Birds, those dinosaur remnants, are a living reminder that humans aren’t the sole perpetrators of evil on the planet. They steal, they murder, they bully, they poop on cars. I’ve only known one human who pooped on cars. A casual viewing of any “nature” program will dispel the myth that animals live a Disney existence of kindness and up-beat musical frolic while humans wreck everything they touch. Watching National Geographic Channel is like watching an endless loop of Cops. The only difference? Nature has no cops. So this horrible behavior goes unpunished. My vote for worst perpetrators of evil: birds. Here are a few reasons why:
Parasite egg layers: I’ve been watching this drama unfold in a hanging fern on my front porch. A cute little bird builds an impressive nest in a day and lays some eggs. Another bird comes by, a cowbird, I think, and lays its eggs in there. This forced adoption lets the irresponsible parent off the hook. “Hey, I just had unprotected sex, but it doesn’t matter: that stupid little bird over there will raise my babies for me.” I think I heard one of them chirp this. Is this cowbird unable to build a nest? Has it just come to the realization that others are better at raising children? Regardless of intention, the result is the same: without baby raising chores, the bird has more free time to eat and–you guessed it–have more babies that others can raise.
You would think this dependence on others and the nurturing of other bird species would make the cowbird something of a bird-world citizen, an embracer of bird diversity. Nope. Rather than appreciate the service others are providing and making amends for the imposition (maybe drop a worm by for child support or something?), the interloper tries to increase the odds of its own babies survival by getting rid of the original mother’s eggs. We watched that cowbird come back, grab one of the little eggs and throw it without second thoughts onto the concrete below. It may have laughed a little. I hear it gets worse, though. The bird lovers at the Audubon Society describe the “brilliant” ways these parasites prey on others. One, the honeyguide, comes out of the egg filled with the evil genes of its parents who left it in an innocent bird’s nest. While it is still blind, featherless, nightmarish looking, it starts stabbing the other non-honeyguide babies to death with its beak.
Thieves and Muggers: The frigatebird mugs other hard-working gulls and such in mid-flight. A gull flies around, spots a fish, expertly dives for it, and catches it. That bird has earned a good meal. But here comes the frigatebird. It grabs the other bird in mid-flight, chokes it and shakes it around until it vomits what it just caught. Then the frigatebird swoops down and eats the fish and stomach juice combo before it hits the water. In its defense, the frigatebird will explain that they aren’t equipped for water. They can’t get wet, so fishing is kind of tough for them–I get it. Here’s my advice: move. Get a real job on land.
The Great Skua (and who named it great?) is also a shakedown artist. When they aren’t trying to wipe out the penguin population for kicks, they operate sort of a mafia extortion ring around the South Pole. They strut about all tough looking and intimidate the peace-loving gulls and other fishing birds, forcing them to give up their food. From the pictures I’ve seen of these birds, it appears they hang out at gyms lifting weights and making fun of 98-pound weaklings and nerdy birds, wear chains and running suits, and brag about all of their stealing around a smoking poker table in the evenings.
Cruel Bastards: I’ve watched falcons snatch a song bird out of the sky mid-song. Sure, they kill a lot of stuff, but their method seems to be fast and humane (note that there is no bird version of the word “humane”). I’ve always said that my preferred death method would be “shot by American sniper.” I wouldn’t know what hit me. So, if I were a bird, I would choose a falcon or eagle death. Not all the killers, though, are so considerate. Across the street from my house I witnessed a crow fighting off a group of concerned robins as it snatched and killed one of their children. It was a grizzly scene (or birdly scene) as the crow clutched the baby in its beak and swung it around as the panicked relatives tried in vain to save the screaming child. Such behavior, though is nothing compared to that of the Southern Giant Petrel. It’s a pure psychopath. It loves to eat babies too, as is the custom of all sorts of predators, but when it can’t find babies, it goes after the adults. Obviously upset by this challenge, it isn’t uncommon for it to beat its prey on the water and then drown it before consuming. It probably dreams of having other torture techniques at its disposal, cursing god for its lack of arms.
Just Creepy: There’s a reason that a classic horror movie centered around birds and not squirrels. Birds are scary. We try to justify their behavior as being “natural” or “protective.” We, the victims, take the blame for the actions of birds. “It wouldn’t have pecked you in the head if you hadn’t gotten close to its babies.” It’s time to stop thinking of them as superior, as if their lack of conscience excuses their behavior. If the examples above didn’t convince you to reconsider your attitude, just stare into the mouth of a duck.