Posted by: atowhee | November 17, 2020


Much of what old-fashioned human exceptionalism thought of as instinct in the alleged lower orders, we now know is learned. Young dippers must be lured into the water by parents. Young raptors must practice flight and hunting and killing. Young mammals follow their parent(s) around to learn as well as be fed.

The man who really taught me how to bird back in the 1990s in San Francisco was Dan Murphy. He was a teacher, naturally and professionally, and I was a born newsman with endless questions. Those he answered and I learned an encyclopedia-worth from that man. When I have something in print that is worthy, I send him a copy…like the latest issue of Oregon Birds. Here is Dan’s wonderful response.

“What I like the most was the photo essay about Prairie Falcons.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article or photo essay about that behavior.  Gotta’ tell you my similar tale. We were camped at Prince Albert NP in Manitoba many years so.  Among other things it was the only place I’ve ever seen the northern lights.  No matter.  I was birding along the shore of the lake there one morning and I heard a hawk screaming.  I looked up to see a female Merlin and 3 or 4 very freshly fledged young, like maybe that morning.  She flew up from the face of the bluff and landed with them.  She repeated that a few times and then started getting them to fly.  None of them had any skill whatsoever.  She got up behind the first chick and started screaming at it.  It flew out from the cliff and returned.  She repeated that with the others.  All but the last bird took the lesson in stride even if it was marked by deep trepidation.  The last guy just wouldn’t take off.  She almost had to jump on him to make him fly.  In any case he managed to do it.  As soon as all of them were able to fly out over the ground and return she jumped it up to the second lesson — water. She got each on to jump off the bluff and fly out over the lake.  That was a matter of some trauma, but school’s school, and they were getting schooled.  She accompanied them over the water and reminded them with a scream they had to do it.  The last guy required additional intensive screaming.  Well, I left them since I had to get back to camp.  I took Joan and the kids out to see if we could refind the Merlins, but no luck.  It was amazing and until your article I’ve never talked with anyone who’s seen that behavior, though I’m sure it’s pretty common.”

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