Monday, January 10, 2011

"Reasoning and Planning" -- Uniquely Human?

Yesterday, I went early in the morning to Harlem Meer.
BradJoLina, (the three flightless ducks) were alone on the ice, with less than a couple of feet of open water. They appeared to be somewhat alarmed about their plight, constantly "chatting" with each other and seemingly trying to figure out what to do.
There was a young couple on the concrete embankment taking photos of the three ducks.
Before I could take out any food, the official came out of the Dana Center to advise the young couple "not to feed the birds." He saw me and we once again engaged in a "discussion" similar to the previous day. However, this time, I asked for the Park Ranger's number and later called the ranger as I felt stymied and frustrated with the official.
The conversation with the ranger was also disappointing and similar to the one with the official.
However, what came out of that conversation was that I would not be criminalized or ticketed for feeding the ducks. "I can't give you permission for that," the ranger told me. "But, you're probably going to do it anyway." (He was certainly right about that.)
What is so demoralizing about this entire ordeal is the way people who care about these ducks and seek to support them are made to feel like criminals.
I have always been a law abiding citizen and don't like being made to feel like I am committing some heinous and despicable act and nor should other people who feel for the birds be so maligned.
In view of what is happening in the news, it is positively insane that we make activities like feeding birds or stray cats, bottle-feeding babies or smoking a cigarette on a public street into perceived "criminal" acts while ignoring the real ticking time bombs in our society.
Last night, I returned to the Meer with a bag of bird seed and corn (having missed feeding the birds earlier in the day). Once again, the temperature was in the 20's with a wind chill in the mid teens.   I was fearful of what I might find in terms of BradJoLina surviving on the frozen lake, especially without real means for food.
But, much to my relief and surprise, a half dozen of the mallards had returned!  And with the addition of the new birds, the open water available to BradJoLina had suddenly expanded from next to zero to about 8 or 9 feet in diameter!
All nine birds were swimming in the small pool of newly created water.
The mallards were extremely hungry and immediately rushed up to me for the food.  BradJoLina also came to the embankment for food, but didn't seem as famished as they usually are.
I reasoned that either someone else had bravely fed BradJoLina earlier in the day or they were deferring to the hungry mallards because technically, they really need the mallards there to try and keep some open water.
So hungry were the mallards that two of the drakes got into a tussle over the food. One chased the other into the water and suddenly there was all this mad splashing about.   The scene was a bit comical especially the way Joey who was swimming peacefully on the water looked at them.   It was as if to say, "Yeah, we need 'em here to break up the ice, but they really are kind of crazy."
All of these scenes merely add to my personal fascination and intrigue with these amazing animals who I have observed and followed for so long.
Originally, Joey was one of three Pekin ducks who mysteriously appeared at Harlem Meer in August of 09.   Pekin ducks are neither "wild" nor indigenous to Central Park.  
Perhaps some person saved the three ducks from a live poultry market or they may have been discarded Easter ducklings who grew up.  No one really knows.
But, the reality is, these are domestic flightless ducks who cannot simply fly away when the going gets tough.
Joey is the lone survivor of the original three Pekins. 
Last spring, his two siblings suddenly disappeared within two weeks of each other.  A park ranger speculated that the Joey's two flockmates might have been sacrificed for Santeria.   I don't know this as a fact, but surmise the birds were definitely victims of human cruelty.  They were not sick, nor did they have any animal predators at Harlem Meer.  Of course, we know they could not fly away since the Pekins have clipped wings.
Following the demise of his siblings, I worried constantly for Joey.  All alone on the lake, he seemed "lost" for a while. While the geese and mallards did not bother Joey, they didn't exactly welcome him into their family units, either.  
Would this lone flightless Pekin duck be able survive without the security and protection of his flockmates?
I truly did not know.
But, as time progressed, I began to notice Joey trying to hang around and follow the two dominant and largest ducks of the Meer.   The inseparable couple I call, "Brad" and "Angelina" (or, "BradGelina.") after the famous Hollywood couple.
But, these scenes were not at all pretty.  In fact, they were downright scary.
Over the summer, I could not figure out why Joey was trying to get the "in" with Brad and Anglelina.   In fact, I seriously wondered if Joey was masochistic?   
Brad was merciless with Joey and constantly attacked the white duck. Brad would chase and steal Joey's food. He followed Joey into the water numerous times and appeared to try and drown the larger white duck who appeared to not even defend himself. (Talk about "trial by fire."  Sometimes, watching these birds was like witnessing some brutal hazing.)
But, many months later, it is obvious now that Joey knew that Brad and Angelina were, like him, flightless.  If Joey was to survive at all, he would have to endure and eventually be accepted by these two dominant and flightless ducks of the meer.
Fortunately, for Joey, he was finally accepted by Brad and Angelina a couple of months ago and since then, the birds are inseparable and work cooperatively for survival.
It truly is an amazing story when one thinks about it and is testimony to the reasoning and even planning powers of animals.  That these  ducks (and geese and other animals) are so misunderstood by even those in charge of our city parks is incredible and extremely disappointing.
Yesterday, the Central Park ranger told me that the "mallards go on the lawns to eat grass" in cold weather.   "But, we are not talking about the mallards!" I replied.  "We are talking about the three flightless ducks who don't go anywhere near the park lawns!"
It occurred to me after the conversation that the reason BradJoLina don't go on the park lawns is that they would have no means of escape if chased by a dog or menacing human.
Isn't it amazing, that they seem to know that?  Is that not evidence to the animals' ability to reason and anticipate danger?  Does it not give testimony to the birds self awareness and knowledge of limitations -- unlike the mallards who can fly and escape danger?
The question is, why don't those in charge know these things?
We pride ourselves as humans for our supposedly "unique" abilities for reasoning and planning.  But, sometimes after speaking with some people and observing the animals, I seriously wonder, who really has the greater ability to reason and plan? 
The simple truth is that were it not for his ability to reason and anticipate the future, Joey would not be alive today.  -- PCA


Ann said...

I was surprised to see no comments. But maybe not many feel about ducks and geese like I do.
I think its wonderful that you go and feed and worry about these birds.
If I lived there I would too.

Anonymous said...

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