Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Colour of Birds

Well I tend to be an early riser, up about you know, six usually, and this time of year, summer time, in Connecticut especially very good reason for being up early.  Because I remember when looking for a home here coming across the description in the realtors catalogue of this property that we finally bought, it said two thousand three hundred feet of waterfront property.  And by golly it is amazing!  Because although most of it is absolutely unusable, in that you know, it’s steep wooded forest going down to the lake, it nevertheless provides a fabulous habitat for all sorts of animals.  And when you’re out early in the morning, we can go down to the lake, down to the dock, sit on the dock and actually if we’re very quiet and stay there for a while, sometimes you’ll see deer come down to drink form the lake, and it’s really quite magical.  And sometimes the ducks come by as well and I actually came across a book recently on bird watching.  Now I’ve never really had much interest in bird watching, I’m happy birds exist, I like to see them around, but that’s about it.  But I happened to open this and I was flicking through it and there was something that was really striking to me, it started to tell me about why birds are different colours, in terms of how colouration is so important for their protection.  Well obviously you know, you figure that birds have to use camouflage as most animals do and indeed a bird’s survival often depends on its ability to conceal itself, and especially of course females sitting on their nests.  So there’s this thing called cryptic colouration or protective colouring, which means the birds, if still, virtually disappear.  So here’s something that I think is kind of fascinating, when you see birds with streaked or striped feathers, you can be pretty sure that they live in grassy areas and that’s because the appearance is concealed, because the field grasses blend in with the colouration.  On the other hand, birds that have green feathers are likely to be up there in the tree tops and if they didn’t move around so much, you’d never see them- the green matches the leaves.  And then there are the birds with dark backs and light bellies, like sparrows for instance.  And you can be pretty sure any birds like that spend a lot of time on the ground, because the light underside breaks up the overall shape of the bird, so it’s less noticeable, whereas an all dark bird would be far more easily visible.  And of course you know the mottled grey or brown feathers of say an owl that mean that birds just blend into the bark as long as they don’t move.

So, suddenly I had this set of distinctions about ahh we can really understand different kinds of bird colouration here and what kind of habitat they probably inhabit.  And for me anyway, this was like making sense of something which previously had been you know, pretty random.  And I often think that when we can do that, when we can understand some working principles, things become both easier to understand, but I think often more fascinating as well, because it’s not just I don’t know, there you go, it just happens to be pure chance- nothing very chancy about evolution in one sense, because it really is about how you ensure your survival.

So I don’t know whether I’ll be going in for any cryptic colouration myself, I don’t think that’s necessary.  But just looking around the world and understanding it differently, has enriched my morning experience as I sit  on the dock and enjoy a cup of tea and look up in the trees and see the birds. 

So ‘til the next time.
 To listen to this audioboo: