We’ve all seen parks where someone with a sandwich is subject to immediate attacks by flocks of pigeons, geese, ducks, crows, starlings, and just about every other kind of avian critter nearby. And that’s not to mention the squirrels and the raccoons.
However, all of those creatures have been taught over time to overcome their fear of humans. They’ve been conditioned to respond to the presence of humans and food in a completely different manner than would be natural for them.
Yesterday while eating pizza for dinner, I went outside and sat on the steps in the back yard. There were a couple of birds hopping around on the grass, pecking at seeds or bugs or whatever it is that blackbirds eat from our lawn. As I got to the crust on my piece of pizza, for reasons that I still can’t explain, I tore off a pea-sized piece and tossed it toward the birds.
It was a pathetic throw. I badly misjudged the wind loading on that tiny ball of bread and was only able to get it about three feet from me, barely out of kicking range. The birds were probably twenty feet away.
Prior to the toss my fleeting assumption would have been that the birds would fly away, startled, if I were able to get the bread near them. As I made a pure-de-suck throw, my assumption was that they wouldn’t even know it existed since it wasn’t anywhere near them. And if somehow they did notice the offering, there was no way on earth they would ever come that close to me.
I was wrong!
Immediately the two birds came hopping across the lawn, onto the concrete patio just a couple of feet from me. They pecked at the bit of crust and split it, then flew off into the bushes where I know they have their nest.
I had pizza crust remaining – it was time to test what was happening. I made a handful of additional crust ball bird treats and tossed them out onto the concrete. Over the next couple of minutes, the birds came back for all of them one by one. Even the ones that were just inches from my feet. Then they were back to ask for more. When I wasn’t quick enough to toss out more, they were at my feet, squawking at me in protest.
Cool. I fed the birds.
But where did they learn that behavior? I’ve never, EVER fed them before. I don’t see anyone else in the neighborhood ever feeding them. I don’t know of any bird feeders or other feeding methods in any neighbor yards.
Given all of that, how do we explain this behavior?
I’ve got nothing!