What I Learned from Birds

It was a rainy Saturday. And I was not in the mood for the phone call I had to make to the cable company. Grrrr. My cable box had broken three weeks ago. A replacement had been sent and I connected it the television. Yet something still wasn’t working, because the television screen remained blank.

So there I was on hold for an hour and totally frustrated when a flash of red outside the window caught my eye. A male cardinal peered at me from a branch of the lilac bush close to my window and soon began his song. I was too disgusted at the time to appreciate his serenade. But once my phone call ended and I was calmer, I recalled how the cardinal sang though raindrops fell.

That was unexpected. I wish I could have taken a picture of him. Unfortunately my phone was occupied at the time. Grrrr. The cardinal had left before my phone call ended.


Cardinals, particularly the males, are my favorite birds, because they’re red. And the northern cardinal is the state bird of Illinois. Yet in the pouring rain this bird sat in a bush and sang. He reminded me that even in the midst of a storm, I can choose to sing, rather than complain.

Here’s a video by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on the cardinal’s song:

While I searched for videos of the cardinal’s song, I found videos and articles on another bird—the male bowerbird. You can find these birds in New Guinea and Australia. But the thing I found most interesting about the male of the species is the fact that he decorates his bower to win a potential mate.


On this BBC Worldwide video, Sir David Attenborough discusses the habits of the Vogelkop bowerbird, which is found in New Guinea.

I was impressed by this bird’s decorating sense and his persistence as he arranged and rearranged items in his bower. Obviously he had a plan in his head for how things should look.

The arranging and rearranging aspect reminds me of the drafting and editing phases of writing. The plan is the outline we follow as we draft. When we draft, we arrange. When we edit, we rearrange to make a pleasing product and win potential readers.

This week, I have some arranging to do in my WIP. But soon, like the bowerbird, I’ll rearrange. I hope I remain as single minded as this bird and not allow distractions to steer me away. But I wouldn’t mind a distraction like the cardinal. He can sing to me anytime!

What, if anything, have you learned from a bird or another animal?

Cardinal from birdsgallery.net. Vogelkop bowerbird from bernardvanelegem.com.

43 thoughts on “What I Learned from Birds

  1. Over here, Attenborough is a National Treasure. His documentaries exude both warmth and enthusiasm. I think all animals and birds teach us something-mainly that they do ‘what they are meant to do’. Everything in nature is in balance, finely tuned. It works. It is when we do something contrary to this system that things go badly awry.

  2. Lovely post. I was feeling really down once, when I stopped in the middle of the city to listen to a Song Thrush singing from the top of a chimney. It reminded me that despite their daily struggle to survive, they still sing with such enthusiasm. What came out of my mouth was moan, moan moan! It wasn’t singing to attract a mate, as breeding season was over. It wasn’t dawn or dusk, so maybe it was a territorial thing? But whatever it was, it was beautiful.
    I decided to sing more instead of complaining, especially when the chips are down.
    Another thing I’ve learned from birds is to feed my Barn Owl on time. They don’t like to be kept waiting. I have the cuts to prove it.

    • You have a barn owl??? How fun! I never see or hear owls! Wish I did.

      I’m glad the song thrush was such a vivid reminder for you. That’s what struck me about the cardinal. There I was, complaining on the phone, when the cardinal was trying to cheer me up.

  3. I have the Planet Earth DVD Boxset (also Living Planet from my youth, but they put the episodes in the wrong order) and I remember there being a few birds that prettied up an area to attract a mate. Though I think dances and songs were the most common. Not much different from humans. Makeup, nice clothes, romantic sings, slow dances, and so much more are used to ‘attract a mate’.

    Can’t think of any time I learned something from an animal. They are fun and relaxing to watch.

    • The male cardinal is bright red. The female is brown with a red bill. I used to resent the fact that the female had a duller color. But she can camouflage herself better to protect the eggs.

  4. Ooooo – fun subject. I’ve learned lots from birds.

    Right now, a mama robin is nesting in a drain pipe along the drive. Whether I’m walking or driving the car, she always seems to know when we are coming and swoops off the nest, trying to lead us away from her young. I’m learning, anew, to always be watchful.

    I also learned not to teach parakeets how to swear in another language. My grandmother did. She lived with us and she taught the bird some choice phrases, in Greek. One evening, the parish priest was invited over along with several parishioners who were on a committee my dad chaired. The good priest positioned himself right by the bird. Every time the bird would talk, my father would talk louder and bring up another item on the agenda. I lurked around the corner, waiting . . .

