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May 18, 2015 1:35 PM   Subscribe

When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem to Listen by Christopher Solomon [New York Times]
A professor’s hunch is that birds are saying much more in warning of danger than previously suspected, and that other animals have evolved to understand the signals.
posted by Fizz (28 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am glad to see science catching up on this cause it does feel like one of those "duh" things to me. Animals often look to other animals for cues.
posted by agregoli at 1:40 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Animals are much smarter than we give them credit for.
posted by Fizz at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]




All I know is that the robins start to sing before it rains.
posted by Nevin at 1:56 PM on May 18, 2015


All I know is that the robins start to sing before it rains.

They are also fiercely territorial and aggressive. I've been attacked during several of my runs when I've been unfortunate enough to have been perceived as a threat to their brood.
posted by Fizz at 2:03 PM on May 18, 2015


My dog Gizmo will often (very often) give a low growl if he hears a dangerous sound outside. Like children playing, leaves blowing, unusual silence... And the bird Beaker instantly picks up on it and starts screaming a warning. To me. Three feet away. Loud enough to hurt.
posted by Splunge at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh, I was just listening to a programme about this on Radio 4, and wondering if it'd make a good post, because I found it fascinating and kind of delightful. Based upon my observation of our many, many back garden birds, and, alas, many free-range neighbourhood cats, I find it really plausible. When the blackbird starts his OMG CAT CAT CAT squawk, everybody reacts, including me, because I run out there to chase the cat away.
posted by skybluepink at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The recordings that local businesses play of birds in distress (trying to keep the real birds from hanging around and making a mess) certainly make me feel uneasy.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bird is not a species level descriptor.
posted by srboisvert at 2:49 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


My dearly departed Grandfather always used to call Blue Jays "The Sentinels of the Forest".
posted by Rock Steady at 2:50 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Beaver tail smacks serve as cross-species warnings. Moreover, some hunters use carved baby beavers as decoys to get migrating geese to rest by that water. It works because the beaver parents are so attuned to danger that the presence of the "kits" signifies safety to the birds.
posted by carmicha at 2:56 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


The idea that animals would ignore *any* source of useful information in the environment they've evolved in is kind of ludicrous -- which is not to diminish the scientific research described in this article (which sounds awesome), just the title, which the author probably didn't get to choose anyway. And as popular science reporting goes, this is a nice story. I'm not surprised that the transfer of information *between* species is just starting to be looked at, since each individual species is hard enough to figure out on its own.
posted by uosuaq at 3:10 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nonsense. Birdspeak is all to do with wind speed, wing spans, power-to-weight ratios and a fair bit about berries.
posted by delfin at 3:11 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I got to watch some cardinals rearing their new babies. I was surprised how long the babies stuck around flying in the grass and bushes while BOTH parents devotedly fed them and defended them from squirrels and other birds, and ok also me trying to make baby sounds at them. I felt like when the babies were in the grass the parents would come over and fuss at them it almost SOUNDED like "get out of the grass, at least get to a bush!" They would make these kind of frantic sounds that were totally different than the normal bird calls.

I imagine there's a lot more communication going on there than we realize. It felt like the parents were literally "taking their babies under their wings" and given them pointers about how to be a bird in the world.

Almost makes me teary eyed, I miss those little wee birds! I still saw them around even recently but I think by now they look like regular birds and I won't know which is which.
posted by xarnop at 3:15 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think we can say we all preferred the old form of retweeting.
posted by davemee at 3:18 PM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've heard (not cited) that crows and jays have over 200 calls...with different meanings. A small language in other words.

Very few studies on this language tho....
posted by CrowGoat at 3:32 PM on May 18, 2015


A small language in other words.

Not quite, unless the sounds have meanings distinct from their context (i.e., the word “cat” means the same thing whether or not there is any evidence of an approaching cat). And then for it to really be a language, you'd need some kind of grammatical structure, rather than just a collection of self-standing single-meaning words.
posted by acb at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not quite, unless the sounds have meanings distinct from their context

Exactly this sort of thing is suspected in the calls of a number of wild birds, and solidly observed in birds which learn a "language" from humans. This sort of thing has been observed for centuries but steadfastly ignored. Anyone who deals with the more intelligent birds, especially parrots and corvids, on more than the most casual basis would be completely unsurprised by this, except for the fact that it is being taken seriously for a change.
posted by localroger at 3:58 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The other thing is that let's not assume that all bird sounds are meaningful and informative. There are bound to be some juvenile delinquent birds who just squawk JET FUEL CAN'T MELT STEEL BEAMS all day.
posted by delfin at 4:18 PM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Heh, Delfin, my cockatiel uses his alert call to try and get me to uncover him at 6:30 on weekends :D Most of the time his alert call can be ignored. I trust the budgies alert calls far more than someone who is trying to provide a distraction to raid dinner plates.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:47 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Gold finches complained personally to me last summer as I plucked "their" golden plums. I stopped, and left them the tree.
posted by Oyéah at 6:25 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


human human HUMAN no sweet ball NO sweet ball NO SWEET BALL our tree fucking humans FUCKING HUMANS
posted by smidgen at 8:11 PM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Someone needs to tell the nocturnal fuzzball whose nest is right outside my window that nights are for sleeping. I don't care if it's another bird or a frigging puppy dog. Communicate, animals!
posted by librarylis at 9:33 PM on May 18, 2015


This is why pishing works.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:45 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


By the end of this video I swear this raven is totally laughing at this human "Haha I pecked your finger! Ha ha ha!"
posted by xarnop at 2:45 PM on May 19, 2015


Not quite, unless the sounds have meanings distinct from their context (i.e., the word “cat” means the same thing whether or not there is any evidence of an approaching cat). And then for it to really be a language, you'd need some kind of grammatical structure, rather than just a collection of self-standing single-meaning words.
Yeah, IIRC the primary hallmarks of "language" are displacement (the 'danger means danger even when there's no danger nearby' that you mentioned); creativity, or the ability for a creature to produce novel and unique meaningful combinations to communicate new messages; duality, the combination of smaller reusable forms like phonemes to produce larger units like words and phrases; and patterning, the internal organizational rules and grammars that make one statement syntactically valid and another invalid. I'm cribbing from my old copy of Teach Yourself Linguistics, so I'm definitely just a layman, but it's definitely an interesting area.

The definitions aren't just a just so list meant to exclude all non-human communication, mind. I know that some corvids, dolphins, and great apes have been argued to meet all of the criteria. But capital-L Language is definitely more complex than just "signals understood by other creatures."
posted by verb at 3:12 PM on May 19, 2015


(An interesting and more complete discussion can be found in the Wikipedia article on Design Features of Languages)
posted by verb at 3:15 PM on May 19, 2015


Beaker's danger call can mean many things. Strange humans in the house. Dog is making sounds. I can't see one of you. I can't see either of you. I'm in a pissy mood and I shall take it out on you. Uncover me. Bedtime, put me to sleep. I don't want to go to bed.

And of course: IMABIRD! IMABIRD! IMABIRD! IMABIRD!
posted by Splunge at 3:48 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


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