions. Maybe they are simpler and less nuanced.


I raised a mallard from a duckling when I was a kid. We set up a mirror on the floor/ground, and the bird totally bonded with the reflection. She lurved her special friend in the mirror.

I’d say she showed a range of emotion comparable to some less-bright dogs, although she couldn’t read expressions or follow eyes or anything like that. She knew where the food came from (me). Her vocalizations were expressive of her state, and conveyed happiness (mostly having to do with food), contented relaxation (grooming her feathers by the mirror after a meal), pleasurable excitement (when it rained, when we got her a pool), agitation (before she launched herself into the air and took flight), disapproval (when we moved her food or the mirror), alarm (at loud surprises) and fear (when the neighbor’s cat came around). I doubt she could feel neglected or rejected the way a dog can, although as a social animal there must have been something about being alone that felt wrong. She was in heaven when I gave her a jar full of bugs (black beatles, rolly polies). She ate them all as fast as she could, not stopping until they were all gone, all the while saying the duck equivalent of THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU.


These birds are angry and frustrated because they can see they needed grooming and can’t do so. It is cruel to give birds mirrors without also providing bird friendly combs, brushes, scissors, and blow dryers.


I have had several pocket parrots. One was raised with a bunch of budgies, thinks he is a budgie, and completely ignores his own reflection. The other male sees his reflection and does pretty much the same thing as the birds in the video. It is pretty much the same reaction he has to other male when he wants to mate, so I chalk it up to seeing a rival. My girl pocket parrot sees her reflection and tries to talk to it, unless she is in heat in which case she pecks at the mirror.

I can’t understand any person who does not think that animals can think and feel for themselves.


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