    • Ha ha!!! What a great story, Penny!!! My grandmother used to have a parakeet who liked to land on people. 🙂
      What is it about your car and birds? I recall your mentioning how a bird ran into your car once. And I think another swooped in front of it. 😀
      Unfortunately, birds look at my car and seem to love to relieve themselves on it.

      • Birds leave their “calling card” on my car all the time, L. Marie, but, it does seem that lately there have been some interesting encounters.

        Yep. That story is part of family legend. 🙂 Thought you might appreciate it.

        Hope you are enjoying the sunshine, if it is a bit cool outside.

      • It deserves to be! It is a great story!
        I so wanted to sit outside. Maybe I will tomorrow if the temperature goes up.

  5. That cardinal has the right idea:

    * Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain. ~ Vivian Greene

    We watched a special on the Bower Bird where the photographers had to sit in a box for days to capture the mating dance when the male FINALLY attracted a willing female. :mrgreen:

    • Ha ha! That’s hilarious! I laughed out loud when I saw a video where a male bowerbird danced his special dance. He attracted a female, but soon lost her when he stepped on her head. 😀

      Love that Vivian Greene quote. I’ll have to put that on my printer. That’s where all of my quotes go. My computer faces the printer, so I can see them every day.

  6. I’ve been watching several families of cardinals raise their young over the past couple of weeks. I love how the male is responsible for taking the young out of the nest to feed them. He also performs demonstrations on how to drink and bathe…it’s so interesting to observe.
    Good luck with your arranging, L. Marie!

    • You have the most interesting backyard, Jill. I enjoyed seeing that hummingbird. 🙂 I wish we had those.
      Cardinals are quite interesting. I see a couple of males zipping around. What’s special about the cardinal in the bush is the fact that birds don’t stay in the lilac bush near my window. It’s too open. They prefer the evergreen trees out back. So, the cardinal’s visit was a special treat.
      Hope your writing is going well!

  7. “…the cardinal sang though raindrops fell.”
    That says it all for me.

    And as for your question…having been involved in animal rescue, especially horse rescue, it becomes quite obvious ‘rescue’ is a two-way transaction… 🙂

    • Wow. That’s pretty awesome. Would love to hear about your horse rescues. A friend of mine keeps horses. I’ve never had any, but they’re fascinating. I haven’t ridden them much though.

  8. Beautiful bird! I have learned from my cats that lying on one’s back with one’s legs in the air is likely to result in some unanticipated tummy-tickling from passers-by… an invaluable lesson! 😉

  9. I love your story about the cardinal and the problem with the cable company. Next time I have to make one of these annoying calls I’ll try to remember the “lesson of the cardinal.” I don’t see them very often here in Washington State. I see them more often when I visit my daughters. But after a google search I see that there are 8 Washington species of cardinals.

  10. That Bowerbird video is fascinating. The dedication and work those birds put into it — you’re right it is a bit like writing, if only we could be as single minded!! I need that kind of focus at the moment, I’m so distracted!

  11. What a treat to see the cardinal! And good timing on his part, I think, to drop by and be pretty while you were on hold.

    What have I learned from animals… I had a rabbit who taught me to hide when I ate chocolate. (She’d jump on your lap and try to pry open your mouth to get it.) Another rabbit who taught me never to assume that something which looks cute and fluffy isn’t also grumpy and frightening. (It growled and snapped at people.) I had a cat who taught me to be aware of my environment. (He liked to jump out from under things and tackle legs.) A trained white dove who taught me that even the most beautiful things can be dirty and disgusting. (Let’s just say my children aren’t allowed to own birds.) But maybe these aren’t the kind of lessons you had in mind… 😛

    Um, um, um… Something sweet and sentimental… Well. It’s very sad, but animals have more than once done some extra cuddling when another pet, or themselves, or another family member was about to die. In that sense, they taught that cuddles are important when in mourning and that isolating oneself during times of depression is less than helpful.

    • Wow. Such great stories, ReGi. I’ve seen cats cuddle with humans who were sick or sad. Once when I felt really down, a friend’s border collie/kelpie sat next to me and put his head in my lap. So sweet.

      Some acquaintances had a cat that used to hide behind doors and jump out at people. He was part bobcat and kinda interesting. 🙂

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