A Bird’s Brain Can Teach Us Something

Aesop knew that observing the natural world can be instructive

No crowsOn this sunny summer morning I was walking around outside my house and noticed three birds — two magpies and a crow.  What they were doing was instructive with respect to how we regard things and use our opportunities.

The crow was perched on the top rail of a 3-rail fence.  One of the magpies was on the bottom rail underneath the crow.  He would look up at the crow and hop from side to side to get a better view.  Then he’d hop up to the second rail and look some more.  Then he would hop aggressively up toward the crow, pointing his long black bill at him.  Then he’d flap back to the bottom rail and repeat the process.  He’d get up his nerve and finally he’d jump up, aiming his bill at the crow’s feet.  Obviously,the crow’s presence worried the magpie.  Maybe he thought the crow would compete for food.  Maybe something else about the crow bugged him.  But the crow, who was bigger than the magpie, just stood there looking casually around.  As the magpie repeatedly leaped toward him, the crow occasionally noticed and ruffled his wings a bit, but seemed mostly unconcerned.

Meanwhile, about ten feet away from this little drama, another magpie was walking along the ground, turning his head from side-to-side.  He was searching for stuff to eat.  He’d spot a tidbit and gobble it up.  He was approaching a dumpster and as he got closer he found more good scraps (because some humans are lousy shots when it comes to getting all their garbage into the dumpster).  He seemed totally oblivious to what the other two birds were doing.  He was enjoying a bounty of tasty things.  He wasn’t worried about the crow.  He didn’t feel the need to join the other magpie in anti-crow activism.

The magpie attempting to bother the crow got bolder.  He jumped higher, more frequently.  Eventually, the crow shifted his feet on the fence, turned around and flew off as though he’d just thought of something he’d rather do.  The “protesting” magpie chased right after him.  He wasn’t satisfied.

Isn’t that how people are sometimes?  We look for what we imagine are threats and focus on them.  We get perturbed and start jumping around trying to get rid of them.  Because those things might cause problems for us, right?  For some reason, we don’t see being preoccupied with resisting unwanted things as a problem in itself.  So we get riled up about the big “crows” we notice — government, corporations, the economy, other groups of people, the environment, etc. — and then we spend our time fixated on the “problem areas” like bird brains because we think doing so will somehow make our lives better.

Meanwhile, others simply let life unfold without fuss.  They mind their own business and, as they bop along, notice good things and enjoy them.  While the activists are busy resisting potential threats, the non-activists are focusing on well-being.  By not wasting their attention on what they don’t like, they have the bandwidth to find what they do like.

Which of those two magpies was enjoying life?  Which was using his time to best effect?  Which was making the most of the opportunity to have a pleasant morning?

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After writing this post, I came across the following album.  That can’t be a coincidence, can it?

Click the image below; it’s a good one.

NoCrows Magpie album cover

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