One of the perks of driving my son to his early morning swim practice each day is the opportunity to see hundreds (thousands?) of birds congregate on the wires above a large intersection for their morning staff meeting.
It is fascinating to watch their dynamics. In response to some unknown signal, half of them will leave their wire, swarm in the air, and cross to another wire. Thirty seconds later, another group will swarm back to the other side. What is most fun it watching the swarm change their mind, dance, turn, and retreat. I love watching them hunt for a free spot along the wire, bickering and arguing about seniority.
Why do they do this?
- Are they waiting for the sunrise? If so, why do they not all face east?
- Are they waiting for the nearby Taco Cabana to open to get their morning breakfast tacos?
- Are they watching to see how crowded IH-35 is on any particular morning? Can they tell the weekends from the weekdays?
- Are they watching us? They remind me of the crowds of people who gather near the Congress Ave Bridge to watch the evening emergence and feeding of the bats.
I love imagining their conversations and group dynamics. They remind me of cliques in middle school: if that group is going to sit on our side of the cafeteria, we’ll go to the other.
Does one bird say to another:
“You’re not going to believe the size of the worm the Mrs. brought home for dinner yesterday. I’m stuffed.”
“I noticed the wire hanging a little lower after you landed on it.”
“Did you hear about the grackle family in the nest in the third tree from the light pole? I heard she’s laid eight eggs.”
“Eight? That’s too many. It’s not going to end well. Probably going to see her on the cover of the Bird-Enquirer being called the Octo-Avian.”
I do believe it has something to do with the sunrise. When it’s cloudy or rainy, they’re not there. Which makes me wonder: do they all cheer when the sun rises, as groups of people will do watching a sunset?
If I have to get up at O:dark:30 every day, at least the animal behaviorist in me gets something to watch.
So many questions:
- How far do they come from? Do they leave a representative to monitor activity at the field office, or do they all report to headquarters for the meeting?
- Why, an hour later when I drive my daughter through the same intersection, are they all gone? Where did they go?
- Do they all leave at the same time, or drift slowly away in ones and twos as they do in the scene from Ocean’s Eleven after the successful heist?
I could stay and watch, but my second cup of coffee is waiting for me at home and sometimes it’s more fun to imagine the possibilities than knowing for sure. The light changes to green, I send thoughts of love out to the birds and head home ready to continue my day and leave the birds to continue theirs.