One of the upsides of this Covid-19 pandemic is that it has forced people to slow down.
OK, maybe that’s not an upside for some, but for me, slowing down is a good thing. I was already in that process after having come back from a Peace Corps assignment and finding that I had little to do. So, I walked a lot. I found local trails and paths and spent a lot of time exploring and shooting video for a project I’m working on.
Along the way I started noticing more of the local flora and fauna, plants and creatures I might not have paid much attention to even while I walked wooded trails. There was a particular incident that got me to redirect my focus on my surroundings I’d like to tell you about.
Early one morning about 8 months ago, while I was walking a bike path and listening to music I happened to glance up into the canopy above me. There sat a squirrel. That’s nothing atypical, you can’t spit in Central Florida without nearly hitting a squirrel, they are so plentiful. This one was a good 10 to 15 meters above the path I was on and it sat on a thin branch that looked like it could hardly hold the animal’s weight. The squirrel seemed agitated, it was eying an even thinner branch a good meter away, apparently trying to decide if it should make the jump. I stopped to watch the drama unfold.
The squirrel concentrated, its tail rapidly snaking and shaking as it moved to different positions on the branch, all the while focusing on the far twig. It must have been assessing, questioning whether it could jump that far or could the twig hold its weight or would it break. The fall would have definitely injured it, and since it was over a paved path, death was a real possibility.
Now, this is a squirrel and squirrels know the trees they live in like we know the streets in our neighborhood. I’m sure it could have found a safer path. The upper canopy where I stood was fairly dense, so why did this squirrel pick this particular gap to cross?
I’ve always believed that animals are far more complex creatures than we give them credit for. I believe that animals do have and display a wide range of emotions and thoughts that have human equivalents, but, because they are so different from us, we seldom see these emotions and thoughts expressed, or understand them for what are when they are expressed. When we do we attribute them to innate behavior, actions without thoughts or emotional content. They avoid predators to keep from being eaten, there’s no fear involved. They fly, crawl, jump, and swim, eat, reproduce, and exist because that’s what nature or God built them to do.
However, if we observe closely, we can see behaviors that seems counter to the argument that animals, such as that squirrel above me, are little more than biological robots built to serve a particular purpose in nature.
So, there is our intrepid squirrel weighing its options: jump or no? Is it worth the risk? I liken that little guy( or girl) to a free climber, a person who scales rock faces without rope or other protection. These adrenaline junkies climb rocks that would give mountain goats pause. I think that squirrel was on that branch to test itself, just like free climbers. It wanted to push itself to limits that would leave other squirrels quivering in their nut stash.
After a minute or so of nervously weighing its options, the squirrel settled into position. I could see it focus as it prepared to jump, leaning a bit into the gap, eyes directed at the far branch. The branch it was on bounced up and down from the squirrel’s weight, it was so thin. Then the squirrel leapt, timing its jump on the upward swing of the branch it was on. It soared through the air, it’s tiny hand-like paws reaching desperately for something to grab.
One paw grabbed a low hanging, impossibly thin limb and the whole branch sagged at the sudden weight increase, but it did not break. The squirrel was literally hanging on by one paw!
It reached up with the other paw and pulled itself up like someone climbing a rope. Once safely on the far branch it turned and looked down as if it realized just how foolhardy the jump was. I applauded the effort.
After that incident I started observing more, stopping when I found something even the slightest bit interesting. I’ve found that, if I watched long enough, other dramas often unfolded, maybe not as intense as that high flying squirrel’s, but interesting and thought provoking nonetheless.
This morning, as I sat outside enjoying a cup of coffee, I witnessed another interesting drama. This one I was able to capture on video.
A young Northern Mockingbird landed on the fence bordering my backyard. These birds tend to stand erect, but this one huddled down on the fence. As it adjusted itself I could see the reason for the odd behavior, it had an injured leg.
As it sat it started peeping as young birds do when they want to be fed. An adult mockingbird appeared and shoved a bug of some kind into the gapping maw of the young injured bird then flew off to find more food. This process went on for several minutes, but in one instance, another bird, perhaps a predator, approached the young bird. The momma or poppa bird appeared out of nowhere and drove the predatory bird away. All the while the young bird sat huddled on the fence, waiting to be fed.
I was beginning to think that more than its leg was injured, but soon it decided to find safer confines and flew off.
Here’s the video.
Nothing in the bird’s behavior suggests that its actions where driven by anything more than instinct, still it was interesting to see that the adult bird continued to care for the young bird even with its injury. Something counter to the ‘Survival of the fittest’ tenet.
I’ve included a few more of my observations. If you haven’t found a desire to get outside maybe these will give you some inspiration.