Bird brains


“This guy is a real bird brain.”

How many times have we heard some variation of that line? Maybe, like me, you’ve used it yourself. 

Of course, we now know that birds can be very intelligent creatures. The putdown really isn’t accurate.

Furthermore, and more relevant to this blog, bird characteristics have fueled our insights on mobbing behaviors. During the 1980s, the late Swedish psychologist Heinz Leymann used the term “mobbing” to describe the kinds of abusive, hostile behaviors that were being directed at employees by their co-workers. This pioneering anti-mobbing expert’s theories were originally informed by observing the mobbing behaviors of birds.

Recently I got a, umm, bird’s eye view of bird behavior when I was visiting friends — a retired couple in northern Virginia — who happen to be animal lovers and bird keepers.


The bird on my shoulder is Huey. She’s been with my friends for some 30 years. She quickly hopped on my shoulder and allowed me to pet and feed her. We became fast pals.

However, Huey doesn’t like females — of the human variety. She pecks aggressively at women! Put Huey in the workplace and she might be the classic female-to-female bully.

The bird not on my shoulder is Gussie. He’s been with my friends for some 20 years. Unfortunately, his two previous owners abused him. He will allow my friends to come close enough to feed him, but he has never allowed them to touch him. That’s what traumatic abuse has done to the poor little guy.

Gussie is blessed to be with people who care about him and treat him kindly, but he’s still a very wounded bird.

So, a little first-hand lesson for me in bird behavior. Bird brains, indeed.

2 responses

  1. As a confessed “bird nerd,” I’ve developed an appreciation for one form of bird behavior. Some birds use singing as a way of dealing with conflict. Wouldn’t that be an interesting and creative way for humans to approach conflict 🙂

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