This past week an article appeared about magpies grieving
for their dead Mail OnLine. I don't know if anyone can say what emotions
another species is experiencing, let alone another of our own species,
human. By studying avian behavior,
however, it does seem to me that birds do experience emotion, and part of those
emotions may include sadness, confusion, and loneliness. When working as an
avian veterinarian, I've seen parrots whose mates have died going into
"mourning" by being quiet, still, and refusing to eat for a day or
longer. I imagine that bird brains, like
our own, need to rewire after losing another individual that was so much a part
of a social, cultural, and neural network.
This liminal time we humans know as grieving.
Once when a teenager
I saw a Northern Flicker grieving.
I was a teenager on an errand with my father driving when the car in
front of us struck a flicker. The mate
that had been flying ahead, turned, and flew back to the ground to stand by his
companion. My father stopped the car to
see if there was anything we could do. There wasn't.
Her beauty was now stilled. We could not believe that the male bird did not fly away as we approached, his
quiet stillness beyond words. I could
never really guess what my father was thinking or feeling, he being rather stoic and undemonstrative. On this occasion he had tears trailing down
his face to see such sadness and loss, echoed in his own heart I do believe.
I never asked him what the dead bird meant to him, or the
loyalty of her mate. I did not ask the surviving
flicker either. Furthermore, science and
cognitive ethology may never answer what magpies or parrots experience. But whatever other experience, I do believe
that emotions are the substance that makes up interspecies communion that sounds
along the ages as echoes of loss and joy in our hearts.