One year ago this month, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, recognized me and my husband for having successfully certified our Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Wildlife program. This month, we are celebrating the habitat’s one year anniversary! Woo hoo!
Truth is, we certified our mountainous habitat in response to the “Dog Head” fire that consumed nearly 18,000 acres in June of last year. We had experienced a sudden influx of both birds and wildlife immediately after the fire and we wanted to do our part to create a safe haven for them. In fact, in just this past year alone, we’ve had 32 different bird species come through our habitat, many of which have nested and are now raising young.
Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker. We provide for the wild birds with several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders. And we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month! But providing water is the most critical aspect of what we do (as you’ve heard me say before) because a bird will die from dehydration before it will die from starvation, especially during critical winter months or droughts when water is scarce.
Even wild mammals need water, as evidenced by several photographs I took this summer of a mule deer drinking water from our birdbath out back. (That was terribly exciting to watch!) Other mammals frequenting our wildlife habitat include Abert’s and rock squirrels, brush and cottontail bunnies, coyotes, and a pair of wolves.
In the midst of the worldly drama around us, we’re grateful to have nature as a form of distraction. The beauty and grace of our wildlife and birds delight us daily, reminding us of the splendor of God’s creation. Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us, for your encouragement along the way, and for your support of our efforts.
On my flight from Albuquerque to Houston last week, I read a fascinating little ditty in Southwest: The Magazine (October 2016) about horses having 17 distinct facial expressions. I was intrigued to learn that humans, by comparison, can make 27 discrete movements, chimpanzees 13, cats 21, and dogs 16.
I sat back in my seat (well, as far back as one can sit in an airplane seat) and wondered… how many facial expressions do birds have?
Jessica explains, “A quick search of Google for ‘facial expressions in birds’ brings up many descriptions by those familiar with birds that confirm my observation: Yes birds do indeed have facial expressions. However, using the same search terms on Google Scholar shows that science has not yet caught up with this notion. This underscores the fact that just because an idea has not yet been scientifically tested does not mean that it is not true, and prods us to use the precautionary approach where hard evidence for animal sentience and cognition is not yet available.”
Her comments resonated with me and surprised me at the same time. I see hundreds of social media posts each week featuring photographic images of various facial expressions on birds, and that alone begs the question – why hasn’t there been any research on this? There is research on migration patterns of birds, the impact of birds on the environment, and how to save threatened bird species. Why has there not been any research on how birds use facial expressions to communicate with each other (let alone with us humans)?
After much thought and a few more searches, I finally agreed with Jessica’s conclusion that “just because no one has investigated whether birds have facial expressions yet does not mean they do not have them.” While research on this subject may be inconclusive, my gut tells me that birders around the world will agree that birds do have facial expressions. And I have pictures to prove it. Don’t you?