By: Jim Virkler
Looking out across our back deck into the trees of our northwest Illinois neighborhood in autumn, our birds (I’ve called this area “bird heaven”) occasionally stage an impressive drama. Several times each fall we are favored by an event we must characterize as “exuberant bedlam.” On 10-16-09 I first called attention to this phenomenon in a post titled “Bird Exuberance,” linked here:
Since 2009 we have enjoyed these periodic reprises of exuberance. The events take place in autumn following the earlier seasons’ boisterous territorial claims and production their new generation, followed by their enjoyment of a few weeks of quieter peace, perhaps to celebrate their success in fledging young. By October our avian friends sometimes discover ways to celebrate communally with mixed species. Recently we witnessed the most extensive display of shared avian excitement we have yet experienced.
In just less than one hour, we positively identified thirteen different species of birds. Catalyzed by an immense assemblage of cedar waxwings, the following species took part in lesser numbers: blue jay, catbird, cardinal, house wren, red-bellied woodpecker, nuthatch, downy woodpecker, bluebird, chickadee, phoebe, robin, and goldfinch. We observed some birds feeding on cedar berries, but the main activity—flying here and there for no reason obvious to us—seemed to center merely on pure joy and excitement. There were no inter-species squabbles.
Another post called attention to the writings of Old Testament figure Job. His observations and insights concerning the wonders of wildlife are beautiful poetic musings. Job suggests the animals of our environment have much to teach us:
We close with but one more example of collective autumn bird behavior. One recent evening we observed autumn flocking and roosting behavior of common crows, visible from the same local vantage point we described above. By our estimate several thousand crows took part in an assemblage in the sky and woods. Soon they departed to an unknown overnight roosting location. It was a scaled down, but still impressive gathering of one of our most intelligent birds. Crows have been observed to congregate in groups much larger, even up to a million. We have seen other more spectacular autumn flocking events in species such as blackbirds, but not in our local Illinois environment.
The natural world provides many other sources of wonder. Animal behavior cannot adequately be explained in human terms. Collective wildlife decision-making is a result of a mysterious ability implanted by and known to the Creator. Human explanations of causes and effects do not provide us with definitive answers.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.